In need of consistent production, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned to Michel Ouellet and Matt Hussey – two of the American Hockey League’s most-productive skaters.
Ouellet and Hussey were enjoying successful seasons for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins, Pittsburgh’s top minor-league affiliate. Ouellet ranks second in the AHL with 29 points (10+19) in 17 games, while Hussey’s 19 points (9+10) are tied for second on the Baby Penguins.
With Tuesday’ addition of Ouellet and Hussey, combined with Sergei Gonchar coming off injured reserve, the Penguins assigned defenseman Rob Scuderi and forwards Rico Fata and Konstantin Koltsov to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to clear three roster spots. Of those three, only Koltsov has registered a point this season. He has one assist.
“Looking at our situation and looking at the inconsistency and the start that we had, we feel that we can be and should be better than we are,” Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. “Anytime you are struggling and having a tough time, changes are going to be made.
“[General manager] Craig [Patrick] and the [coaching] staff, we sat down and talked about it and felt the players we’re bringing up in Matt Hussey and Michel Ouellet are going to be guys who add a little bit of a different dimension that we don’t have right now.”
It is another attempt to jumpstart a team that resides in the Atlantic Division basement with a 6-9-6 record and 18 points heading into Tuesday’s home game against Washington.
“We need all of our players to get the job done,” Olczyk said. “You look at our record and you could argue that we could be better than we are, but the fact is we’re not. Anytime you’re having a situation like we are, changes are going to be made.”
The Penguins’ first changes came prior to the team’s five-game road trip to start the month. Pittsburgh recalled defenseman Ryan Whitney and forward Erik Christensen from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and the two have made an immediate impact. In 10 games, Whitney has eight assists, while Christensen has three goals and two assists and a team-best plus-5 rating.
“We made a change before we went on that road trip and Ryan Whitney and Erik Christensen did a good job for us and helped us win a couple games early,” Olczyk said. “They’ve earned the opportunity to be here and be here for a long time.”
Olczyk is counting on Ouellet and Hussey to have an immediate impact. Ouellet, a right winger, will skate on a line with John LeClair and another player to be determined, while Hussey, a center, will skate on a line with Mario Lemieux and Marck Recchi. The two rookies helped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to a franchise-best 16-0-1 start this year.
“We’re expecting both those guys to have the chance to play and play a lot,” Olczyk said. “Both of those guys are going to get ample opportunity. I think that we feel there is a sense of urgency. We know that we’ve proven to ourselves that we can play hockey with any team in the league, but again you have to be able to do it for 60 minutes and you have to be able to do it every night.”