Justin Schultz left Tuesday night’s game and didn’t return, and now we know the Pittsburgh Penguins defense has taken a hit from injury, as so eloquently non-updated by coach Mike Sullivan on Thursday morning. "He's lower-body. He's a little more than week-to-week. I'm reluctant to put a time on it, but it'll be weeks."
Since Sullivan usually only classifies injuries as “day-to-day”, “week-to-week” or the dreaded “indefinite”, this injury as a “little more” than week-to-week probably is coach speak for anywhere between 3-9 weeks. Schultz’s leg buckled as Rick Nash basically “rolled up on him” in a sort of play familiar more to football than hockey. Nash was taken down by Ian Cole on a play Cole was penalized for, adding a bit of insult to the injury that it was indirect and inadvertent friendly fire.
Speaking of Cole, this should put any ideas or thoughts about trading him well on the back-burner now, and show that it was a good thing Pens GM Jim Rutherford wasn’t intent on getting him out of town as soon as the awkward situation developed a few weeks ago with Sullivan ranking Cole as the team’s 7th defenseman. As pretty much anyone could guess, the other 6 weren’t going to stay healthy forever, so Cole would be needed, and now he is.
The Penguins have recalled Frank Corrado as now their 7th healthy defenseman.
Coach Sullivan on Frank Corrado: "The last time he was up, we really liked his game. He's got a little bit of bite to him. He's a stiff player. He defends pretty well and he plays within himself. He's a calculated player out there - that's what we like about his game."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 7, 2017
The 24-year old Corrado has played 3 games this season in Pittsburgh, has no points and an even plus/minus. He’s got a goal and 5 assists in 12 games in the AHL this season and though he’s relatively young (and has 74 career NHL games under his belt) he seems about stuck in the “really good AHL player, but not quite NHL caliber” mold or perception. In any case, he’s a fine depth option to have.
Greg McKegg cleared waivers. He’s still with the NHL team as of now but could be sent to the AHL. Since Schultz is now on injured reserve, the Pens don’t need to send McKegg down for the purpose of staying under the 23 man roster limit. However, with all forwards currently healthy, they have 14 on the roster and all drawing against the salary cap. It would make sense to save some money and send McKegg down now, keep Josh Archibald as the 13th NHL forward and then have McKegg available on recall when the next injury happens.
Don’t look now, but tonight’s opponent is one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The New York Islanders have 101 goals in 27 games, or 3.74 per game. That’s behind only Tampa as the league’s most potent offense.
As expected, they’re led by captain John Tavares (17+14a) but don’t forget about his linemates either. Anders Lee (16g+12a) has fairly quietly become one of the league’s best and most productive wingers over the course of the last 12 months. It feels like 28-year old Josh Bailey has been around forever, and in a sense he has been an Islander since the start of the 2008-09 season. He’s about finally living up to expectation as a top-10 pick and is well over a point/game this year with 31p in 27 games (5g+26a), ranking 4th currently in the league in assists.
The true breakout star of team and a player to watch is #13, Matthew Barzal. In his first full NHL season, the 20-year old and 2015 first round pick has an impressive 26 points (7g+19a) in 27 games. He will be flanked by Jordan Eberle (11g+9a in his first season with NYI) and Andrew Ladd who has played a little better in his second season with NYI.
At 16-9-2 the Islanders are no joke this year. They were a tough preseason team to gauge but a lot has gone right for them with that electric first line, plus the insta-development by Barzal to be a star player right out the gates. Defensively they’re still a bit under-manned and their goalies have been dreadful (Jaroslav Halak has a .905 sav%, Thomas Greiss has a .890%), so this one could be a shootout of two offenses.
As often preached, puck management decisions will be at a premium for the Penguins tonight. They’ll need smart decisions and a mindful effort in order to get a win against a very talented offensive team.