Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, the latest player on the team to get injured, will be out “week to week” because of a lower body injury, coach Mike Sullivan said Thursday after the team practiced in Edmonton.
The eye-popping string of Penguins injuries – including long-term absences and problems with key players — continues. They are over 130 man-games lost. Already currently out are centers Sidney Crosby and Nick Bjugstad, winger Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Brian Dumoulin.
Crosby (core muscle), Bjugstad (core muscle) and Dumoulin (ankle) required surgery. Crosby has begun skating on his own.
Schultz left Tuesday’s game at Calgary less than two minutes into the first period. He collided knee-on-knee with the Flames’ Mikael Backlund. It appeared that Schultz’s right knee took the brunt.
He later took a short skate during a break in play but again retreated to the locker room.
Schultz has two goals, eight points in 27 games as a second-pairing defenseman as well as a regular on the first or second power play unit.
He returned earlier this month after missing seven game,with a lower body injury. He was playing in just his sixth game back.
It seems likely that Juuso Riikola, who has been the seventh defenseman lately, will get into the lineup Friday when the Penguins continue their pre-Christmas trip through Western Canada with a game at Edmonton.
According to the team’s website, Riikola skated with Chad Ruhwedel on a third pairing at practice Thursday, while Jack Johnson moved to the top line alongside Kris Letang and John Marino and Marcus Pettersson skated together.
“We want to see him use his skating. We want to see him be assertive. We want him to defend hard. We want him to be active in the rush. We want him to be active on the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said of Riikola. “He’s going to be part of the second power play unit. Jusso’s strengths are his skating, his ability to pass the puck.
“He’s got an offensive dimension to his game, but he’s also going to be called upon to defend. And he’s going to have to use his skill set. His best defense is when he gets back to pucks quickly and helps us get out of our end efficiently. That’s the one thing that we think Juuso can do a real good job for us.”
The NHL’s holiday roster freeze goes into effect Thursday night, but players can still be recalled under emergency circumstances should the team want to bring up another defenseman.