The Pittsburgh Penguins forward line combinations could be taking shape for when winger Jason Zucker returns from core muscle surgery — and that could be imminent. Zucker joined the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell during Wednesday’s practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Center.
Zucker skated at full capacity/full contact for the first time during Tuesday’s morning skate, something coach Mike Sullivan called “significant.” It sure seems as if he could return as soon as Thursday when the Penguins play at Minnesota. Sullivan after practice labeled Zucker a game-time decision.
With Zucker on the second line, the top line reverted to form with Sidney Crosby centering Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. That was a look the Penguins switched back to during Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
Evan Rodrigues, who had been filling in on the top line recently, dropped to the third line Wednesday. Danton Heinen dropped to the fourth line.
Zucker and Rodrigues took turns on the second power play unit.
Also of note, Marcus Pettersson looked to be the odd man out in defensive pairings, with Mark Friedman joining the top six.
The Penguins looked like this:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker-Evgeni Malkin-Rickard Rakell
Evan Rodrigues-Jeff Carter-Kasperi Kapanen
Brian Boyle-Teddy Blueger-Danton Heinen
(Radim Zohorna, Anthony Angello)
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Mike Matheson-John Marino
Mark Friedman-Chad Ruhwedel