Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin and winger Zach Aston-Reese were defined Tuesday by coach Mike Sullivan as each being a “game-time decision” to return from injury for the club’s playoffs opener Wednesday against the New York Islanders.
Both players, for a second straight day, participated fully in practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, although Dumoulin again skated on a spare, fourth defensive pairing with Zach Trotman. Aston-Reese again rotated onto the fourth line.
The medical decision on those two won’t be the only decisions the Penguins will have to make when they – seemingly very soon – finally get completely healthy (save for depth defenseman Chad Ruhwedel).
One of the seven qualified defensemen will have to sit.
“It’s great,” Sullivan said of getting so close to a full contingent of defensemen. “I think it makes our team more competitive. It makes for difficult decisions for the coaching staff, but those are good decisions to have.
“The reality is, we feel as though for us to reach our ultimate goal we have to depth. You have to have everybody contribute. We just have to make sure that on a daily basis we do our very best to make the best decisions for the team in putting our lineup together, and the guys that aren’t in the lineup are going to stay ready.”
That ultimate goal, of course, being a third Stanley Cup in the past four years.
Let the speculation and opinions continue to fly over which defenseman will or should sit out and what the pairings will look like.
At practice Tuesday, the forward lines were the same as on Monday. The defensive pairings changed, with Olli Maatta replacing Jack Johnson alongside Kris Letang and Johnson back with Justin Schultz. Dumoulin’s normal spot is alongside Letang.
This is the postseason, so no one connected with the club is likely to tip their hand. Neither Dumoulin nor Aston-Reese spoke with reporters.
Here’s what the lines and pairings looked like:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Jared McCann-Evgeni Malkin-Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Simon-Nick Bjugstad-Phil Kessel
Teddy Blueger-Matt Cullen-Garrett Wilson/Zach Aston-Reese
Olli Maatta-Kris Letang
Jack Johnson-Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson-Erik Gudbranson
Brian Dumoulin-Zach Trotman