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Penguins grapple with unknown lineup ahead of Game 6

Crosby? Jarry? Rakell? The status of several key players could be key for Pittsburgh ahead of Game 6 against the Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On Thursday morning there are a lot more questions than answers right now for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As to be expected, coach Mike Sullivan had no substantive update on the status of Sidney Crosby, injured last night in Game 5 by a high elbow from Jacob Trouba.

The league also announced Trouba, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will also not be subjected to further discipline. After a humiliating Game 4, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant called his team “soft”. Trouba responded with elbowing Jake Guentzel in the head on the first shift of Game 5 (he would be penalized for that) and later knocking Crosby out of the game. For a player with quite a history of using his arm to contact opponent’s heads, you can’t say Trouba didn’t understand the assignment last night.

For the Penguins, their focus now turns to a Game 6 where they can win and advance to the second round of the playoffs. It’s not a bad spot to be in, especially since they won the first two games of the series in Pittsburgh already.

Their roster is now certainly influx with Crosby’s questionable availability, but reinforcements could be on the way.

If it is possible, getting Tristan Jarry would be a huge help for the Pens. He has been on the ice for almost a week now and amped up his training to now include facing shots. Sullivan’s words of “significant progress” are encouraging for a coach who is usually very measured and under-stated in terms of progress updates on injured players.

Pittsburgh is going to need better goaltending to eliminate the Rangers. As Moneypuck’s Goals Saved Above Expected chart shows, they are fighting a very uphill battle.

The above might make Jarry’s availability go from “would be nice” to “must have”. The Penguins have dominated the Rangers in Game 3-5 outside a couple of key stretches. In one such stretch in Game 3, a 4-1 lead quickly evaporated into a 4-4 tie. In Game 5, a 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 deficit. Though the Pens have largely done a very good job of limiting New York’s chances, it is impossible to not concede anything — sooner than later in the NHL playoffs a team is going to require NHL caliber goaltending to succeed.

Sullivan is taking an optimistic tone as the team moves forward.

And even if the Pens don’t have the services of Sidney Crosby in Game 6, they should still be in a solid position for this series. Playing at home will help, giving Sullivan the last change and his choice of starts to maximize situational advantages. Evgeni Malkin will need to be dialed in and avoid the penalty box, but should be able to continue the scoring chance generation that Pittsburgh’s top line has feasted on. Malkin already started that with the Pens’ response goal with a brilliant pass to Jake Guentzel to tie the game last night.

The Pens’ depth is already being pushed to the limits without Jarry. Key defenseman Brian Dumoulin has also been a big loss, not been on the ice since Game 1 and not looking like having an impending return. Pittsburgh’s first victim of a head shot in the series, Rickard Rakell, has not been cleared for contact. Crosby’s status remains murky at the moment, at least for publicly facing comments.

In that regard, it could be Jarry as the potential difference maker. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a goalie, to jump right into the mix after four weeks off with a broken foot. And Jarry may not even be medically cleared in time to play tomorrow.

But for a playoff goat last year looking to redeem himself this time around, the stage is set for Jarry to have that opportunity, should he be healthy enough to get the chance to do so.