SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It won’t be the biggest news of the season. It won’t even be the biggest news of the hour, but a couple of players mired in scoring slumps got rid of the scruff or greatly trimmed the beard.
Jeff Carter was clean-shaven with a tight haircut, and Jason Zucker ditched the bushy beard for a tightly trimmed version. This follows Teddy Blueger’s haircut and Kasperi Kapanen chopping lettuce, too.
Given the limitations of this suburban rink, the Ice Den, player access was limited to a few preselected players rather than the entire room. Sadly, shave-gate will have to wait.
Now then …
In more serious news, it appears the Pittsburgh Penguins’ beleaguered lineup will be without Kris Letang when they face the Arizona Coyotes Sunday at Mullet Arena. Letang remained away from the team Saturday when they practiced in Scottsdale.
Letang suffered a lower-body injury more than a week ago. He was likely to miss the Winter Classic on Monday, but his father passed away last weekend. The Penguins placed Letang on the non-roster list so he could be with family in Montreal.
Coach Mike Sullivan said in Las Vegas, the team is respectful of Letang’s situation and respectful of his space. PHN shares that respect.
The Penguins are winless in six and have played the last three games without their top two defensemen, Letang and Jeff Petry. Petry is with the team and skated after practice.
The lines at practice remained the same as at the start of the game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. Ryan Poehling was absent, and Sullivan said he, too, is unlikely to play.
The story will be updated with additional Mike Sullivan quotes and a Bryan Rust wisecrack.
Update: What would the Penguins’ top-six like to do better?
“We’d like to score some more goals,” Bryan Rust said.
Yep, he got me. But he continued.
“I think we’ve got to get more time in the offensive zone. I think the more time spent in there, the more pucks we get to the net, I think there is probably a chance to score more goals — to score an ugly one, score a pretty one, doesn’t matter,” Rust said.
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust.
Jason Zucker – Evgeni Malkin – Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen – Jeff Carter – Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn – Teddy Blueger – Drew O’Connor
Marcus Pettersson – Jan Rutta
Brian Dumoulin – Ty Smith
P.O Joseph – Chad Ruhwedel
Rickard Rakell was on the top power-play unit. Ty Smith remained atop the unit with Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jake Guentzel.
Crosby assumed a slot-to-net role. Rakell took the mid-wall position — the same one Bryan Rust took on PP2.
P.O Joseph remained on top of PP2 with Rust, Zucker, Carter, and Kapanen.
Unlike Wednesday, Sullivan did not have to stop practice to chide his team for their lethargic performance. The coaches spent little time on the whiteboard; the pace was lively.
Mark Friedman remains the spare defenseman.
There was a noticeable urgency and speed to Kasperi Kapanen in several drills. To his credit, he was skating at full-game speed in at least one of them. His jersey flapped as he pressured Ty Smith on the rush. Largely, the entire team was at full speed, but Kapanen stood out. He played nearly 15 minutes on Thursday against Vegas, his highest total since Nov. 5.
Mullet Arena is unique by NHL standards. It seats only 5,000 and was constructed as a college rink. Both Teddy Blueger and Rust played college hockey. So, too, did Mike Sullivan.
“I’ve heard it’s a real exciting place. You know, it’s an intimate environment. You know, it’s got a college feel to it,” Sullivan said. “The fans are on top of you. I’m sure we’ll be excited to play this. I know it has a lot of energy. I think our guys are excited.”