CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, PA — Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan scratched recently recalled Teddy Blueger last Monday in Philadelphia. Blueger returned to the lineup Wednesday night and scored his third NHL goal.
“He’s making a strong case for himself,” Sullivan admitted after the game.
The lines at Penguins practice Friday at the UPMC Lemieux Complex built upon the lines the lines of the past week. Blueger was again on the third line with Jared McCann.
The Penguins third line not only put a mark on the scoreboard Wednesday night, but they also out-chanced their opponents. And outskated them. In a season when the Penguins forecheck has been sketchy, Blueger and McCann showed the young hops which carried the Penguins in 2016.
On the outs, Friday was struggling winger Tanner Pearson. In his last 13 games, Pearson has just 13 points. Worse, he’s not been a factor either.
Pearson, 26, has two years remaining with a $3.75 million cap hit. He was acquired in November for Carl Hagelin. Pearson has 14 points (9g, 5a) in 41 games.
Also in the lineup, Friday was Garrett Wilson, who has become a mainstay on the Penguins fourth line. His simple, straight forward game is music to the coach’s ears, after trying to get more of the team to adopt that song for much of the season.
“I know my style of play and I was confident in my game,” said Wilson. “Being here is an honor and I don’t take any day for granted.”
Wilson appears to be slotted ahead of another struggling winger Dominik Simon. Like Pearson, Simon has gone bone dry on the score sheet. Unlike Pearson, Simon does not have a large contract or a career of production.
Also note Phil Kessel back to the left wing. Sullivan is pushing McCann to be the Penguins third line center.
Sullivan will not worry about a player’s experience or youth when making the lineup.
“That’s never been part of the criteria I’ve ever used,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to put players in the lineup we think can play well, help us win and bring a certain dimension to the team.”
Lines at Practice:
Odds and Ends
*The new guys the Penguins have acquired or called up are not short on smiles or enthusiasm. From Bjugstad to Wilson, those guys haven’t yet won a Stanley Cup, much less three. When the dust settles, it will be interesting to see how much they can affect the atmosphere and how much enthusiasm rubs off on the veteran team.
*Matt Cullen. I started a feature piece after watching him counsel a younger player after practice. “Even if it’s only 11 minutes, you have to be efficient,” he was overheard saying. The younger player to whom he was providing advice was not a lowly paid scrapper but was intent on listening nonetheless.
*If Garrett Wilson hangs around long enough, and you get to know him, you’re going to like him. I think he’s got a 50/50 shot of being here in 10 days. I root for any player who survived the ECHL.
*I caught Nick Bjugstad marveling at the swarm of media running to Sidney Crosby. There is a hoard of Canadian and out-of-town media here this week so the mob was even larger.
He played at the University of Minnesota, so he’s seen a few media scrums, but like driving in the snow, it has been a while.
*The Penguins worked on 5v5 drills–line battles–at practice, so the line combinations were not insignificant. I think the Penguins are going to be pleased with the lines. The biggest question which remains is if McCann can drive enough offensive pressure to lock down the third line center position.
*Sullivan also gave a clinic on the importance of shots and territory. It will be a must read and watch for anyone who fancies themselves a stats or an eye test person.