The Pittsburgh Penguins are never a dull organization. Even on an off day, the Penguins managed a few bits of news from the UPMC Lemieux Complex as the team prepared for its final preseason game Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
And lest you think the injury bug would stay away in the preseason, it reappeared in Penguins practice, too.
Defenseman Mike Matheson left the practice and did not return.
“He’s being evaluated for just a nagging lower-body thing. We don’t think it’s serious.” Sullivan said. The coach added leaving practice was more precautionary than anything.
Matheson was perhaps the best Penguins player on the ice Thursday night in their preseason loss to Detroit. Last season, the Penguins defenseman paired with Cody Ceci to create a formidable defensive pairing which took over top-four duties after beginning the season as the Penguins’ third pair.
Matheson, 26, rebounded with the Penguins last season after a couple of down years with the Florida Panthers. He scored 16 points (5-11-16) in 44 games.
Sullivan said winger Zach Aston-Reese, who is out after testing positive for COVID-19, skated with strength coach Ty Hennes before practice.
“He hasn’t joined the group yet, obviously,” Sullivan said. “We’ll see how he progresses.”
Also out because of a positive COVID-19 test is winger Jake Guentzel. With the season opener approaching — Tuesday at Tampa Bay — it remains to be seen whether either or both might be cleared to play.
“It’s too early for me to give you a definitive answer,” Sullivan said.
One player who returned after missing a couple of days was defenseman Mark Friedman.
Everything But 5v5
Down to more workable numbers, after roster cuts were announced Friday morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins spent much of Friday’s practice on situations other than five-on-five.
That included the power play, playing with the goalie pulled (six-on-five), and an overtime setup (three-on-three). Most of that was done using the full ice surface in what Sullivan called a scrimmage situation.
One personnel note on the power play had Jason Zucker on the top unit.
The initial top two units looked like this:
PP1 — Kris Letang, Kasperi Kapanen, Jeff Carter, Bryan Rust, Jason Zucker
PP2 — John Marino, Mike Matheson (before he left), Dominik Simon, Drew O’Connor, Evan Rodrigues
The penalty killing units shifted, but the first two that were used looked like this:
PK1 — Mark Friedman, Juusso Riikola, Teddy Blueger, Danton Heinen
PK2 — Brian Dumoulin, Chad Ruhwedel, Sam Lafferty, Michael Chaput
The Penguins often find precious little time during the season to work on those types of situations at length. Those opportunities “are extremely valuable,” Sullivan said, adding that Friday’s emphasis on those various situations was preplanned and followed a film session with the players before practice.
Louis Domingue Clears, Juuso Riikola On Waivers
Pittsburgh Penguins third goalie Louis Domingue cleared waivers on Friday and was assigned to the WBS Penguins AHL camp, as initially expected when he signed. Domingue was one of two goalies on the waiver wire with NHL experience. Charlie Lindgren in St. Louis was the other.
Neither were claimed.
The Penguins placed defenseman Juuso Riikola on waivers Friday. The organization has been reticent in the past to expose its eighth defenseman to waivers. However, the 26-year-old is entering his fourth North American professional season but has played only 77 NHL games.
Despite the Penguins’ glut of injuries, especially early in the season, Riikola played in only two games last season before he, too, suffered an injury.
Riikola grew an old-school mustache for training camp and laughed to the media, “there, now you guys have something to talk about.”
Sullivan deployed the left-handed Riikola on the right side over the past week in camp as the team is searching for both depth and a regular right-side defenseman for the third pairing.