CRANBERRY — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan says winger Reilly Smith is expected to be out “longer term” because of an injury sustained when he was hit during the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver Thursday night.
He added that Smith’s injury still is being evaluated.
Smith was not among the 11 skaters who participated in an optional practice Friday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel were among those who were not involved, although both warmed up for about 15 minutes before the session got underway.
Drew O’Connor, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang and Marcus Pettersson were among the ones who did skate.
Because the workout was optional, there was no indication of how the Penguins’ lines will be reconfigured to account for Smith’s absence when they visit Carolina Saturday night.
Smith, acquired from Las Vegas in a trade last summer, opened the season as a top-six winger, and seemed to mesh well with second-line center Evgeni Malkin.
“I thought they had a great start to the season,” Sullivan said.
But Smith’s production plummeted after a strong start, and he has eight goals and 12 assists in 40 games, good for seventh place in the team scoring race.
“He’s had moments where he’s been good,” Sullivan said. “He’s had others where he hasn’t had his best.”
Praise for Graves
Although defenseman Ryan Graves, signed as a free agent last July to fill a top-four role, has not performed to expectations, Sullivan believes he has upgraded his performance since being dropped to the third pairing.
“We thought that when we made this adjustment, it would give Ryan an opportunity just to build his game,” Sullivan said. “Take a little bit of pressure off him, give him an opportunity just to establish his game. Get some traction. I think he’s done that.
“He and Chad (Ruhwedel) have played well together. They keep the game simple. They play a north-south game. They defend hard. I think both of them play within themselves. So we think that Ryan has played a lot better of late since we made that adjustment.”
Defenseman John Ludvig, who is on the Long-Term Injured list because of an unspecified upper-body injury, went through an up-tempo workout on the ice before his teammates worked out.
Ludvig has missed the past five games, and is required to sit out 10 games and 24 days after going on the LTI list, which he did Jan. 3, before returning to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.
Fourth-line center Noel Acciari also did some pre-practice work on the ice after Ludvig departed, but his session seemed to be designed to work on puck skills, not to address any injury or conditioning issues.