CRANBERRY — The start of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ regular season is eight days away, the decisions are dwindling, injured players are getting healthy, and P.O Joseph does not appear on the Penguins’ website roster.
Joseph’s omission could be a simple clerical or website error. Those happen, but Joseph has been fighting an uphill battle for an NHL sweater. In training camp and preseason games, Ty Smith has been the Penguins’ left-side third-pairing defenseman, almost to the complete exclusion of Joseph.
Joseph, 23, was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
UPDATE: Joseph is back on the Penguins website roster.
Head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t close the door on positional battles and indicated that Friday’s preseason finale against Buffalo could play a significant role in the final decisions.
“It’ll play a role, without a doubt. We’re going to keep watching training camp. We’re going to keep watching every experience,” said Sullivan.
Over the summer, PHN reported Penguins trade discussions regarding Joseph, or at least that they received calls on the 22-year-old. Joseph will need to clear waivers if the Penguins don’t keep him at the NHL level as a seventh or eighth defenseman.
“I think he’s a guy that’s a real conscientious kid who really wants to make a difference. And he’s doing everything in his power to make the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Sullivan said Saturday in Buffalo. “Sometimes when you do that, you try to do a little too much. So that was a conversation that we’ve had with him — just taking what the game gives him, embracing the process and trusting his instincts.”
Poulin, 21, isn’t just with the Pittsburgh Penguins on a tourist visa. The 2019 first-round pick worked with the bottom-six forwards during practice Wednesday. He teamed with Ryan Poehling and Danton Heinen on two-on-one rushes and drills.
Poulin is the last forward with a waiver exemption. The Penguins can send him to the WBS Penguins without fear of loss, but his progress in camp has been noticeable. On the second day of camp, Sullivan noted Poulin was “light years ahead” of where he was last season.
Poulin was the fourth-line center for the Penguins’ mostly NHL lineup in their 3-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
Jeff Carter and Tristan Jarry returned to Penguins practice as full participants Tuesday. Carter missed more than a week with an upper-body injury. Jarry missed the game Monday because of illness.
Wednesday, Teddy Blueger skated for 40 minutes with skills coach Ty Hennes before the full-squad practice. Blueger has been absent for more than a week with an upper-body injury.
Sullivan likes a crisp, fast practice. To that end, the boys played two-on-two for 15 minutes. The video concludes with a two-on-one with Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell. We won’t tell you how it ends.
After hard skating drills and the two-on-two drills, the Penguins worked on special teams. They scored two power-play goals Monday night, reversing a preseason filled with futility.
Monday, Sullivan avoided a question about the team’s special-teams readiness, but the team has more than a week to absorb the coaches’ concepts and scheme. There likely will be several new penalty-killers, including Ryan Poehling, Josh Archibald, and perhaps Kasperi Kapanen.
The team began the second half of practice with 3-on-3 play, with rolling line changes. Poulin handled himself well, including a strip and breakaway chance.
“As I said to the players this morning, 22% of the games in the league are decided in overtime. So it’s a significant amount of games, and that’s an opportunity for us,” Sullivan said. “So that’s one of the reasons why we’ve tried to make it a focal point here so early in the season. We’ll continue to work on it and try to prioritize it throughout the course of the year.”
The Penguins had a losing OT record last season (9-11).
After three-on-three, Sullivan’s voice boomed, “Four-on-four!”