The Pittsburgh Penguins enjoyed an off day on Monday and celebrated the end of a brutal stretch of their schedule with COVID vaccines. The Penguins worked out off the ice on Tuesday as Jeff Carter and Evgeni Malkin hit the ice at the Penguins UPMC Lemieux practice facility, making Wednesday’s practice a bit more important.
Who is Jeff Carter, and where will he play?
Carter is not the youngster who raised hell in Philadephia, at least we don’t think. He’s not the player who didn’t adjust well with the Columbus Blue Jackets, at least we don’t think. And it’s been seven years since he lifted his last Stanley Cup as a member of the LA Kings.
The Penguins acquired Carter for his versatility, size, and ability to keep up with a fast game. Though beginning Wednesday at the Penguins practice, he may experience culture shock coming to a Penguins team that plays (much) faster than most and practices at full speed, too.
It’s also a safe bet Carter has had dinner or received the dinner invitation from Sidney Crosby (we’re unclear how strictly the NHL is enforcing private social distancing rules, especially as players around the league have discussed getting together and a couple of Penguins recently remarked about bumping into each other at the grocery store). Maybe it will be a Zoom dinner.
More than a few newbies have stepped off the ice after their first Pittsburgh Penguins practice with wide eyes and a new perception of the team.
Shelly Anderson did a pretty great piece on Carter yesterday.
However, Wednesday’s practice was not at a breakneck pace. The speed and intensity on Wednesday were a notch below. Perhaps because of the lingering injury bug, the “breakneck” pace could be too literal, or perhaps because the season is 80% over.
Carter joined the Pittsburgh Penguins second PK unit and did some line rushes, too. In the two-on-one drill, Carter was paired with Zach Aston-Reese.
In the following drill designed to help defenders pick up late trailers, Carter skated between Jared McCann and Jason Zucker.
“Yeah, I was on my offside today. It was good to play with them. There’s a lot of speed on that line, which I think is going to be really good. I thought (Carter) was really good up the middle,” Jason Zucker said. “He did a good job today lugging the puck up to the middle with speed and keeping the defenseman inside. I think it’s really tough for defensemen to try to honor that speed in the middle. Then when he’s able to kick that puck out wide to (McCann) and myself, it definitely makes it hard for defensemen to try to play those pucks. So I think it has the makings of a good line.”
The Penguins flipped Zucker to the RW, at least for now.
Zucker did play some RW in Minnesota, so he’s not completely unfamiliar. It is interesting that head coach Mike Sullivan put Carter in the middle and move Zucker to the RW, despite Carter’s natural ability to play RW.
“…When I was in Minnesota, we had a lot of left-handed players, so we had guys back and forth throughout the season. So I have had some experience there,” Zucker said. “Obviously, the majority of it has been on the left side. But it’s something that I’m comfortable with and something that, you know, there will be a few adjustments for me come game time … but nothing that won’t just take a couple of shifts…”
On Monday, GM Ron Hextall spoke specifically about not upsetting the team chemistry at the NHL trade deadline. That tight-knit camaraderie was on full display on Wednesday. PHN will have more on the Pittsburgh Penguins chemistry, but I thought you might enjoy Zucker’s chirping.
Zucker chirped Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson pretty well. As Matheson was waiting in the Penguins interview room for Zucker to finish his media availability, Zucker was asked how the Penguins have been different defensively from last season to this season.
“Well, I think a big negative was getting Mike Matheson in the lineup,” Zucker said to a room of laughter.
Trust me. A hockey locker room is not a place for thin skin. But it sure as hell can be a sidesplitting place, too.