PITTSBURGH – No lineup changes are expected for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first game under coach Mike Sullivan on Monday.
During his first morning skate with the Penguins before their matchup against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center, Sullivan used the same lines and defensive pairings former coach Mike Johnston used against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. Sullivan said after his first practice Sunday that anything is on the table regarding the lineup, but he would most likely make more substantial tweaks as he becomes more acquainted with the players.
"As far as lineup decisions, they're going to be performance based," Sullivan said. "Those that play well will be rewarded for their play. So, I think that'll be something that as the games unfold here, we'll get a better assessment and a better feel."
Forwards Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett will remain with first-line center Sidney Crosby, who said he hasn't noticed a sizable change over the first two days under Sullivan and expects more minute changes as the season progresses.
"I think, over time, I'm sure things will change a bit," Crosby said. "But right now, I think our message to us is more about how we're going to play. Not necessarily the X's and O's. Just making sure we compete and give ourselves a chance to win."
Pittsburgh's 27th ranked power play was also untouched with forwards Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz and Crosby, as well as defenseman David Warsofsky, on the top unit. Sullivan said he will at least temporarily run the power play, previously run by assistant coach Rick Tocchet.
Sullivan hopes to establish a "shooting power play," but Crosby isn't sure if changes are necessary to facilitate scoring.
"I'm not sure [if any changes will be made to the power play]," Crosby said. "If we're scoring, I'm sure things won't change. So, hopefully we can score some goals and get some consistency there."
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy said the players want to treat Monday as they would any other game, but doesn't think that's possible.
"You want to say 'Just play. Don't think about it too much,' but you absolutely do," Lovejoy said. "We have a new voice, a new leader, in our room. He's come in with a lot of energy, a lot of passion, trying to jumpstart things. But he's not going to be on the ice tonight. We are."
Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, one year removed from leaving the Penguins during free agency, did not want to comment on Pittsburgh's struggles, but did say much has changed since he was a Penguin. He had similar thoughts regarding Washington, particularly its defensemen.
"It's a fresh opportunity for a few guys," Niskanen said. "Dmitry Orlov didn't play at all last year due to injury. He's been really good on that third pair. I think he's played with a lot of confidence."
Penguins forward Eric Fehr, who spent nine seasons with the Capitals, will face his former team for the first time this season. Fehr was recovering from elbow surgery when Pittsburgh defeated Washington 3-1 on Oct. 28.
"It was tough last game, obviously not being able to play," Fehr said. "But we're going to get a lot of opportunities here over the next couple of years to play [at Verizon Center], so I'm sure it'll all work itself out."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Stanislav Galiev
Andre Burakovsky – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson
Nate Schmidt – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – Taylor Chorney
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratched: Chris Brown, Michael Latta, Chandler Stephenson, Aaron Ness
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Beau Bennett
David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
Eric Fehr – Nick Bonino – Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Plotnikov – Matt Cullen – Daniel Sprong
David Warsofsky – Olli Maatta
Brian Dumoulin – Ben Lovejoy
Rob Scuderi – Ian Cole
Injured: Kris Letang (upper body)
Scratched: Adam Clendening
Status report: Letang did not join Pittsburgh for a second consecutive morning skate. Johnston said he would miss "the next little bit" with an upper-body injury Friday … Orpik, who spent his first 11 years with the Penguins before joining the Capitals last season, will not face his former team Monday. He has been placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and a timetable for his return is uncertain.
Who's hot: Malkin scored with 1:10 left against the Kings to force overtime in a 3-2 shootout loss Friday. He leads Pittsburgh with 26 points and 13 goals … Backstrom's seven-game point streak ended against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. He has scored at least one point in 13 of his past 17 games.