News about John Ludvig’s injury and the look the Pittsburgh Penguins sported during practice Wednesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex point to changes on defense, at least for the time being.
Ludvig, who was placed on LTIR Wednesday morning, will be out “longer term” because of an upper-body injury, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
While the top defensive pairing of Marcus Pettersson and Kris Letang remained intact, P.O Joseph skated alongside Erik Karlsson, while Graves moved to the third pairing with Chad Ruhwedel, with Ryan Shea rotating in on that third pairing.
The moves appear to give Graves, a veteran, and Joseph, a 24-year-old, a chance to find their game.
Graves spoke candidly about his play following Tuesday’s game, and he expounded on that and his first season with the Penguins on Wednesday.
“It obviously didn’t go well (Tuesday) night. No excuses,” Graves said. “You look at it, you get away from it and you move on.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I’m fully aware of how it’s gone. But I think there’s been some good hockey in there, too. Obviously, early there’s an adjustment period. … But I think it’s time that that’s over with. There’s been good hockey and bad hockey. I just need to find some consistency.”
Graves has spent most of the season alongside either Letang or Karlsson. A move to the third pairing, if the Penguins stick with that look, could give him a chance to find that consistency.
Joseph, meanwhile, played 75 games with the Penguins last season, with five goals and 21 points. While there was some competition this season, it seemed the opportunity was there for him to solidify a spot in the lineup.
Instead, he struggled, endured an injury and has been in and out of the lineup. He was a healthy scratch for six games in a row before he dressed for Tuesday’s game when Ludvig could not play.
“It’s been a challenging year, with the start of the season not going so well and the injury and the ups and downs,” said Joseph, who has no goals, two assists in nine NHL games this season.
“I think it’s a learning experience so far. I feel like I’ve learned a lot.”
Sullivan seems willing to give Joseph some leash at this point.
“I thought P.O played well in his first game back in a while,” Sullivan said. “When P.O is at his best, his biggest asset is his mobility, his skating ability and his ability to move the puck, and I thought he did a really good job with that (Tuesday) night.
“I think he can help us drive offense five on five. When he’s at his best, he’s defending well with his stick. On both sides of the puck, we’re trying to help him play to his strengths.”
One thing Joseph learned from sitting out games is how Karlsson plays, something that could help him if the two stay paired.
“I feel like we’re different partners together, play differently, but I’ve been watching all the games and I feel like I’m starting to understand ‘Karl’ a bit,” Joseph said. “I’m just trying to be support for him. He’s a high-skilled defenseman. He’s thinking offensively a lot. Whenever I can, give him the puck, as much as possible, and let him do his thing. He’s a remarkable player.”
Karlsson was also complimentary toward Joseph.
“It’s nice to see that he’s playing, he’s getting his opportunity,” Karlsson said. “Everyone can play with everyone, but (Tuesday) we moved the puck well, and it’s a different kind of game. We’ll see how it translates moving forward.
“He’s one of those kids that he’s willing and eager to learn and evolve his game. Hopefully, my experience can bring some steadiness to that.”
Ludvig, meanwhile, won’t be eligible to return until the final weekend of January.
He brings an aspect that isn’t common in the Penguins lineup – physicality. That no doubt will be missed.
Consider the Penguins’ opponent Thursday. The Boston Bruins can play a heavier game, over and above the players you might think of right away, such as Brad Marchand.
Tuesday, in the Bruins’ 4-1 win at Columbus, the line of James van Riemsdyk, Trent Frederic and former Penguin Danton Heinen combined for three goals and two assists, and their offense wasn’t the only story.
“Really pleased. They played a big, heavy game,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of that line.