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Penguins host Panthers with thin defense

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com

PANTHERS (14-8-8) at PENGUINS (21-6-4)

TV: FS-F, ROOT

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins’ defensive corps continues to thin.

Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will not play against the Florida Panthers at Consol Energy Center on Saturday, and the ensuing two games, after exiting Pittsburgh’s game against the Colorado Avalanche with an undisclosed injury on Thursday. Defenseman Paul Martin was also absent during the Penguins’ morning skate.

Pittsburgh recalled defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Taylor Chorney on Saturday to fill the voids left by Ehrhoff and Martin. The Penguins are already without defensemen Olli Maatta (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (upper body), who have missed five and two games respectively.

Pouliot, who leads the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with 20 points in 23 games, will make his NHL debut against Florida playing alongside Rob Scuderi. He replaced Martin on Pittsburgh’s second power-play unit with forwards Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie and Blake Comeau, and defenseman Simon Despres.

“It’s exciting,” Pouliot said. “I played last night, so I’m a little tired coming in, but it’s exciting. I’m really excited to get it going … It was a late night. We got in last night, but that’s part of it. It’s unexpected and it happens.

“It’s very exciting and I’m very happy to be here.”

Penguins coach Mike Johnston coached Pouliot for five seasons while each was with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. Pouliot had 205 points in 247 games with Portland.

“He played for us at 15 in Portland and played five years there,” Johnston said. “I had the opportunity to watch him grow as an individual and watch him grow as a player. Now, to be here with him for his first NHL game, it’s a unique experience, for sure.”

The Penguins will most likely see one prominent name return. Forward Chris Kunitz, who has missed eight games because of a fractured foot, took part in morning skate and returned to his spot on Pittsburgh’s top power-play unit.

Kunitz said he will speak with Pittsburgh’s medical staff before making a final decision, but is preparing as if he will play.

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant could not confirm if forward Brad Boyes, who missed Florida’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday with an upper-body injury, would play against the Penguins. Forward Vincent Trocheck, a Pittsburgh native who has been a healthy scratch the past two games, will play on Saturday.

“It’s his hometown and I’m trying to be a good guy and let him go in there,” Gallant said. “But he deserves it too. He’s played well … We have two extra guys and we have two guys out, so he deserves to play.

“If he wasn’t a good hockey player, he wouldn’t be playing tonight because it’s his hometown.”

Former Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen will also play on Saturday in his first game against Pittsburgh since leaving during free agency. Jokinen had 21 goals and 57 points with the Penguins last season.

“They’re playing really well there,” Jokinen said. “It’s a really good group of guys and it’ll be great tonight for our hockey team.”

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Jonathan HuberdeauNick BjugstadTomas Fleischmann

Sean BergenheimAleksander BarkovBrandon Pirri

Jussi JokinenVincent TrocheckJimmy Hayes

Tomas KopeckyDerek MacKenzieScottie Upshall

Brian CampbellAaron Ekblad

Willie MitchellDmitry Kulikov

Erik GudbransonDylan Olsen

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched: Shane O'Brien, Dave Bolland

Injured: Brad Boyes (upper body), Shawn Thornton (lower body)

PENGUINS

Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyPatric Hornqvist

Nick SpalingEvgeni MalkinBlake Comeau

Rob KlinkhammerBrandon SutterSteve Downie

Bobby FarnhamMarcel GocBryan Rust

Simon DespresKris Letang

Brian DumoulinScott Harrington

Rob ScuderiDerrick Pouliot

Marc-Andre Fleury

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Taylor Chorney, Andrew Ebbett

Injured: Christian Ehrhoff (undisclosed), Paul Martin (undisclosed), Craig Adams (undisclosed), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Beau Bennett (lower body), Olli Maatta (upper body), Scott Wilson (leg), Zach Sill (upper body), Robert Bortuzzo (upper body)

Status report: Adams will not play with an undisclosed injury against Florida, which will end the longest ironman streak in Penguins history at 319 games … Goc will face the Panthers for the first time since being traded to Pittsburgh on March 5. He had 31 goals and 69 points in 161 games with the Panthers.

Who’s Hot: Comeau has scored a goal in three of his past four games and is tied for second on the Penguins with 11 goals … Upshall was the only Panther to score a goal against Philadelphia. He has one goal and one assist in his past two games.

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