And, for now, they will not. Not even when Matheson, who made his season debut Tuesday on the bottom pairing with Chad Ruhwedel after being hurt, gets his legs under him.
“In terms of that pairing (of Pettersson and Marino) moving forward, we’re in the business of winning here, and we base it on merit,” Todd Reirden, the assistant who oversees the Penguins defense, said Wednesday after practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Reirden said that means if defensemen are getting ice time or are doing well in their roles, “they’ve earned their opportunity, and it’s theirs until they lose it to someone else. In this situation, that pairing will be staying together, and we’ll look for them to continue to play the minutes they have been.”
Marino, who gets some power play time, ranks second on the team behind Kris Letang with an average of 22:34 of ice time per game. Pettersson ranks fifth at 19:18.
“We kind of know how each other thinks out there,” Pettersson said.
The two have played together some over the past couple seasons, but that didn’t seem to be the plan for this season. Marino was paired with Matheson during the preseason before missing the first three regular season games because of a nagging lower body problem.
“We know each other’s tendencies,” Marino said of him and Pettersson. “We just feed well off each other.”
The Redemption Tour
Marino, 24, the right-handed shot of the pairing, had a strong rookie season with the Penguins in 2019-20, playing a smart, steady game and finishing with six goals, 20 assists in 56 games.
Pettersson, 25, the lefty, was impressive two seasons ago, showing both steady play and contributing two goals, 20 assists.
Last season, one shortened by COVID-19, was a step back for both. Marino had three goals, 10 assists in 52 games, Pettersson two goals, seven assists in 47 games.
“I didn’t feel I had the year I wanted last year,” Pettersson said, adding that Marino’s concurrent rebound had helped them both.
“We’re both playing at a high level. You can see his game has really come along and he’s playing well right now, and it’s easy to feed off that.”
Just as it was not the points last season that indicated a dip in their performance, it’s not just the points this season that show a rebound.
Marino has a goal and three assists in four games. Pettersson has one assist in four games.
The Penguins were in a spot where they needed to replace defenseman Cody Ceci, who left in free agency after being perhaps surprisingly good last season. Pettersson and Marino have helped fill in.
“I think they’ve played extremely well,” Reirden said. “We talked in the offseason about how we were going to move forward without Cody Ceci and looking at different pairings. With Mike (Matheson) missing (the first three games) early on with an injury, we went back to a comfortable pairing in John and Marcus together, and they’ve earned the opportunities they’re getting.
“I think both of them understand that they were better in their game than they showed last year, and they’ve responded thus far.”
Good In A Pinch
Tuesday, Marino picked up the Penguins’ regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout loss against Dallas – and it came on what could be considered a risky, or at least gutsy, play.
Marino pinched in to the low slot and was in position to pounce on a rebound and score.
Pettersson admitted that not all defensemen would have been able to justify that risk for the potential reward, but he noted that the Penguins want that type of aggressive play.
“I think we have a lot of, uh, we’ll call it freedom as a five-man unit. … We want movement and to be able to interchange with each other,” Pettersson said.
“That was one of those plays where he saw what was there and he ended up scoring.”
Reirden also saw the good ahead of the bad.
“That was, obviously, an outstanding goal,” Reirden said. “His read and his feel in that situation, the hockey sense, that’s one of those ones that he felt the play was coming to that spot.
“He wouldn’t have been wrong if he was to leave the (offensive) zone at that time and make a smarter choice, but that’s when feel and hockey sense kicks in, and that’s where clearly John has some gifts. Those are the things we’re continuing to try to maximize and help him to grow as a defenseman in this league.”
And, at least for now, Marino will continue to do that alongside Pettersson.