For all of the criticism of Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan amongst the Penguins fanbase regarding his reliance on trusted players, Sullivan laid waste to that stubborn critique over the weekend and it opened the door for Penguins GM Ron Hextall as the NHL trade deadline approaches in seven days.
Through Friday and Sunday, Sullivan put over $7 million in the press box. Probably not to please fans, but Sullivan also put goat (not GOAT), Dominik Simon in the press box, in favor of WBS Penguins call-ups Valtteri Puustinen and Radim Zohorna.
The Penguins won both games as Kasperi Kapanen was a scratch for the Penguins 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday and Marcus Pettersson drew the short straw in favor of scrappy Mark Friedman in the significant Penguins 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
Sullivan effectively scratched a top-six winger and top-four defenseman.
“We have seven defensemen here and we can only put six in the lineup. I thought (Friedman) played a couple of really solid games and was deserving of staying in the lineup,” Sullivan explained. “And so there’s a healthy competition among our group and all the positions are in that position. In particular, I thought (Friedman) deserved to play based on performance. So these are difficult decisions. They’re not easy. You know, Marcus has played a lot of good hockey for us as well. We’ll make decisions game to game and we’ll try to put the best six in the lineup.”
Friedman drew two first-period penalties. The Penguins didn’t score, but those were two more plusses in Friedman’s favor.
Neither Puustinen nor Zohorna had breakout games beside Jeff Carter, but their lack of absenteeism upgraded the line.
Sullivan’s shakeup didn’t end there as he kept defenseman Mike Matheson with top-pairing defenseman Kris Letang and shuffled Brian Dumoulin from his four-year running perch beside Letang to the second pairing with John Marino.
Tell me again that Sullivan won’t make changes or play young players? I digress.
Penguins, NHL Trade Deadline:
At this time of year, it’s natural to wonder if the NHL trade deadline bearing down on the Pittsburgh Penguins created additional motivation. Did Sullivan keep Friedman in the lineup not just because his game is quicker than Pettersson’s but also gauge the blue line without Pettersson?
Are they auditioning the WBS players to see if they can handle big games in the absence of Kapanen?
Perhaps showcasing them?
The surprising changes both added to the Penguins’ performance and opened doors for GM Ron Hextall.
Based on PHN reporting and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, we know the Penguins had their director of pro scouting and a pro scout at the Montreal Canadiens vs. Seattle Kraken on Saturday night. And the Vancouver Canucks want a defenseman in his mid-20s.
Furthering NHL trade rumors, Friedman circled John Marino but said the two sides did not find common ground in discussions.
When Hextall spoke on Friday morning, he discussed adding a forward, likely a middle-six winger who could contribute more consistent offense. The Penguins got tallies from Brian Boyle and Danton Heinen, but the team needs to improve its secondary scoring.
A little help getting out of their own zone against the suffocating Carolina puck pressure wouldn’t hurt, either.
The Pittsburgh Penguins performance over the past two games also opens the door for Hextall to largely stand pat at the NHL trade deadline. They may not be Stanley Cup favorites as constituted, but if prices and the Penguins’ needs don’t line up, there are more comfortable options today than there were a week ago.
Just remember to avoid the anonymous trade rumor Twitter accounts.