Our long national nightmare is finally over.
For the first time since the Penguins’ fourth game of the 2018-19 season, defenseman Justin Schultz has been activited from injured reserve.
The gruesome leg injury Schultz faced effectively coiled its way around Pittsburgh’s defensive corps, tightened, and forced Mike Sullivan to turn to newcomer Juuso Riikola to take No. 4’s spot for the following four months (53 games!). It also made decisions difficult on who would ultimately quarterback the second power play unit in a consistent manner, as Schultz’s deployment there as a right-handed player proved to be lucrative.
While we already made the obvious claim that Schultz’s return wouldn’t fix all the Penguins’ defensive problems, the the insertion of him back into the lineup as the final 30 games of the regular season unfold is huge. Playoffs are knocking at the door, and his talents at moving the puck and scoring from the blue line hold a lot of merit.
Schultz could be named to the starting d-pairs as soon as Saturday’s tilt vs. Calgary, as he mentioned the timetable on his return is completely in his own hands. It was expected he’d be coupled with Olli Maatta on the second pairing and return to leading the PP2, but with Maatta now out for a minimum of one month with a shoulder injury, it’s tough to predict exactly where Sullivan will want him. It does go to say that trusty No. 7 defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, after making his first appearance in months, once again will be the odd man out.