The loss of Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad to what coach Mike Sullivan termed “longer term” injuries leaves the Pittsburgh Penguins with several decisions to make among their forward lines.
They will have to address them rather quickly, with a game Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets at PPG Paints Arena.
For months, the Penguins have been applauding the options they have at forward with several versatile players. Now that will come into play.
“Whenever players go down, it always provides an opportunity for someone else to step up. That’s just the nature of our business,” Sullivan said.
“Fortunately, we have some guys that we can put into the center ice position that have familiarity and a comfort level there.”
The Penguins practiced Monday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex with just 10 forwards.
Sullivan noted there will be decisions made over the 24 hours leading up to the game against the Jets. It seems imperative that the Penguins recall at least one forward from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, unless they can concoct a quick trade.
Sullivan didn’t dismiss the idea of dressing seven defensemen and 11 forwards. The team is carrying nine defensemen, and a young player such as Jusso Riikola or John Marino might benefit from some playing time.
But going with seven defensemen hasn’t been something Sullivan seems to be drawn to in the past.
One thing that seems practically a given is that Jared McCann will move up from third-line winger to fill Malkin’s spot on the second line centering Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Tanev. He made that move for the second half of Saturday’s game after Malkin got hurt and scored twice.
“Jared already made an impact in the last game, and he’s a guy that we can put at the center ice position and will probably play a more significant role,” Sullivan said “It’s a great opportunity for players like him.”
McCann expressed no preference for the wing or center.
“I grew up playing center. If they call me to do that again, I’ll be ready for it,” McCann said. “I just want to play.”
He doesn’t feel the need to adapt his game regardless of his linemates.
“We have such a deep team here that you can play the same way with everybody. Everybody’s got that skill,” McCann said.
Team captain Sidney Crosby and Teddy Blueger are the two healthy players who had been playing center regularly. One other possibility, Sullivan acknowledged, is Dominik Kahun, who has been a winger on various lines.
“He’s another guy that’s a natural center,” Sullivan said. “He’s certainly a guy that we’ll discuss when we’re trying to fill those roles.”