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Sharks, Penguins to play with depleted blue lines

by Wes Crosby

SHARKS (37-30-8) at PENGUINS (41-23-11)

TV: NBSCN, ROOT

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will use five defensemen without Kris Letang against the San Jose Sharks (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, ROOT) on Sunday.

Letang left Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes with 4:45 remaining in the second period after being shoved by Coyotes forward Shane Doan. Letang fell backward, which caused his head to snap into the end boards.

Penguins coach Mike Johnston confirmed Letang sustained a concussion and provided no timetable for his return.

Letang, who is third on the Penguins with 54 points, has been released from the hospital, but did not participate in Pittsburgh’s optional Sunday morning skate that nine players attended at Consol Energy Center.

Forward Daniel Winnik could serve as an emergency sixth defenseman if needed, Johnston said.

“We want to play the same style,” Johnston said. “We want to play the same way we always play. We don’t want to really change and sit back in any way with our defense, but we’ve played with five defensemen before. It’s happened probably in the last month, just because of an injury earlier in the game. Somebody is sick before the game starts.

“We’ve had a lot of those things to deal with, so we’ve played with five defensemen on several occasions.”

Pittsburgh will also most likely be without forward David Perron, who normally plays first-line left wing alongside center Sidney Crosby and right wing Patric Hornqvist. Perron was unavailable Saturday with an illness and is doubtful to return against the Sharks, Johnston said.

Winnik, whose minutes have increased recently, could see his value continue to rise. He has replaced Perron and Hornqvist previously on the top line, where he scored each of his two goals with the Penguins.

“I think it took me awhile to adjust and get back to my normal game,” Winnik said. “I think, at first, I was a little too hesitant when I was playing and now I’m a lot more comfortable. I’ve been skating a lot more and getting my feet moving and getting more ice time. When guys go down, guys have to step up and I’ve had the opportunity with this team, and with Toronto, to play increased ice time with skilled players.

“I think the biggest adjustment for me is playing with Sid. He’s just so great. If I don’t make a play, I feel like I’ve let him down.”

The Sharks will also be without a top defenseman. San Jose coach Todd McLellan confirmed defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic would not play against Pittsburgh following the Sharks’ 3-2 shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

San Jose could recall defenseman Taylor Fedun from the American Hockey League Sunday to play alongside Brenden Dillon.

The Sharks won their previous meeting with Pittsburgh, 2-1, in a shootout on March 9. Despite the loss, Johnston said he was impressed by the play of each team.

“I thought it was one of the better hockey games of the last couple months, as a pure hockey game,” Johnston said. “It was back and forth. There was a lot of tempo in the game. There were some scoring chances, but there was great defensive play. Great goaltending. It was an exciting hockey game.

“So, I expect very similar.”

Here are the projected lineups:

SHARKS

Joe PavelskiJoe ThorntonMelker Karlsson

Patrick MarleauLogan CoutureTomas Hertl

Matthew NietoChris TierneyTommy Wingels

John ScottBen SmithBarclay Goodrow

Scott HannanJustin Braun

Matt IrwinBrent Burns

Brenden DillonTaylor Fedun

Alex Stalock

Antti Niemi

Scratched: Daniil Tarasov

Injured: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (undisclosed), Mirco Mueller (thumb), Mike Brown (leg), Raffi Torres (knee)

PENGUINS

Daniel WinnikSidney CrosbyPatric Hornqvist

Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinBlake Comeau

Beau BennettBrandon SutterSteve Downie

Nick SpalingMaxim LapierreCraig Adams

Paul MartinDerrick Pouliot

Rob ScuderiIan Cole

Ben Lovejoy

Marc-Andre Fleury

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: None

Injured: Kris Letang (concussion), David Perron (illness), Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Olli Maatta (upper body)

Status report: Ehrhoff will miss a third consecutive game with an upper-body injury since leaving Pittsburgh’s game against the St. Louis Blues on March 23 after playing 1:13.

Who’s Hot: Crosby scored three points and the game-winning goal against the Coyotes on Saturday. He leads the NHL with 78 points, two more than Flyers forward Jakub Voracek. … Pavelski has scored five goals in his past six games, including one against Philadelphia on Saturday.

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