The Pittsburgh Penguins’ practice had a couple different looks Monday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, and at least a couple of those could carry over to Tuesday’s game in Boston.
Teams don’t always like to make notable changes when things are going well, but the Penguins, riding a four-game winning streak, have a couple issues to address.
One is the latest injury. Winger Evan Rodrigues, who left Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers after a collision with Filip Chytil, is out “longer term” because of a lower-body injury, coach Mike Sullivan said. Rodrigues was heavily favoring his right leg.
So, in stepped forwards Sam Lafferty and Drew O’Connor at practice Monday. They are on the taxi squad, but it seems likely that one or both could join the main roster and play at least one of the consecutive games against the Bruins.
Defenseman Kevin Czuczman, another taxi squad member, also joined practice.
Lafferty, a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, broke into the NHL last season, getting six goals, 13 points in 50 games. He re-signed with the Penguins during the offseason and seemed poised to make the team for the start of this season.
But, well, competition happens.
Lafferty is far from down about his situation.
“I think I know what I need to do,” he said. “The blueprint for me is pretty simple. It’s just a matter of going out and executing. To be honest, I feel good about my game. Whenever I get another chance, I feel good about it, like I know I’m going to go out and play to my strengths and help the team.”
Lafferty brings speed and tenacity. In fact, Sullivan likened Lafferty to Penguins winger Brandon Tanev.
Sullivan and Lafferty both mentioned consistency as something Lafferty needs to conquer.
O’Connor, who went undrafted and signed as a free agent out of Dartmouth, is looking to make his NHL as well as North American pro debut after he had a strong training camp.
“It’s been kind of a long journey,” O’Connor, 22, said. “There was a point in time where I was just battling to get onto a college team. To be in this position, I’m very thankful. All the work I’ve put in is paying off potentially. It’s a cool spot to be in now.”
Sullivan said O’Connor’s lack of experience won’t keep the Penguins from giving him a shot.
“We believe in giving players opportunities to help this team win and get better,” Sullivan said. “Whether they’re young, whether they’re inexperienced really doesn’t matter. It’s more about who’s going to help us win.”
O’Connor, who practiced with the second power-play unit Monday, seems ready if called upon.
“We’ll see what happens, but it’s definitely an exciting thought to think about, actually playing in a game,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes on this trip, but just (expecting to feel) excitement. I’m sure there will be a little bit of nerves if that does happen.”
Also at practice Monday, the second line featured Evgeni Malkin, who has struggled through six games, centering Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker. That’s notable because Kapanen, who missed training camp, had been penciled in to play on the top line when his conditioning and feel for the Penguins’ style got up to snuff.
Sullivan, as he did following Sunday’s win over the Rangers, endorsed Malkin as a proven player who is expected to recapture his elite level of play, and added, “We’re trying to surround him with the right people that can help him capture his very best game.”
Here is how the Penguins lined up in practice:
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker-Evgeni Malkin-Kasperi Kapanen
Jared McCann-Teddy Blueger-Brandon Tanev
Drew O’Connor-Mark Jankowski-Colton Sceviour/Sam Lafferty
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
John Marino-Cody Ceci
P.O. Joseph-Chad Ruhwedel