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Penguins Practice: Final Camp Battles into Focus, Lineup Forms

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Pittsburgh Penguins practice

Four men enter, two men leave. Eventually, three will leave. That is the final battle for a Pittsburgh Penguins roster spot.

Brian Boyle, Drew O’Connor, Sam Lafferty, and Radim Zohorna. They are the four players vying for the open roster spots. The number of spots is currently variable, pending the health of Jake Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese, who are in the COVID protocol. Aston-Reese has been in the protocol for nine days and experienced mild symptoms. Guentzel was asymptomatic and has been out for, but neither has returned.

Sidney Crosby will be back approximately five games into the season. That’s three spots unavailable, eventually, so the above quartet is fighting for a spot in the press box at the NHL level or making another forward the 13th type while they grab ice time.

“As we get closer to the regular season, the priority starts to weigh more on the on preparing the team from a detail standpoint for Game One. Part of that design is–when you look at some of the groups that we put together for practices–the intention there is to get close to the semblance of our roster,” Sullivan said. “That might not be the exact one, but close to it so that we can work on our team concept in utilizing those practices that are so critically important to us as far as getting on the same page.”

Based on practice lines on Wednesday, the top three Penguins lines were:

Pittsburgh Penguins Lines

Heinen-Carter-Rust

Zucker-Rodrigues-Kapanen

Simon-Blueger-McGinn

Lafferty/Zohorna-Boyle-O’Connor

The Penguins fourth line revolved around Brian Boyle at center and O’Connor on the wing (they rotated). Lafferty and Zohorna cycled in on the other wing.

So, for this moment, we can assume the final decisions are to keep Simon, who is on a two-way contract. Lafferty will probably get a bus ticket, and it appears Zohorna is on the losing end, at least today.

The Penguins’ penalty kill may take center stage, and probably should, regarding the final few decisions. The NHL’s 27th ranked PK can’t wet the bed again this season.

“Some of these things are going to be important deciding factors when we’re talking about the final roster spots on who can fill what roles,” said Sullivan. “So, there are multiple objectives in mind, but as far as the penalty kill is concerned … part of it is just actually assessing what we have and who we think can get the job done.”

Sullivan continued to speak highly of Zohorna, more highly than the coach needed to make his point or defend his player. The takeaway is the Penguins organization is excited by Zohorna’s tomorrow, even if he’s not entirely the best fit today.

On the plus side, if Zohorna or O’Connor goes to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as a center, they will likely get to pivot Sam Poulin and/or Nathan Legare. The Penguins top forward prospects were excluded from practice on Wednesday in advance of a team meeting. Perhaps Poulin or Legare will get another preseason game, but the practice group is the NHL club.

Plus a couple.

P.O. Joseph and Juuso Riikola worked as the Penguins’ fourth defensive pair on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh Penguins Defensive Pairings

Dumoulin-Letang

Matheson-Marino

Pettersson-Ruhwedel

Joseph-Riikola

Defenseman Mark Friedman had a “maintenance day” per head coach Mike Sullivan. Friedman blocked a shot on Tuesday night, and Sullivan reported Friedman was a bit sore. So, we can’t glean anything from the third pairing, though Ruhwedel’s inclusion in the lineup on Sunday is a good indicator that he had the “lead” over Friedman for the third pair, right side.

The bigger question is if the Penguins will carry eight defensemen with Juuso Riikola or send the Finnish d-man to WBS to play (and save the salary cap space).

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Katz
Katz
16 days ago

No surprises to those who always knew.

Nicholas
Nicholas
15 days ago

At first I was certain Boyle was going to make the team, but the way OConnor has been playing Im concerned Boyle might get pushed out. OConnor looks like a completely different player than he did last season, whatever training regimen he did over the summer completely transformed him. Last season OConnor was the most generic type of player, you could go to any random college hockey game and find 40 players who play exactly like him, but this training camp hes fast, hes making smart decisions with the puck, hes going to the right areas, its a night and… Read more »

Ujn Hunter
15 days ago
Reply to  Nicholas

Exactly my thoughts on O’Connor, looks like he took the lessons learned from the few (10) games he got last year and went to work. Vanilla (even though I like that flavor of ice cream) was my impression from last year and that was not good. Glad to be surprised this year so far.

Jason
15 days ago

Simon should be going to WBS! O’Connor has earned a spot and Big Z as well! What they see in Simon boggles my mind I thought Angelo was pretty good as well!

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
15 days ago
Reply to  Jason

I concur

Katz
Katz
15 days ago
Reply to  Jason

When they made Dominik Simon their very first free agent signing you should have known, right after you puked. It was as if they wanted him before any other of the 31 teams who were dying to snatch him up.

Sullivan will realize this season he’s living and coaching in the past. ‘Glory Days’

Last edited 15 days ago by Katz
mike384
mike384
15 days ago
Reply to  Jason

I have a strong feeling they want to keep Zohorna and Simon together, actually I suppose that was the reason why they bring Simon back. Just be a mate, who can help Zohorna get going. At some point they both will end up in WBS. If injuries hit, Zohorna is gonna be their guy.

Katz
Katz
15 days ago
Reply to  mike384

Sorry I disagree. Sid and Sullivan have nocturnal emissions over Simon. They were going to pick him up and he was always going to be on the roster. I told that the people that they required him again some disagreed with the proof is in the pudding, no pun intended.

Last edited 15 days ago by Katz
Rob
Rob
15 days ago
Reply to  Jason

The illness of ZAR and Jake opened up a spot for him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be even sniffing the opening night lineup

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
15 days ago

Looks like a non-playoff lineup.

Jay95
Jay95
15 days ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

Until you put Sid, Geno, Guentzel, and ZAR in… 🙄

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
15 days ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

Don’t worry, if they are as bad as some people are predicting, the rebuild will start this season and they will miss the playoffs for the foreseeable future!!!

I love how people judge a team before any games are played. No team is a stanley cup contender forever.

Bachinga
Bachinga
15 days ago

OC needs to show he can play against NHLers…we already know how he is against AHLers…

Dorothy Tecklenburg
Dorothy Tecklenburg
15 days ago

What happened to Taylor Fedun?

Rob
Rob
15 days ago

This was posted before he was called for the next game. He will be sent back to WB/S after the game

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