The Penguins had a couple of key absences in practice on Sunday, as forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Olli Maatta got nicked up last night against St. Louis, did not skate today, and are said to be day-to-day with lower-body injuries.
“It’s a hard game and guys get nicked up,” coach Mike Sullivan said afterwards. “It takes more than six defensemen and 12 forwards and two goalies to win. We feel confident in the depth we have with our group. We think we have capable guys that can continue to help us win in the event that certain guys can’t play. Right now, we’ve got some guys that are up in the air. We’ll see how they are and act accordingly.”
Rust was seen on the bench as his teammates started warming up. He left the game vs St. Louis early last night after the first period was over. If Rust can’t play, Derek Grant will slot back into the lineup. Grant hasn’t played since against Anaheim on December 17, getting knocked back to healthy scratch territory ever since. Zach Aston-Reese moved up to Rust’s spot with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby, a prime opportunity and place to be. ZAR made the most of it scoring a goal and being credited with five hits on the night.
If Maatta can’t play, the team is lucky that Jamie Oleksiak was recently cleared from a concussion suffered only back a few days ago on December 19. Oleksiak took Maatta’s place today in practice and was paired with Juuso Riikola. The other pairs, Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang and Marcus Pettersson and Jack Johnson, remained in tact. (Chad Ruhwedel is currently in Wilkes-Barre on a conditioning stint, after not playing in the NHL since November 19).
No coach likes to change the lineup after ripping off a five-game winning streak, but it appears like Sullivan won’t have much of a choice in this instance. The Penguins play a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule next week, with games at Minnesota, at the Rangers, and back at home against Winnipeg.