It was a rare all-hands on deck Pittsburgh Penguins morning skate Monday morning. The Penguins have followed other teams including the Columbus Blue Jackets in abandoning the morning skate tradition. The team had a full roster and full Penguins lines, except for Sidney Crosby and the other injured players.
There was some wonder if Crosby would participate because he has been skating on his own since before the NHL holiday break. However, Crosby was seen leaving the Penguins locker room in street clothes before the all of the players left the ice. Head coach Mike Sullivan said Crosby had a scheduled day off on Monday.
Center Nick Bjugstad, who also had core muscle surgery was still in workout gear after the Penguins skate.
On the ice, the Penguins lines were identical to Saturday night, when the team narrowly escaped a furious comeback and beat the Nashville Predators, 6-4 at PPG Paints Arena. Alex Galchenyuk snapped a nine-game goalless streak on Friday and scored again on Saturday. Juuso Riikola had his second consecutive multi-point game.
Tristan Jarry was the first goalie off the ice, so it’s likely he will start. That is more significant than you may realize. If there was a game for the Penguins coaches to go back to Murray to get his mojo back, Monday was it.
Murray made 44 saves and it seems to be a matter of perspective if it was a great performance. Some colleagues really pushed on that idea. My report card was less enthusiastic.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines / D-Pairs
Jarry (First off)
Simon appeared on the right wing of the third line, and so did Patric Hornqvist. The lineup choice is likely between Joseph Blandisi and Simon. If Blandisi plays, Simon will get a seat. If Blandisi is scratched, Lafferty will slide to center with Simon and Hornqvist.
After line rushes, the Penguins worked on their power-play. The edict has been simple: Shoot, especially from the points.
Second unit point-man Juuso Riikola has four points in the last two games and the second unit has been effective. They’ve kept it simple.
“Shoot, when you have the opportunity,” Riikola said. “We have guys at the net and who create opportunities.”
The Penguins top power-play unit has been hit-and-miss but clearly benefitted from Patric Hornqvist’s return. The team scored three power-play goals Saturday night. Shooting is always one of the issues for the top unit.
“The guys who were on (the power play) executed. They made good decisions. We shot the puck at the right times and we established that shot from the top,” Sullivan.
The Penguins have improved to 15th in the league at 19.3%.
And a quick side note, PHN asked one Penguins veteran if he has allowed himself to imagine what the team will be like when everyone is healthy and how good the Penguins might be. We got the right answer but not one which will make headlines.
“We stay in the moment, trying to stay focused. Day by day. Game by game,” the veteran said.
We’ll ask again in a week.
Galchenyuk scored two goals over the last two games. It was a huge relief for the winger who had been putting pressure on himself to break out after a long first-half slump. He also returned from the holiday break clean-shaven.
“It’s always a demanding schedule. You play a lot of games, so four or five days (off), it takes time to adjust but it’s nice. You need that and we definitely rebooted our energy,” Galchenyuk said.
If Galchenyuk can bolster the second PP unit, the Penguins could see a significant uptick. If he goes on a tear as he did last Dec.-Feb., that could be a real boost to the Penguins and keep him in the lineup.