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Pre-Game Lineup Notes: Pearson, Simon, Riikola likely all scratches vs. Calgary

Mike Sullivan is seemingly unhappy with two wingers, and Riikola is the odd man out.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Los Angeles Kings Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

With the Carolina Hurricanes right on the Penguins’ heels in terms of a playoff spot (they’re currently only one point back), head coach Mike Sullivan is sticking with the hot hand of his young players as the team rolls on this win streak.

After looking at today’s lines from morning skate, it’s like Dominik Simon, Tanner Pearson, and Juuso Riikola will be the Penguins’ three healthy scratches as they host Western Conference foe Calgary.

The decision to sit Simon and Pearson doesn’t come as a surprise. Sullivan has both been in talks with the two wingers individually and with the media about how unhappy he has been with their recent play (this will be the second-straight game Simon won’t dress). He constantly preaches game-by-game accountability and playing the guys who give the team the best chance to win. Right now, in his opinion, Simon and Pearson aren’t cutting it. They’ve been lacking urgency and getting constantly out-chanced. Pearson specifically hasn’t shown any reason to be kept in the lineup.

With the return of Zach Aston-Reese from a hand injury and the sudden emergence of AHL star Teddy Blueger, Sullivan really has no choice but to keep both of them in the lineup. Both bring skill, strong forechecks and backchecks, and Blueger, most importantly, has been scoring goals.

“When we’ve got a healthy group here, we’ve got a very competitive roster, so there’s going to be a competition for roster spots,” Sullivan said. “The players that have come up and we’ve inserted in the lineup have played extremely well.”

The most intriguing aspect of that morning skate lineup is the insertion of Justin Schultz to the second defensive pairing. We reported Friday he had been activated by the Penguins, so seeing him there was expected. What wasn’t entirely expected, or rather the hope that it wouldn’t happen, was Riikola getting scratched after seemingly earning a spot in Schultz’s absence and keeping Chad Ruhwedel and Jack Johnson in. But of course, expecting Johnson to get the hook from the coaching staff is silly due to its unlikeliness.

Nonethless, it’s great to have Schultz back and three defensive pairs with left and right-handedness. Maybe Sullivan has lit a fire under his underperforming wingers as well.