To say the Penguins will face adversity tonight is a major understatement.
In addition to playing a do-or-die Game 4 down 3-0 in their series with Philadelphia, the Pens will be without the services of 40-goal man James Neal, top-four defenseman Paul Martin and a pair of gritty checking forwards in Arron Asham and Craig Adams. There’s also the not-so-small issue of blueliner Zbynek Michalek missing the morning skate (more on that below.)
So, what will the Pittsburgh lineup look like without them?
Here’s what we know:
— The lines at today’s practice were Steve Sullivan-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy-Evgeni Malkin-Chris Kunitz, Eric Tangradi-Jordan Staal-Matt Cooke, Richard Park-Joe Vitale-Dustin Jeffrey.
–Tangradi, 23, is huge (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and scored 31 points in 37 games with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this year.
— Defenseman Simon Despres (also huge: 6-foot-4, 229 pounds) was recalled from Wilkes-Barre today and will likely replace Martin in the lineup. Despres played in 18 games with the Pens this season.
— Michalek missed Wednesday’s morning skate, an unexplained absence after practicing on Tuesday without issue. If he can’t go, the Pens will be forced to fill nearly 50 minutes of ice time (between him and Martin.)
— Dan Rosen of NHL.com notes that Pittsburgh rotated its defensive pairings at practice this morning, meaning it was difficult to tell who would play with who (and who would be in/out.)
Judging by what transpired this morning, Bylsma’s toughest task will be managing the blueline. Martin averaged 22:08 of ice time over the first three games, Michalek 24:02 — it seems like Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland will be forced into expanded roles as a reult, which could be a big issue.
Update: According to Bylsma, Martin’s definitely out while Michalek is a game-time decision.