On Friday afternoon Mike Sullivan was asked if he coaches differently with all the "AHL guys in the lineup?"
The question was in reference to all the team's recent callups from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, which included Joe Blandisi, Sam Lafferty and Adam Johnson.
Sullivan's response: "For me, they're not AHL guys. They're Pittsburgh Penguins, and that's how we look at them. These guys are all good players. They can all play in this league. They're capable of being impactful on the game. That's why they're here, and that's why they're in our lineup."
That trio of players proved just that by combining for three goals and six points as the Penguins skated to a 7-4 victory against Minnesota at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night.
The game was extra sweet for Johnson and Lafferty, both of whom picked up their first career NHL goals. And Johnson, a Minnesota native, did so in his home state.
"I've been hoping to play here for a while and it was fun to do it in front of family and friends from back home," Johnson said.
Johnson's first career goal was also Lafferty's first career point. Lafferty shot a puck that was blockered aside by Wild goaltender Devin Dubnyk. The rebound popped out to Johnson, who unleashed all his might in potting the goal.
"I saw it rolling out there and I was hoping I could get all of it," he said. "I just blacked out for a little bit and it ended up in the back of the net. I was happy I got lucky enough that it bounced right to me."
Lafferty, who finished the night with one goal and three points, picked up his first goal in an equally memorable fashion. Late in the game the Penguins were trying to protect a 6-4 lead as the Wild pulled its goaltender. Lafferty collected the puck and shot it 160 feet down the ice and into the empty net.
"I looked up and had a clear lane so I decided to take it," Lafferty said. "It's a lot of responsibility (protecting a lead late) so hopefully I can keep being responsible like that."
It speaks volumes that the coaching staff trusted the youngsters to be on the ice in a critical moment in the game to protect the lead. But they earned with their play through the opening 59 minutes of the contest.
"They've shown that they can come in and have an impact on the game," Sullivan said. "Our fourth line had three goals tonight, but they did more than that. They can all skate. They defended hard. They helped us get momentum on the forecheck. We put them in defensive zone situations against their top people and they did a good job defending.
"That's what those guys provided for us tonight. I thought they did a really good job."