The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost regular defenseman Mike Matheson for the foreseeable future because of an upper-body injury. Coach Mike Sullivan termed Matheson as being out week to week following practice Friday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
There is a bit of mystery surrounding Matheson’s injury. There was no apparent problem during Thursday’s 6-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, and Matheson even spoke with reporters after the game — as opposed to, say, being in the training room or being evaluated by doctors during that time. It would seem some issue cropped up overnight. So his absence from practice Friday was a bit of a surprise.
Mark Friedman, whose recall was announced Friday after a conditioning stint in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, skated in Matheson’s spot alongside Chad Ruhwedel on the third pairing during Friday’s short practice that essentially served as a morning skate for Saturday’s Metropolitan Division showdown with the visiting New York Rangers.
Matheson, 27, has been a solid addition to the Penguins’ defense core in his two seasons with them. He’s shown a strong two-way game, and this season has seven goals, 21 points in 50 games.
Barring a recall or other move, Friedman would appear to be in for Saturday’s game. The Penguins currently have just six healthy defensemen with Matheson out.
Friedman, 26, has been lightly used with the Penguins. He has no goals, four assists in 12 games this season. He had no points in two games with Wilkes-Barre during his conditioning assignment, which seems fortuitous now as it got him some playing time before it turns out he could be needed for a while at the NHL level.
“He played very well,” Sullivan said of Friedman’s two games in the AHL. “We thought it was important that he get into some games so that it puts him in a better position to be successful when he gets the tap on the shoulder to play here in Pittsburgh. It’s not easy when you’ve been on the sideline and just trying to keep himself ready. He’s been skating hard in practice.
“He’s in great shape. But it’s had to simulate game-real scenarios and game-real intensity. We felt at this time it was important for him to at least get into some games to try to keep himself ready.”
More important than the Penguins even could have foreseen, given Matheson’s injury.
The Penguins have been plagued by injuries and COVID-19 absences all season. That had died down some lately. Center Teddy Blueger (jaw surgery) is practicing in a non-contact capacity. Third-string goaltender Louis Domingue (foot) apparently skated before practice Friday, although not in any sort of pads or gear. Winger Jason Zucker (core muscle surgery) is the only other player out. For now.