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Penguins/Columbus: the final preseason tuneup

Pittsburgh announces a dress rehearsal lineup for tonight in their last exhibition game

NHL: OCT 03 Preseason - Red Wings at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Penguins have announced their lineup for their final preseason game tonight in Columbus where they will meet the Blue Jackets.

It’s very much a dress rehearsal and just about all systems go for the Pens in this one as they look for one final exhibition tune up before the regular season kicks off for them on Tuesday night in Tampa. Here’s the roster announced by the team:

Forwards:

9 - Evan Rodrigues
10 - Drew O’Connor
11 - Brian Boyle
16 - Jason Zucker
18 - Sam Lafferty
17 - Bryan Rust
23 - Brock McGinn
42 - Kasperi Kapanen
43 - Danton Heinen
49 - Dominik Simon
53 - Teddy Blueger
57 - Anthony Angello
77 - Jeff Carter

Defensemen:

2 - Chad Ruhwedel
6 - John Marino
8 - Brian Dumoulin
28 - Marcus Pettersson
52 - Mark Friedman
58 - Kris Letang

Goaltenders:

1 - Casey DeSmith
35 - Tristan Jarry

One name we don’t see is Mike Matheson, who left practice early yesterday with what was described as a minor but nagging injury. It didn’t sound like Mike Sullivan was too concerned about his future availability, but there’s no reason to push him back at less than 100% for this contest.

Tristan Jarry has been announced as the goalie expected to go the distance and play the full game.

Up front, curiously enough, Radim Zohorna is not among the 13 forwards that the team will be bringing up Columbus for this game. One can draw their own conclusions about what that might mean for his overall roster status, but at this point it doesn’t look like Zohorna is destined to get a jersey on opening night of the NHL.

Based on recent practice and game usage, an early estimate of lines could be pegged as the following:

Danton Heinen - Jeff Carter - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evan Rodrigues - Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn - Teddy Blueger - ?
Drew O’Connor - Brian Boyle - ?

The two question marks will be filled by three options between the triumvirate of remaining options listed in Dominik Simon, Sam Lafferty and Anthony Angello. One of those names (likely coming from the latter two) should end up being the odd man out and healthy scratch tonight.

There’s also a chance the Pens could look to work O’Connor in the middle between the scoring line wingers, which might show an appetite to give the youngster a prime spot with quality teammates and an offensive role for the start of the season after his impressive camp.

Brian Boyle is still technically awaiting a decision on his tryout as far as getting a contract or getting released, but the fact that Pittsburgh only has two other legit, healthy full-time NHL centers right now besides Boyle draws enough dots to connect that his presence will be needed for the regular season.

The defensive roster for this game leaves room for interpretation. One look for this game might be:

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mark Friedman / John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel

The Pens could mix and match the bottom four into a different configuration. Ironically the depth of quality left handed defenders are a position of strength in the organization but with Juuso Riikola on waivers and Pierre-Olivier Joseph assigned to the AHL, they are going with four right shots for this final preseason game. Friedman could well be the Matheson place-holder for this game if the team wants to go with Pettersson-Ruhwedel as they have for much of camp. A Pettersson-Marino pair could suggest a cloudier future for the defense for the start of the season, given Matheson’s current status.

Overall this lineup looks close to what the Pens will be going into the season with using, but fortunately it should not look like this for very long. Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel haven’t been officially ruled out for the start of the season as each looks to rebound and recover from a recent COVID diagnosis and being in the NHL’s protocols. Any return would strengthen the team and push out replacement level players like Lafferty and Angello to the fringes of the roster, if not down to Wilkes-Barre, once recoveries are made.

And, in better news, Sidney Crosby continues to skate before team practices. Recent pictures show him advancing from using one hand on a stick like he was early in camp and getting back to being able to use two hands as he works back from a wrist surgery last month. Crosby could perhaps miss as little as the first week or so of the regular season if he sticks to a best case scenario from his initial injury timeline. It goes without saying that will give a much needed boost to the top of the lineup and the center position when the team happily welcomes their captain back.

Feel free to use this post throughout the day if you want to comment on the game if you’re watching or want to add input on how the end of training camp is shaping up for the Pens.