There’s a lot going on with the Penguins, even if the team doesn’t have many games this week. The Pens practiced today, and here is what went down:
—There were new lines to be had, with the revelation that defensemen Marcus Pettersson and Chad Ruhwedel had positive COVID test (both confirmed). P.O. Joseph is back from the minors!
The Penguins switched up their lines in addition to adjusting the D pairs with Pettersson/Ruhwedel joining Letang in the protocol:— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) November 1, 2021
—Kapanen on the fourth line continues to be a “what’s going on there” situation.
There’s also this:
Whole team stretching post practice while Kapanen shoots pucks into the net by himself. It’s maybe the best Phil Kessel, post practice routine tribute that I’ve ever seen. pic.twitter.com/slJrXAIDlR— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) November 1, 2021
As Josh mentioned, Phil Kessel used to go off on his own and not participate in the post-practice stretch with everyone else and now Kapanen off to this isn’t quite the best tact and attitude to put forward at this moment. Kapanen can be a player that runs very hot and cold, and Sullivan did bench him at times last season. It’s not great to see this process playing out over again as the team probably tries to send a message to Kapanen again, early this season..
—Dumoulin and Marino haven’t had the smoothest couple of games, so it was an interesting switch to separate them and see what Mike Matheson can offer on the top pair.
—However, it might only be a short stay for Matheson in that spot, as star defenseman Kris Letang should return for practice on Wednesday (the team has a scheduled off day tomorrow but Letang will skate on his own).
Coach Sullivan on Letang: "Tanger has been cleared for the protocol. He had his last cardiac screening this morning. So he'll have an off-ice workout today, he'll skate tomorrow, and I would anticipate he joins the team on Wednesday."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) November 1, 2021
Sullivan was non-commital on Letang’s status for the Pens’ next game on Thursday, saying: “Time will tell. Everybody’s a little bit different in how it affects them. It’s hard for us to anticipate how long it’s going to take to get him back in the lineup.”
We will see, but Letang on skates on Tuesday and for a team practice on Wednesday would be more than what Jeff Carter got, who just practiced on Friday for the first time and played in the game on Saturday night.
But, like Sullivan said, every person is different, and roles are different too. But, the good news is that Letang is going to be on the path back and probably only miss at most one more game. And, though Sullivan didn’t announce it, Letang skated on his own post-practice on Monday, another great sign.
—That’s good news, because the Pens only have six defensemen on the NHL roster right now. Usually they bring a seventh, but it looks like Letang is that seventh.
—The COVID issues also open the door for Juuso Riikola. Early last season in January, opportunity knocked for Riikola when there were several injuries, but unfortunately he suffered an injury too. Now, the door is open again with a big opportunity:
The Penguins are doing special teams work. Here are the power-play units...— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) November 1, 2021
PP1) Riikola, Crosby, Carter, Guentzel, Rodrigues
PP2) Marino, Matheson, Zucker, Kapanen, Heinen
Pittsburgh is clearly searching for answers with their power play, which has struggled as of late. This was another area where Marino hasn’t looked great since Letang went down. Riikola has shown a willingness to jump up in the play and also has a good shot from distance, it will be interesting to see what he can add to this group.
—There were updates on the health of Pettersson and Ruhwedel as well:
Coach Sullivan on if either player is symptomatic: "Marcus has shown some signs of symptoms. To this point, Chad has not."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) November 1, 2021
All Penguin players who have tested positive have all served the full 10 days in NHL protocol, which would appear to be the path ahead for Pettersson and Ruhwedel. The Pens only have three games to play in the first 10 days of November, so from strictly the impact to the season, it’s not that big of a deal.
The bigger issue, unfortunately, is that there’s now been six Penguin players to go into protocol already early in this season. Staying clear of the virus has been a challenge and been a meaningful part of Pittsburgh’s season having key players miss games. It’s probably a sign of life in 2021, but also a crappy one to still see so prevalent, especially in the aspect for people like Zach Aston-Reese, Letang and Pettersson who have all felt the effects of the disease.