The Pittsburgh Penguins could continue to have some lineup changes for the final leg of their long road trip. Top-line right winger Bryan Rust, who had been in COVID-19 protocol, joined the team for practice Sunday in Las Vegas. However, center Evgeni Malkin and forward Drew O’Connor were absent from practice.
Coach Mike Sullivan indicated that Malkin and O’Connor were given the practice off because of maintenance days. That usually, but not always, means they will be available to play in the ensuing game, which for the Penguins means Monday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Rust has missed the past four games while in protocol. He practiced Sunday in his normal spot with center Sidney Crosby and left winger Jake Guentzel. There had been mild speculation that Evan Rodrigues would continue to hold down the right side of that line once Rust returned, but the Guentzel-Crosby-Rust line is seasoned and established.
While it seems likely that Rust will return Monday, Sullivan would only confirm that Rust is out of protocol, saying it has not been determined whether Rust will play. At times, players have been given some extra time to practice and get their legs under them after they have been sidelined by COVID-19 protocol. Not only did Rust participate in the practice Sunday, but he could skate in what likely will be an optional morning skate Monday.
Rust said he had symptoms early and slept a lot during his time away — spent at a hotel in Dallas, where he tested positive — and by Monday said he felt “probably like anybody would after a week off, a bit rusty, pun intended. But it was definitely good to be back out there.”
Forwards Danton Heinen and Zach Aston-Reese, and goaltender Casey DeSmith, who also have been in protocol, did not practice. Jason Zucker, who has been out on a week-to-week basis because of an unspecified injury but practicing in a limited capacity, practiced on a regular, if revamped, line. Sullivan said Zucker is a game-time decision for Monday.
The Penguins are 3-2 on their six-game road trip, coming off a 2-1 overtime win Saturday at San Jose, and so are assured of at least going .500.
During Saturday’s game, Sullivan did some line shuffling. Most notably he broke up what had been the second line, moving Kasperi Kapanen down while leaving Malkin at center and Jeff Carter at left wing. Carter, normally a center, has been playing on that wing the past three games, which have been Malkin’s first three games back from offseason knee surgery.
It’s hard to know what the lines might look like Monday against Vegas given the players who were and were not at practice. According to multiple on-site reports, the lines at practice behind the top line featured Radim Zohorna-Carter-Rodrigues; Dominik Simon-Teddy Blueger-Brock McGinn; and Zucker-Brian Boyle-Kapanen.
The Golden Knights might not have the most up-to-date information on the Penguins’ latest alignments, or else they know something we don’t.
— Owen Krepps (@OKrepps85) January 16, 2022