The NHL’s three-day holiday break, which began Saturday, has given Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall a chance to visit some out-of-town family members.
Especially when the Penguins actually got an early start on their time off, since it began immediately after their 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina Thursday.
Hextall’s break won’t last as long as that of the players, however.
His holiday itinerary includes a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he will scout the world junior championship, which begins Monday.
Hextall won’t be assessing any Penguins prospects, however. His team and Toronto are the only ones that don’t have at least one draftee participating in the tournament.
‘Out of my hands’
Although Teddy Blueger’s season got off to a miserable start — he sat out the first 15 games because of an unspecified injury sustained during training camp — he has had a positive impact since rejoining the lineup.
He returned Nov. 15 and quickly reclaimed his place as the fourth-line center and a core member of a penalty-killing unit which, after sputtering through the early weeks of the season, has risen to a tie with San Jose for first place in the NHL rankings.
Blueger is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent when his two-year contract, which carries a $2.2 million salary-cap hit, expires next summer, but said he has not thought much about his next deal.
“I’m doing the best I can for the team every day,” Blueger said recently. “That doesn’t change, whether I have a long-term contract or a short-term or whatever the situation is. It’s all out of my hands. I’m just trying to give my best every day, play my best.
“That’s all I can do. Then the rest of it is out of my hands. There’s a million different scenarios you can go through in your head, but that’s kind of a waste of time. I’ve found that things change quickly, and it’s all based on how you perform.”
The Penguins might share a slab of ice with John Marino for the first time since trading him to New Jersey when the Devils visit PPG Paints Arena Friday at 7:38 p.m.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were willing to part with Marino partly because shedding his $4.1 million cap hit opened some badly needed space and partly because his game had plateaued after an outstanding rookie season in 2019-20. They got defenseman Ty Smith and a third-round draft choice in the exchange.
Marino’s status for the game here is uncertain because he is listed as “week to week” due to an unspecified upper-body injury suffered during the second period of a game against Carolina last Tuesday.
His strong defensive play has been cited as a major factor in the Devils’ surprising start, which carried them to the top of the Metropolitan Division. However, he, like his team, had a pretty difficult time in recent weeks, even before he was hurt.
New Jersey is in a 1-6-1 free fall, and Marino did not have a positive plus-minus rating in any of the seven games leading up to his injury. Nonetheless, he is plus-11 for the season and seems to have his career back on its trajectory of a few years ago.
Rest is best?
Like every coach in every sport, Mike Sullivan makes some decisions that invite second-guessing, especially when they don’t work out as hoped.
However, there’s at least one move he’s made this season that likely no one will dispute: Frequently calling off practices, replacing them with off-ice workouts or simple days-off.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the oldest team in the NHL, and some of their oldest players also are their most important.
Kris Letang, 35, averages a team-leading 24 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time.
Sidney Crosby, also 35, averages 19:55, most of any Penguins forward.
Jeff Petry, yet another 35-year-old, was logging 22:20 per game before being injured.
Evgeni Malkin, 36, plays 18:03. And while Jeff Carter, who turns 38 next Sunday, is averaging a relatively modest 14:38, he often gets some hard minutes on the penalty-kill.
Sullivan obviously appreciates that rest can be a weapon, and the Penguins’ 15-3-3 record in their past 21 games makes it hard to argue with his approach. As long as Sullivan’s team continues to pick up points, there’s no reason to question the wisdom of keeping his players off the ice whenever it seems prudent.