BRUINS (17-9-4) at PENGUINS (15-12-3)
TV: TVA Sports, NESN, ROOT
PITTSBURGH -- In his second NHL game, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary could play alongside Sidney Crosby against the Boston Bruins at Consol Energy Center on Friday.
Sheary was on Pittsburgh's top line at the morning skate, centered by Crosby with Chris Kunitz to their left. He debuted against Boston on Wednesday, when he played a majority of his 16:41 with center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Phil Kessel.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who will seek his first win three games into his tenure with Pittsburgh, said the line combinations will change, with forward Nick Bonino (illness) returning after missing one game, but they will be a game-time decision. Sullivan, who coached Sheary while with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League, stressed Sheary's intelligence.
"Conor's got a real high hockey IQ," Sullivan said. "He's a good playmaker. He sees the ice well. He's very good in tight space. He can play that give-and-go game with whomever he plays with. And he brings a lot of energy."
After the Penguins placed forward Beau Bennett (upper body) on injured reserve Tuesday, they recalled Sheary, forward Kevin Porter and goalie Matt Murray from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Sheary has scored 25 points in 24 AHL games this season.
Sheary finished the game Wednesday with three shots and five attempted on 24 shifts. Sullivan's familiarity could have led to Sheary's early opportunities to play in Pittsburgh's top six, Sheary said.
"Because he was my coach down in [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton], I think he just has a little bit of trust in me," Sheary said. "I think he knows how I can play and I think he thinks I can play at that level, so I'm just going to bring my own game and hope it works out."
Pittsburgh has played several wings with Crosby this season, including Patric Hornqvist, Pascal Dupuis, Kessel and Kunitz, but has yet to find an appropriate combination to ignite its 28th-ranked offense.
The Bruins have had more success tweaking their lineup and rank second averaging 3.17 goals per game.
"We're getting better as a team," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I've been able to move guys around and they've filled those voids when need be. So as much as we move guys around and look like we're not satisfied, it's also a great thing. On the other hand, you're seeing players move up and do their job. And sometimes they move down and somebody else moves up and does the job as well. So it definitely gives you some flexibility, which is not a bad thing."
Forward Max Talbot provided the latest example of Boston's flexibility Wednesday, when he scored the opening goal in a 3-0 win against the Penguins. Talbot was recalled from the Providence Bruins on Dec. 8.
"I've learned to take it a day at a time," Talbot said. "Right now, I'm here and it's been a good stretch. It's fun and the team is winning some games and I feel a part of it. So it's good. It's been challenging at times, but at the same time I feel like I've taken to it positively."
Penguins goalie Matthew Murray will have to wait at least one more day to make his NHL debut. Sullivan confirmed goalie Jeff Zatkoff will start against the Bruins for the second time in three days.
Here are the projected lineups:
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Brett Connolly
Matt Beleskey – David Krejci – Loui Eriksson
Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Jimmy Hayes
Landon Ferraro – Max Talbot – Tyler Randell
Zdeno Chara – Adam McQuaid
Dennis Seidenberg – Colin Miller
Torey Krug – Kevan Miller
Injured: Zac Rinaldo (upper body), Joonas Kemppainen (upper body), David Pastrnak (foot), Chris Kelly (broken left femur)
Scratched: Alex Khokhlachev, Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Conor Sheary
David Perron – Evgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel
Sergei Plotnikov – Nick Bonino – Patric Hornqvist
Daniel Sprong – Matt Cullen – Eric Fehr
Olli Maatta – Trevor Daley
Brian Dumoulin – Ben Lovejoy
Ian Cole – David Warsofsky
Injured: Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion), Beau Bennett (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (injured reserve), Kris Letang (upper body)
Scratched: Adam Clendening, Kevin Porter
Status report: Sullivan said he has not been given a definitive timetable regarding Letang's return. Letang (upper body) skated on his own before Pittsburgh's morning skate. … Talbot has played four games since being recalled from Providence. His goal against the Penguins on Wednesday was his first since Feb. 28, 2015 in his last game with the Colorado Avalanche.
Who's hot: Malkin scored Pittsburgh's lone goal through its past two games in the first period of its 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday. He leads the Penguins with 14 goals, five more than Kessel. … Spooner has scored at least one point in four of his past five games after scoring an empty-net goal and recording an assist against the Penguins on Wednesday.