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Penguins Roundup: 3/31/15

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Center Evgeni Malkin did not practice with the team on Tuesday afternoon with a maintenance day. There were no other updates on defensemen Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff.

Assistant coaches Rick Tocchet and Gary Agnew ran the practice with Mike Johnston in Nova Scotia for the funeral of his mother. Johnston is expected to return and coach the Pens Wednesday night when they host the Philadelphia Flyers.

5 D
The Pens are currently up against the salary cap and are being forced to play with five defensemen for the foreseeable future.

(Note: All NHL teams had to submit their AHL rosters by 3 p.m. on NHL deadline day. The only player on the current roster that was submitted is Derrick Pouliot. Therefore the only player on the Pens’ roster that can be sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is Pouliot. Thus, they can’t send a forward down to recall a blueliner).

The Pens defeated the San Jose Sharks, 3-2 in a shootout, on Sunday night with only five defensemen. Every defender had to shoulder a heavier workload than usual (Lovejoy, 27:44; Martin, 27:25; Scuderi, 25:36; Cole, 25:25; Pouliot, 18:21).

“Everyone needs to step up, every single guy, all five of us have to step up and take on more minutes, more responsibility, create more and help out as much as we can,” said Cole, whose 25:25 minutes of ice time was a career high. “It’s exciting. I get to play a lot more. I get to be in the flow of the game. That part is a positive as long as you don’t get too tired.”

Fielding five defensemen requires the blueliners to play a smart, simple game. The Pens want to keep their shifts short, conserve energy and only jump into the play if there is a clear opportunity.

It’s Agnew’s job to manage those men, from their shift length to their ice time to their pairings.

“Still trying to get the proper matchups when we can. Using the timeouts as much as we can to our benefit to get the guys rested,” Agnew said. “The guys are handling it really well and they’re making the right changes, getting off early. The forwards have done a great job as well, making sure they’re coming back and not letting our D get into too much trouble.”

It’s not an easy task, but the blueliners believe in Agnew’s craftiness in utilizing them.

“That’s why they pay him the big bucks,” Cole joked. “That’s why he’s the mastermind behind the whole D.”

And in the worst case scenario – losing another defenseman – Agnew said the Pens will look to moving one of the PK forwards back to D.

“All of the guys enthusiastic about giving it a whirl,” Agnew said. “(Daniel) Winnik is at the top of the list, (Craig) Adams, (Nick) Spaling, all those guys.”

Agnew said with a chuckle:

“I hope that we don’t get into that situation.”

The Flyers come to Pittsburgh for a Wednesday night showdown. Even though the Flyers have been officially eliminated from the postseason, that doesn’t take away at all from the heat and intensity of the rivalry.

“No matter how the year goes for us or them, it’s always a big rivalry and heated games, a lot of emotion and intensity in them,” Paul Martin said. “I’m sure I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
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