Pittsburgh Penguins’ Rejuvenated Lineup Bolsters Team


The Pittsburgh Penguins’ injured list is usually fairly lengthy. Luckily, it’s getting shorter by the day and several key players are expected to return soon.

There’s good news on the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ injury front. No, not just good news – great news. For the first time in a long time, every single Penguin took part in practice today.

Ben Lovejoy, Beau Bennett, Eric Fehr, and Carl Hagelin have all been out of the lineup for varying periods of time due to illness and injury. According to the Penguins’ website, all four were on the ice for team practice and even taking contact.

Hagelin missed two games with an undisclosed illness/injury; though he said it was not a concussion, he was temporarily knocked out of last Saturday’s game against the Calgary Flames due to apparent head injury.

The fragile Fehr and Bennett have been out for 17 and 19 games, respectively, after missing quite a few games at intervals earlier this season. Lovejoy, whose injury may have been the catalyst to get Justin Schultz at the trade deadline, is the furthest from returning.

As of this morning, these were the lines and defensive pairings that the Penguins were running:

Since this morning’s practice Conor Sheary has been sent to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, opening space for one of the returning players to slot back into the lineup. Hagelin, Fehr, and Bennett will all be game-time decisions for tomorrow’s game in Columbus; Lovejoy will remain out longer.

It’s awesome that so many injured players are nearly ready to return. However, that means the coaching staff will have to make some interesting decisions – as you can see by the fact that they’ve now got five forward lines and four d-pairs to draw from.

If he’s in the lineup, it looks like Fehr has taken over Sheary’s usual spot. Other scratches, though, would be harder to decide, especially since the team probably won’t know until last-minute who they can rotate in.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are pretty much out of the playoff picture but are not to be overlooked. These two teams have grown into fierce rivals and every game between them is physical, demonstrating that animosity. Brandon Dubinsky is always a threat, both because of his scoring skills and how eager to instigate the Pens he is.

Because of that, head coach Mike Sullivan may be inclined to keep Tom Sestito in the lineup, especially if CBJ’s Jared Boll is in theirs. If that’s the case, it’s probably either Scott Wilson or Tom Kuhnhackl who will be scratched.

That’s a tough choice, though. Wilson has proved to be a pretty decent winger for Sidney Crosby if need be. Kuhnhackl has been successful and has scored several points in his current call-up. Kuhnhackl’s also a bit bigger and more physical than Wilson, an important factor in this coming matchup.

Hagelin is, of course, slotted back in on Evgeni Malkin‘s line, in his normal position. That’s no surprise. Easy decision. 

Bennett is, in this picture, the spare center. There’s a possibility that if he’s ready to go he might be inserted into the lineup as a winger, just to get him back in the game. With the depth down center the Penguins have, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever actually play at center for the rest of the year.

Again, the lineup against Columbus could really be anything. Depending on how the three players feel tomorrow, they might not all be inserted back in. Maybe only one or two will be. Even if they’re all healthy enough, Sullivan might decide to sit one (likely Bennett) out just to stick with the lineup he’s had.

The balance of physicality in the forward lineup is the most important thing to look at as these players return. The Pens consistently get out-hit by their opponents. Even though Wilson has shown that he isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, he’s a smaller guy. In the past, Captain Crosby grappled with Dubinsky, and Malkin has recently embraced his anger, wrestling an Islander the other night.

Sestito seems to assume that he’ll be in the lineup, publicly threatening Dubinsky. Of course, there’s almost no chance Dubinsky would fight Sestito, but the gauntlet has been dropped.

On the back end, with no chance of Lovejoy returning tomorrow, everything is status quo. Derrick Pouliot is the odd man out, since Ian Cole reestablished himself and Schultz got into the swing of things. 

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It’ll be interesting to see what happens tomorrow, to see who’s in and who’s out. Since Sullivan has to submit his lineup first, as the visiting coach, he’ll have to predict who John Tortorella will put in for Columbus, perhaps influencing his decision in regard to Sestito.

Regardless, it’s a great time for the team to get healthy. The playoff push and the playoffs themselves will require a team to have a deep roster like the Pens finally can claim to have. The Jackets game would be a great first test for players who have been out longer, like Bennett and Fehr, to get their feet wet again.