The Pittsburgh Penguins put 24 players on the practice ice at the UPMC Lemieux Complex on Monday morning. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel were on the ice at the beginning of the skate but did not participate in line rushes. Instead, the camp roster and preseason lineup returned.
However, head coach Mike Sullivan declared Zach Aston-Reese, Guentzel, and Crosby out for Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Guentzel’s status is uncertain for Florida on Thursday, but Sullivan said it was unlikely Crosby would play in either of the Florida games.
So, the Pittsburgh Penguins 23-player roster remains slightly in flux. Over the weekend, a source indicated to PHN that center Brian Boyle was expected to sign a contract but could not offer a guarantee.
Drew O’Connor, Dominik Simon Boyle, and Anthony Angello were the bubble players who participated in practice. Zach Aston-Reese cycled in and out on line rushes but was not a regular participant.
Angello cleared waivers on Sunday and would presumably be the player not on the final roster. ZOhorna was not on the ice. After practice Sullivan explained the team re-assigned Zohorna to the WBS Penguins on Monday morning.
“There’s difficult decisions every year. These guys are playing hard. They’re competing hard. We’re excited about the progress some of our guys have made,” Sullivan began. “A guy like Z…we really like his game…we think he’s going to help us moving forward…but he’s one in particular for me that that was a difficult decision.”
Zohorna, 25, scored one point (1-0-1) in three preseason games. Despite working at center for the bulk of training camp, Zohorna gave way to Boyle on the fourth line and played wing in the final week of camp.
In eight NHL games last season, Zohorna scored four points, including two goals.
Special teams were a primary point of emphasis on Monday morning. The Penguins PK stumbled to its worst finish in years (27th) with a 77.4% kill rate. The primary PK took on the Penguins Crosby-less power play, and the second unit got work against Brian Boyle and others.
Pittsburgh Penguins Power Play PP1:
Perhaps the Penguins PP1 will soak up about 1:50 of the man-advantage.
Things are a little different while shorthanded. Sullivan didn’t lavish praise or optimism on his penalty-killing units. PHN asked for his assessment of the units during the preseason.
Boyle will be a “big” addition. Brock McGinn will have to earn his keep. And the Penguins PK unit will have to improve over last year and their preseason performance. Not having Aston-Reese, at least in Tampa Bay, will be a detriment to the PK unit run by assistant coach Mike Vellucci.
“I think it’s a work in progress. I think there were things in the preseason that we liked and there are areas where we know we’ve got to get better,” Sullivan said. “And so I think it’s a work in progress. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do there…It will continue to be a point of emphasis because we know that’s an aspect of our game where we have to improve.”