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Penguins News Roundup 3/24/18: Readying for Philly

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2:45 p.m.: After falling behind in what ended up a 4-3 overtime loss Friday against New Jersey, the Penguins made a couple changes looking for a spark. Specifically, they swapped right wingers on the first and second lines, with Patric Hornqvist moving up to the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, while Bryan Rust slid onto Evgeni Malkin’s line, with Carl Hagelin. In addition, Jamie Oleksiak moved up to pair with defenseman Kris Letang, switching with Brian Dumoulin.

As reported earlier in this report, those changes stuck for practice today. It seems likely the same looks will be used Sunday against Philadelphia, at least at the game’s start.

“We’ve tried to keep some consistency over the last handful of games to try to gain some traction, but we make those decisions during the game if we think we can be proactive to try to help us get a spark,” coach Mike Sullivan said after practice.

Hornqvist doesn’t see the changes as monumental, although he and Rust have far different playing styles.

“Just to create a little different setup,” he said. “When you change lines, it always gets everybody to bear down a little bit and maybe start winning more puck battles or change the game a little bit.

“I think I’m more of a straight-line guy than Rusty. Rusty’s better at holding onto the puck. It worked well for both lines. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but it’s good to have those options.”

Providing Crosby with wingers so he can thrive has been an issue all season — heck, for most of his career.

“Everybody plays to their role, regardless of who they’re playing with,” Crosby said. “Rusty’s fast, generates a lot off the rush, taking the puck to the net. (Hornqvist) makes a living in front of the net, has position there a lot. You know guys’ tendencies, but I don’t think guys change how they play depending on who they’re playing with.”

2 p.m.: Sullivan said he didn’t have a report from the medical staff and could not say for sure, but it looks as if it’s a decent bet that winger Zach Aston-Reese will be an option for the lineup Sunday afternoon against Philadelphia. Although ZAR rotated with Dominik Simon on the fourth line at practice, Sullivan said those two are not necessarily an either-or and that the coaches will take a look at combinations should ZAR return.

Injured forward Carter Rowney joined his teammates near the end of practice, but it does not appear his return is imminent.

Check back soon for updates on the new combinations that debuted late in Friday’s game and were used again in practice today.

12:10 p.m.: All expected players are practicing. That includes defenseman Justin Schultz, who left Friday’s game but was said by Sullivan to be fine, and Aston-Reese, who is rotating in on the fourth line. Also of note, Hornqvist is skating on Crosby’s line.

The lines:

Guentzel-Crosby-Hornqvist
Hagelin-Malkin-Rust
Sheary-Brassard-Kessel
Kuhnhackl-Sheahan-Simon/Aston-Reese

Pairs:

Oleksiak-Letang
Dumoulin-Schultz
Maatta-Ruhwedel

11:40 a.m.: The Penguins will hold what we would expect to be a short, crisp practice today in Cranberry. With an early afternoon game Sunday against Philadelphia, this will essentially serve as a morning skate. Stay tuned for updates.

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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