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P.O Joseph’s Big Chance to Reclaim Season, Spur Penguins



P.O Joseph, Pittsburgh Penguins

It has been a rough sophomore season for Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman P.O Joseph.

In his second full NHL season, Joseph has been in and out of the press box, failing to claim a regular spot in the lineup. He’s had a few chances but has not yet seized the opportunity.

He started the season on the third pairing with Chad Ruhwedel, which didn’t go well for either. He has rejoined the lineup and served as a healthy scratch several times. He was to rejoin the lineup in early November against Carolina but pulled himself out of the lineup with an injury.

Joseph, 24, has played just 22 games this season, registering only three assists. Now, the Penguins’ defense will turn to Joseph both in desperation and the biggest chance of the season.

“I just think he’s got to play to his strengths. I think he’s always a real mobile guy. I think he gets back to pucks,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s a really good puck mover. He can help us drive some of the offense. He joins the rush extremely well. He defends well with his stick. I just think he’s got to bring the game that sets him up for success. And, when he does that, he is a very good defenseman.

Tuesday is as close to a must-win game for the Penguins as a regular season game can be. They face the New York Islanders, who are ahead of them in the playoff chase, but both are short of the Detroit Red Wings for the wild card and the Philadelphia Flyers for third place. The Penguins are three points behind the Islanders with two games in hand.

They trail Philadelphia by 10 points with four games in hand and Detroit by nine points with three fewer games played.

Lose to the Islanders, and there will be too many points in arrears with too many teams ahead of them.

Monday, Sullivan put his tender lines in a blender in a beautiful oblivion. Joseph was inserted beside his good friend and former roommate Kris Letang on the top pairing.

Joseph has not been the same steady defender this season, often appearing to lack confidence or conviction and intermittently struggling. It’s been a tough step backward.

“I think I’ve got to show (my game) first. I’ve got to prove to myself and to others that I deserve to be there,” Joseph said Tuesday morning. “I’ve watched (Marcus Pettersson) a lot, playing with (Letang) throughout the years. So, I know how big of a responsibility it can be. So, I just want to play my game and bring my game to him and the team as well.”

Pettersson returned to the “second” pairing with Erik Karlsson, and the struggling Ryan Graves lineup spot is in question. The roster shakeup was the most outward effect of the season-long and team-wide shortcomings.

The Penguins lineup is back to the beginning, with four or more changes expected. There’s no more time to waste or no more opportunities to squander. The Penguins need to win.

And Joseph is getting another big chance. Like the team, there won’t be many more.