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Defensive Lineup Questions Coming to a Head

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Olli Maatta/Photo by Greg Thornberry

It’s been a topic for a while with the Pittsburgh Penguins – what happens when their top seven or eight defensemen are all healthy at the same time? It’s something that might be forced from the back burner as soon as Friday.

Defenseman Kris Letang (upper body, most recently missed one game) apparently is not skating yet.  Coach Mike Sullivan called Letang “status quo” Tuesday while noting that center Evgeni Malkin (upper body, missed five games) and depth defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (upper body, missed 14 games) skated before practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

But defenseman Olli Maatta (shoulder, missed 21 games) again was a full participant in practice, and Sullivan said the Penguins are “hopeful” Maatta will be cleared to play before Nashville visits Friday.

So what happens then, assuming Maatta is cleared but Letang is still out?

Zach Trotman, a right-handed shot like Letang, has been filling in in Letang’s spot alongside Brian Dumoulin. The Penguins really favor the righty-lefty dynamic. Maatta, a left-handed shot, would not easily slip into a spot even with Letang still out.

“I think the decision we have to make is what are the best pairs that complement the group,” Sullivan said. “We’ve liked some of the pairs that we’ve had together since we’ve acquired some players. For example, we’ve liked Marcus (Pettersson) and (Erik Gudbranson) together. They’ve been a very good tandem for us.

“Based on the health of our defense corps, we’re going to have to make decisions as a coaching staff that we think is best for the overall group. Part of that is trying to figure out what those pairs look like, and Olli is one of those guys.”

Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz have made up the other pairing lately.

So does Maatta sit while healthy? Someone else? Does Trotman sit while the Penguins deviate from the righty-lefty dynamic?

Stay tuned.

 

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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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