Justin Schultz

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More (more!) injuries in Pittsburgh: Malkin out tonight, Hainsey week-to-week

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Prior to today, the Penguins had already lost Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin to injury.

So what’s a couple more?

For Pittsburgh, that’ll have to be the mentality after learning that Evgeni Malkin would miss tonight game against New Jersey with a lingering upper-body ailment and, perhaps more distressingly, that trade deadline pickup Ron Hainsey is week-to-week with an upper-body issue of his own.

Malkin, who sits second on the team in points with 72, doesn’t appear to be seriously hurt. He briefly took to the ice for the morning skate before exiting. Head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t comment on the nature of the injury, or the severity.

Hainsey’s injury could be a problem. On its own, that’s a difficult void to fill — the veteran blueliner had appeared in 10 games since coming over from Carolina, and was averaging a shade under 21 minutes per night.

The ailment is even more problematic given the current state of Pittsburgh’s defense.

As mentioned above, Maatta, Daley and Letang are all out of action (part of the reason why Hainsey’s minutes had increased). That left Sullivan to ice a defensive unit comprised of Hainsey, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Chad Ruhwedel, Justin Schultz and Mark Streit in Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Flyers.

In a related move, the Pens recalled Derrick Pouliot from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday. That left them with the following d-pairs…

Pens dress enforcer Sestito for grudge match versus Jets

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There were plenty of fireworks the last time Pittsburgh and Winnipeg played.

Tonight, when they meet for the first time since, there could be plenty more.

Pittsburgh will insert tough guy Tom Sestito into the lineup, after recalling him from the minors. The move is (presumably) in response to everything that occurred on Feb. 16, including Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Jets captain Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien’s hit on Pens d-man Justin Schultz, which left the latter with a concussion.

Oh yeah, Olli Maatta also had to exit the game following a big open ice hit from Adam Lowry (watch it here).

Chris Thorburn, Winnipeg’s resident pugilist, told the Winnipeg Sun Sestito’s inclusion “catches your attention a little bit,” adding “I’d probably be the one to address that.”

The Jets, of course, are desperately fighting to remain in playoff contention, so they’re insisting the focus is solely on securing two points. But at the same time, they were visibly frustrated after Malkin escaped punishment for the Wheeler hit, only for Jacob Trouba to get suspended days later for his hit on Mark Stone.

Then, after the Trouba-Stone incident, Winnipeg d-man Ben Chiarot voiced his displeasure with a high hit from Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, which also went unpunished.

“Might not be this year, might not be next year,” Chiarot warned. “But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

It’s probably worth noting the game on the 16th was in Pittsburgh.

Tonight’s rematch is in Winnipeg.

Letang won’t make road trip, Pens mum on injury status

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Kris Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21, and has missed Pittsburgh’s last five games with an upper-body injury.

Now, he’ll miss at least four more.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced Tuesday that Letang won’t travel with the club for its upcoming four-game Western Canada road swing through Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary.

What’s more, Sullivan wouldn’t comment on the nature of his star defenseman’s injury.

From Upgruv’s Rob Rossi (video transcription):

Q: Has anybody on the team been able to rule out either concussion or any heart problems with him?

Sullivan: I’m not going to… listen, our doctor and medical staff has a good handle on it. When he’s ready to play or getting close, and we get him on the ice, we’ll let you guys know. I really don’t want to go down the road of talking details of his injury. But we’re hopeful here that he’s making progress.

Letang has a history of concussions. He also suffered a stroke in 2014, after which tests revealed he had a very small hole in the wall of his heart since birth, called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). In a release, the Pens said the PFO may have led to the stroke.

There have been health concerns this year, though unrelated to concussion or heart issues. Letang missed time in January with a knee injury, but returned late in the month and was a lineup fixture in February.

Upon his return, the 29-year-old was a force offensively. He had 11 points in 10 games, while playing a boatload of minutes. That included a season-high 31:07 in a 4-3 win over Winnipeg on Feb. 16, in which Letang recorded three assists.

With Letang, Trevor Daley (knee) and Olli Maatta (hand) out of the lineup, Sullivan has been working with a defensive group comprised of Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Chad Ruhwedel, Justin Schultz and trade deadline pickups Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit. Former first-round pick Derrick Pouliot is also up with the club, but was scratched for Sunday’s 4-3 win over Buffalo.

With growth of Schultz, a ‘tough call’ looms for Penguins

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Sunday against Buffalo, Justin Schultz picked up his 11th goal and 33rd assist of the season.

With 44 points, the 26-year-old trails only Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and Duncan Keith in the scoring race among NHL defensemen.

To say the least, that is some fine company to be keeping.

Schultz has seen his career turn on a dime since being traded to Pittsburgh from Edmonton last season. He won a Stanley Cup in June, and now he’s become a “priority” for the Penguins to re-sign this summer.

“I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t get traded,” Schultz told NHL.com recently. “Maybe I’m still there. My confidence was at an all-time low and I needed a change of scenery. I’ve got nothing against Edmonton at all. I enjoyed my time there. It was tough to get traded. I had a lot of good friends there, met a lot of people. But it was time for a change of scenery and it worked out well.”

Schultz’s play may also have changed the Penguins’ plans for the upcoming expansion draft. Obviously, they’re going to protect Kris Letang. And protecting Brian Dumoulin seems an obvious choice too. That means if Schultz is to be protected as well, they’d either have to trade Olli Maatta, leave Maatta exposed, or protect only four forwards (as opposed to seven).

“That’s a tough call,” GM Jim Rutherford said last month, per the Post-Gazette. “We have a bunch of good players at forward, and a bunch on defense. That’s something we won’t decide until after the year.”

Maatta has not played since Feb. 16 due to a hand injury. The 22-year-old has just one goal and six assists in 54 games this season.

A first-round draft pick in 2012, Maatta has struggled to build on the promise he showed as a rookie in 2013-14. He has a $4.1 million cap hit through 2021-22.

Related: The Penguins are playing Schultz to his strengths

Penguins fend off 3-0 deficit, best Sabres in regulation

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Things were looking a bit glum for the Pittsburgh Penguins after the first period on Sunday.

The Buffalo Sabres built a 3-0 lead, chasing Matt Murray in the process. A would-be 1-1 goal missed by a hair. It looked like the Columbus Blue Jackets would fatten their lead over second place in the Metro.

Of course, the headline gives it away: that didn’t happen. Good thing they still have Marc-Andre Fleury and a willingness to fight through their mistakes, as they rallied back to win 4-3 tonight.

 

(Doing so in regulation is that much more impressive.)

Fleury was a big part of that rally, making 28 saves during two periods of perfect relief work. As you’d expect, other Penguins chipped in to come back from that 3-0 deficit.

Justin Schultz continues his remarkable career turnaround, enjoying the best statistical night of any Penguins skater.

He scored a goal and two assists to help trigger that comeback, though Conor Sheary and Evgeni Malkin also deserve special mentions considering their one-goal, one-assist nights.

Despite nine shots on goal, Sidney Crosby didn’t register a point, which is just another reason why this win should hearten the Penguins as they ready for what could be a difficult road ahead as defending champions.

Speaking of which, most teams likely realize this and it’s easier said than done, but this game provided more evidence that it’s foolish to get in a track meet with this attacking team.

It’s also foolish to expect the Penguins to roll over, even when they dig themselves a big hole.