PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins will have to play with five defensemen again Friday when they face the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins will be without defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who sustained an upper-body injury against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, which will leave them short one defenseman for a second stint late in the season. Pittsburgh previously played with five defensemen after Kris Letang sustained a concussion March 28 against the Arizona Coyotes.
Defenseman Taylor Chorney was recalled April 3 from the American Hockey League to alleviate Pittsburgh’s predicament, but with Pouliot out, the Penguins will be short along the blue line once again. The Penguins are unable to recall another defenseman to replace Pouliot because they are too close to the salary cap ceiling.
The Penguins can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a ninth-straight season with a victory against the Islanders, but they will have to be creative again with how they deploy their defensemen.
“We come into a game with a plan of how we’re going to play,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “We’ve had experience in the last thee or four weeks with these kinds of situations. Really when you’re managing, a lot of it is managing minutes and situations.”
While playing down one defenseman, Pittsburgh each of the remaining five played more than 20 minutes per game without Letang and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) available. Defenseman Ian Cole was given a day off April 2, while Pittsburgh’s other four healthy defensemen were permitted to leave practice early.
“We need to be two things, we need to be aggressive but we need to be smart about that,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “No cheating in our game. We’ve had some very good start of late, but then perhaps we relax. We can’t do that. We need to be desperate.
“Desperately smart, all night long.”
Pittsburgh will tweak its lines to try to jumpstart forwards Evgeni Malkin and David Perron, who have struggled to return to form after an undisclosed injury and illness, respectively. Perron will play right wing next to Malkin and left wing Chris Kunitz for the first time.
“It’s now down to two points. That’s what we have to do, and take care of business,” Perron said. “In my opinion, being smart is still making plays. I think that’s what we got caught doing last game [a 4-3 overtime loss against the Ottawa Senators]. We started chipping every puck and they got momentum because they got to every puck after that.
“This League is too good that we can’t just make a play every time, but when we’re there, we need to keep the momentum.”
Islanders coach Jack Capuano said goalie Jaroslav Halak will start against Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. New York’s defense will remain the same and forward Cal Clutterbuck will return to the lineup in place of Colin McDonald.
Capuano said that despite Pittsburgh’s recent struggles, he has been impressed with how it has played recently.
“They’re going to play their game,” Capuano said. “They play the way they’ve played the last few nights, they can easily get the results they want … They can score goals. They’re a highly-powered team, there’s not doubt about it. Their goaltending is solid.
“We just have to be on top of our game tonight.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Nikolay Kulemin – John Tavares – Ryan Strome
Anders Lee – Josh Bailey – Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner – Brock Nelson – Cal Clutterbuck
Eric Boulton – Casey Cizikas – Tyler Kennedy
Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk
Brian Strait – Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey – Lubomir Visnovsky
Scratched: Colin McDonald, Matt Donovan, Calvin De Haan
Injured: Mikhail Grabovski (upper body), Matt Martin (undisclosed), Frans Nielsen (undisclosed)
Daniel Winnik – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – David Perron
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Steve Downie
Blake Comeau – Maxim Lapierre – Beau Bennett/Craig Adams
Rob Scuderi – Ian Cole
Taylor Chorney – Ben Lovejoy
Injured: Derrick Pouliot (upper body), Kris Letang (concussion), Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Olli Maatta (upper body)
Status report: New York clinched a playoff spot Thursday with the Boston Bruins’ 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. It can clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division with a win Friday … Johnston provided no update on Letang (concussion). Ehrhoff (upper body) is doubtful for Pittsburgh’s season finale Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Who’s hot: Pittsburgh has struggled, but Crosby has had one of his more productive stretches of the season. He has scored 17 points and seven goals in his past 14 games … Tavares has scored nine points in his past four games, including three points and one goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. He is tied with Crosby and Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn for the NHL lead in points with 83.