Justin Schultz kept his sense of humor about last season. Schultz chatted with Pittsburgh Hockey Now about new defense partner Marcus Petterson, the long, long summer, missing most of last season and the Penguins myriad of power-play looks to which he and Kris Letang will have to adjust. But on the topic of last season and missing so much time due to injury, Schultz had to knock on wood.
Literally. He knocked on wood, but we won’t bust him too much for missing on the first knock. He did knock twice upon the wooden locker stall, just in case you didn’t know hockey players are protectively superstitious. Perhaps Schultz will knock on wood for a new contract, too. He becomes a UFA next July.
Wednesday night, the Penguins used no less than three power-play configurations.
“I think it’s going to be tough for penalty kills to get a read on us because we have options,” Schultz said. “It’s a lot of work to be done to get ready for our opener but we had some good looks tonight.”
Alex Galchenyuk or Jake Guentzel will take the mid-wall spot. Or maybe Malkin. The Penguins can also deploy two right-handed shots on the point with Schultz and Letang. The Penguins can also put Malkin on the point, too.
Justin Schultz will be one of the Penguins whose season results can lift or hinder the Penguins. The Penguins need offense from the blue line. Schultz is the second and last option behind Kris Letang. If Schultz doesn’t produce, there isn’t anyone else but if Schultz explodes as he did in 2016-17, the Penguins game will be raised.
“Yeah, I’m excited. Hopefully, knock on wood, no major injuries. You know it’s a long summer for us,” Schultz said as he reached over to knock on the wooden locker frame. “We got a lot of work done and I think we’re all pretty anxious to get this thing going.”
It has been more than five months since the Pittsburgh Penguins played competitive hockey. Their last season ended before tax day in April.
This season, things will come full circle for the Penguins defensive corps and Schultz. He is ticketed to play with Marcus Petterson who helped stabilize the Penguins defense in Schultz absence last season. Pettersson balanced Jack Johnson on the third pairing, then had a front-row seat as Erik Gudbranson experienced a resurgence after being acquired at the trade deadline.
“(Pettersson) is really good at moving the puck. A lot of times he’ll have it. I just got to find the lane and he’ll get it to me. You know, he does everything well. He’s got a nice long stick. He defends well and he’s really good offensively too,” Schultz said of Pettersson. “When we had the puck in the o-zone we can keep it rolling and hopefully continue. I love playing with him so hopefully, we keep cooking.”
Penguins coaches appear to be gambling that Juuso Riikola can provide the offensive spark on the third pairing. Otherwise, the Penguins would forgo their balance to pair defensive defensemen Johnson and Gudbranson.
Schultz and Pettersson will have to keep cooking to protect the Penguins third pairing until the details and players settle. Schultz’s results are one of the great questions for the season and necessity for Penguins success.
It’s nearly time to play the music and time to light the lights. It’s time to get things started. Schultz is barreling towards free agency and the Penguins need him. Success will solve some of the Penguins shortcomings, just as his failure will disproportionally exacerbate them.
The Penguins are knocking on wood.