If the Pittsburgh Penguins can’t talk their way out of the bad vibes that have enveloped them for several weeks, perhaps they can sweat them out. For the first time in a few weeks, head coach Mike Sullivan dropped the puck on a fast-paced practice in advance of the regular-season finale.
The Penguins lines underwent a few changes from the Tuesday night 5-1 letdown loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
However, winger Jason Zucker, who suffered his fourth injury of the season on Tuesday night, was not on the ice.
Zucker missed 37 games due to injury before returning for one game on Jan. 17, then exiting for six weeks due to core muscle surgery. Zucker was injured in his first game back on March 31 and missed 10 days after a nasty fall into the boards.
On Tuesday night, head coach Mike Sullivan said Zucker was being evaluated for a lower-body injury. Zucker has had a star-crossed season and a few years with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has only 17 points (8-9-17) in 41 games while dealing with three previous absences.
“I’m not going to get into specifics,” Sullivan said when asked if it was a new injury or a reaggravation.
Thursday afternoon, Sullivan declined to go into specific but did not deliver good news. He said Zucker was still being evaluated for a lower-body injury.
As for the team, Sullivan didn’t exactly put them through a bag skate, but it was a high-tempo practice with a lot of 5v5 skating and dump-in drills.
The “new” Pittsburgh Penguins lines, at least until Zucker’s fate is known, kept Bryan Rust with Sidney Crosby and Rickard Rakell with Evgeni Malkin. Kasperi Kapanen skated on the third line with Jeff Carter and even flashed a few stickhandling moves as he brought the puck behind his skates at full speed and tried to escape a defenseman to the outside.
The Penguins’ drills for the 5v5 skating included dump-and-chase schemes or just practice at doing it better. One of the things the Penguins did not do well on Tuesday was chip-in placement. The Penguins dump-ins were not well placed, and Edmonton goalie Mike Smith was able to help his defensemen avoid the forecheck. WIthout good dump-ins, Edmonton also had a quicker transition game.
Maybe Kapanen is feeling a little better about himself?
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines:
Teddy Blueger–Pivot(al) role
Blueger has been a rock in the middle of the Penguins lineup. Through injuries and illness, he’s slotted in all four Penguins lines at some point. You can follow the nicknames game, too.
“I think Boiler, Hino, Ginner, and I think one of the strengths of our team is depth at forward, so all of the guys are really great players. They’re easy to play with and get along with off the ice. Just do whatever is tasked of us. Nothing (different), just go on the ice and play.”
This season, Blueger has 26 points (9-17-26) in 64 games.
His defensive prowess allowed head coach Mike Sullivan to deploy him against 2/3 of the Boston Bruins’ “Perfection Line” with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (David Pastrnak was out with illness. Blueger and linemates kept Marchand off the scoresheet, and Bergeron was otherwise quiet in a pair of games against the Penguins.
The Penguins need to establish some momentum or feel good before the playoffs begin next week. They’ve flatlined in two straight losses and have only a few wins in the last couple of weeks.
“We’ve got to bring some of that (energy). I just think it’s very contagious, and when something goes south–some negativity–I think it spirals down, and takes its toll on everyone. And I think the same thing goes for positivity,” Blueger said.