After spending their first eight games of the season losing players left and right, the Pittsburgh Penguins received some good news on Thursday. Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweeted that D Brooks Orpik is “officially playing tonight,” meaning the rugged rearguard will make his 2011-12 debut after missing major time with an abdominal hernia.
Orpik’s return couldn’t come at a better time.
Pittsburgh has been decimated by injury — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey are all out hurt — while Kris Letang has one game left to serve on his suspension. As such, the Pens have leaned on the few regulars that are available night-to-night.
For example, consider how coach Dan Bylsma allotted his defensive minutes in a 4-2 win over Minnesota on Tuesday: Zbynek Michalek (29:20 of ice time) and Paul Martin (29:04) logged tongue-dragging workloads to compensate for the fact that Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy and Brian Strait were the other available blueliners. Outside of Niskanen, none of those guys had more than 80 games of NHL experience.
[NB: The Pens are thin up front as well, but that didn’t keep Bylsma from playing Steve MacIntyre 23 seconds against Minnesota. Yeah, twenty-three seconds.]
As for the pairings tonight, Bylsma told reporters that Orpik will play alongside Engelland, suggesting the Niskanen-Lovejoy and Martin-Michalek pairings will stay intact. Looks as though Strait is the odd man out, unless the Pens decide to go with seven defensemen.