Coming off a deflating 4-0 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night, Mike Sullivan and the Penguins used their subsequent practice to switch up the forward line combinations and defensive pairings.
However, the biggest information drop was the health status of Matt Murray. It’s evident the seemingly injury-prone goaltender, once again, is going through some more issues.
When asked about why Murray wasn’t practicing or what was ailing him, Sullivan was direct in his response:
“It was not a maintenance day for Murray. He’s been evaluated for an upper-body injury. That’s all I have right now.”
Despite the negative news, Sullivan made sure to clarify that Murray doesn’t have a concussion and that all injured players, including Evgeni Malkin, Zach Aston-Reese, and Justin Schultz, will be present and accounted for on the Penguins’ upcoming road trip. While that’s great to hear, it does’t confirm if they’ll be in the lineup come game time.
Speaking of the lineup, after the shakeup in practice today, it looks a heck of a lot different:
“There’s always competition for roles and ice time,” said Sullivan. “That’s the nature of the business. It’s a competitive league, and there’s a lot of good players. We’ve always been a coaching staff that values that healthy competition amongst our own players. We’ve got to push one another to always be at our best.”
Two of the biggest jumps in the lineup were Nick Bjugstad to Sidney Crosby’s right flank and Matt Cullen getting promoted to the second line center position because of that move.
Sullivan was asked if, given Bjugstad’s past experience in Florida playing the wing, slotting him in with Crosby would be a more regular decision due to his skill at the position and the depth Pittsburgh has at center, especially in Malkin’s return — whenever that may be.
“(Bjugstad’s) got great offensive instincts,” said Sullivan. “He can shoot the puck. He has shown an ability to play in a top-six role. He has scored anywhere from 17 to 26 goals and 50 points is a very capable player. He has good size, he’s strong on the walls, when he has the puck, he’s really good at protecting it because of his wing-spand.”
As for his ongoing plans for the defense, that group also saw a mix-up, with Marcus Pettersson taking shifts with Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin being paired with Jack Johnson, and the two Finns Olli Maatta and Juuso Riikola getting a spin with eachother.
“All things are on the table,” Sullivan continued. “The reality is that we’ve had stable defense pairs and fairly stable line combinations for a significant amount of games, but we’re 4-6 in our last 10 (games). There’s always that fine line of riding through it, or trying to effect a little change and a little bit of urgency. I know this group is capable of more, and our expectations are higher.”
Sullivan’s gameplan is simple when it comes to being proactive and trying to rekindle a fire underneath his team when they go through a lull period like the one they’re in right now.
With an emotional game against the Panthers set for Thursday night thanks to the Penguins’ recent trade, that willingness to stay proactive and aggressive with the roster may be on full display in South Florida.