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Bad Luck and Bad Decision Deny Friedman Look for Regular Job



Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL trade, Mark Friedman

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley”, wrote Robert Burns. No matter how well persons plan, often things go awry. For Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman, his plans to win a job in training camp were scuttled in part by doing the right things…and then doing the wrong thing.

Burns’s poem made its way into Of Mice and Men. Friedman may not be so lucky with the Penguins lineup.

The Penguins had two potential defensemen for the right-side spot on the third defensive pairing. You could up the numbers of competitors to three if P.O. Joseph showed well enough in camp to dislodge one of the left-side defensemen. Perhaps even four if Juuso Riikola played well enough to force coaches to reevaluate his organizational standing.

Instead, the battle for the spot dwindled to Chad Ruhwedel vs. Mark Friedman. However, Friedman suffered bad luck by doing the right thing on Tuesday night and bad results by doing the wrong thing on Saturday night.

The Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 in OT but did so mostly without Friedman, who took a Game Misconduct penalty in the first period.

Much like Juuso Riikola’s bad luck last season when injuries opened the door to his best chance to earn playing time only to be hampered by his own injury, Friedman’s lousy luck has impeded his success too.

On Tuesday night, Friedman was felled when he blocked a shot. Teammates helped him off the ice, but he returned for the second period. He was sore and missed practice the following day and did not play in the Penguins preseason game on Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

Head coach Mike Sullivan admitted it was a setback for Friedman’s chase for a regular role.

“…We had intended on putting him in the game in Detroit. When he took that shot, that kind of set us back a little bit,” Sullivan said. “He would have got another game there. So it would have been nice to see ‘Freeds’ a little bit more in a couple of more of the games…”

Bad luck on Tuesday and Thursday.

Bad decision on Saturday.

Friedman was sticking up for goalie Tristan Jarry, who got a good bump from Sean Kuraly, but instead of a roughing up Kuraly in return, Friedman speared him. Referees assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct.

“…The explanation was it’s pretty self-explanatory. It was what it was,” Sullivan said. “I certainly appreciate us sticking up for one another in those types of instances, but I think we’ve got to do it in a smarter way.”

After Friedman missed Thursday, has banged up Tuesday, he played just three-plus minutes on Saturday. That’s not the finish to camp that Friedman needed to jump past the incumbent Chad Ruhwedel.

Adding to Friedan’s “bad luck,” Ruhwedel scored the Penguins first goal on Saturday.

“For the most part, they’ve had pretty solid camps. I think Chad Ruhwedel has a significant body of work with our team. And we’re very familiar with his game and in what he brings,” said Sullivan. “Chad is a great pro when he brings it consistently. You know, ‘Freeds,’ it was unfortunate that he got out of the game so early tonight…”

No, it’s decision time for Sullivan.

The Penguins coach often put off commenting on coming decisions throughout training camp, preferring to wait until the end. We are now at the end of training camp. Sunday is an off day. The team will probably take flight on Sunday or Monday to start their season on Tuesday in Tampa Bay.

That means the Pittsburgh Penguins final cuts are probably coming on Sunday.

Friedman is at least the Penguins’ seventh defenseman, as the team sent Juuso Riikola to the AHL on Saturday. But Friedman was perpetually on the verge of a regular spot in Philadelphia before the Penguins claimed him on waivers last season. Friedman was poised for a run in the Penguins starting lineup until he too suffered an injury–in a wild game against Philadelphia shortly after he was acquired.

Friedman scored a goal, was boarded by Nolan Patrick, and finally left the game after a freight-train collision with Patrick later in the game. He was out for weeks afterward.

More bad luck for the 25-year-old defenseman.

In August, Penguins GM Ron Hextall conceded–in response to a question from PHN–that he would have to get creative to add additional talent on the Penguins blue line. Given the expansive salaries that rival GMs lavished on rearguards in the offseason, Hextall’s job to add is tougher today than it was in July.

There aren’t many defensemen burning up the NHL trade block this weekend. They’ve become a rare commodity.

And by default, Ruhwedel seemingly won the job. Fortunately for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ruhwedel was solid on Saturday night after a rough go on Thursday.

Perhaps someone having good luck will be a good thing for the Penguins. Good luck certainly didn’t fall on the Ruhwedel’s competitors for the job.