CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Pittsburgh Penguins practice, as it has been lately, was crisp and no-nonsense Wednesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. There also were some signs of possible change heading into a four-game, 12-day trip through Canada that begins Thursday at Toronto. The Penguins lines looked very different than the night before.
The only forward line that remained the same was the one with a lot of staying power this season, the second line of Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
But even that line could use some fine-tuning for the 2-1-2 Penguins, according to coach Mike Sullivan.
“It has the potential to be a very dynamic line for us. The quick-strike capability is evident,” Sullivan said. “They can go through long stretches where they don’t have the puck or things don’t happen, and in one shift they can put it in the back of the net.
“We’re trying to work with that particular line and establish a little bit more structure without the puck so that they can get the puck back quicker.”
In the meantime, Derick Brassard moved back to his third-line center role after a look at winger on the top line, with Bryan Rust moving to the top line. In addition, Derek Grant seemed to rotate in on the fourth line more than usual, perhaps an indication that Daniel Sprong could be a healthy scratch at some point.
“It’s certainly something that we talk about daily,” Sullivan said of decisions such as getting Grant into a game. “If we don’t get some traction here, then change is inevitable. … Derek is a guy that has real good offensive instincts. He has good size. He can protect the puck down low. So he’s certainly a guy that we can go to. That’s an option.”
No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray was cleared medically after a concussion before Saturday’s game but has served as Casey DeSmith’s backup for two games.
Murray confirmed he feels good and would like to play.
“I hate being out,” he said. “I’m absolutely ready to go.”
He added, though, that he will defer to the coaches on his playing status.
Defenseman Juuso Riikola missed practice with what Sullivan termed a maintenance day. That can mean many things, but considering the Penguins feel as if they are struggling to gain their footing, it’s unlikely Riikola would miss practice for something overly minor. He probably has at least a nagging injury.
With Riikola not practicing, the defensive pairings looked like this:
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Jamie Oleksiak
Jack Johnson-Chad Ruhwedel
Here is what the forward lines looked like:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon-Derick Brassard-Patric Hornqvist
Riley Sheahan-Matt Cullen-Daniel Sprong
Derek Grant rotated in on the fourth line.