The Penguins returned to practice on Friday at Southpointe after having the day off Thursday.
And center Marcel Goc, who missed the last nine regular-season games and has been sidelined for the first four games of this series with a foot injury sustained on March 27 vs. Los Angeles, skated with the team.
Goc centered the fourth line between Tanner Glass and Craig Adams during rushes and also practiced on the penalty kill, a sign his return may be imminent.
Goc said afterward he “feels good” and right now, it’s the coaches’ decision whether or not he returns to the lineup for Game 5 on Saturday (Dan Bylsma said after the skate he had no injury updates). Having Goc back would be huge because of what the Penguins' deadline acquisition brings to the entire length of the ice, especially against a Blue Jackets team that's so tough to play against.
“He’s a smart player, he’s really strong on the puck,” Glass said. “A defensive center, so I’d imagine we’d use him on the left side of the ice in the defensive zone a lot of the time for faceoffs. He’s a really cerebral player, a guy who’s really good and strong on the puck and can play on both ends of the rink.”
If Goc does play and slots in between Glass and Adams, his focus centering that line will be to play defense by playing offense.
“If it would be like that, it depends on who we’re out against,” Goc said. “We want to make sure we play physical and get on the forecheck. Force them to play D-zone, get it in front of the crease and if we can chip in a goal there, I think it’s definitely a big help for the team. Be physical, be hard to play against and get the other team off their game.”
Watching from the press box versus the bench can bring a different perspective for players, and Goc elaborated more on what he’s learned about this series from his view up top.
“It’s gone back and forth, momentum shifts,” Goc mused. “I think we’ve got to try to limit our defensive-zone time. I don’t know, try to keep it a little more simple, Got to make sure we don’t try too much, get the puck to the net. There is no secret now in the playoffs. All the goals that have been scored have been right around the net or in the crease. We’ve got to do more of that and try to hold onto the puck, control the game a little more and I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
But at the end of the day, Goc just wants to come back and contribute in any way he can.
“I think everybody knows what we’ve got to be better at,” he said. “I just try to fit in and play the best I can, and hopefully I do that well and help out my linemates and team.”LINES/D-PAIRS/PP…
The Penguins’ top-six remained the same at Friday’s practice…
However, there were tweaks to the bottom-six. In addition to Goc centering Glass and Adams, Joe Vitale moved up to replace Jayson Megna on the right wing of the third line next to Beau Bennett and Brandon Sutter.
“We need some forecheck,” Sutter said of having Vitale on his wing. “We need to get in there and battle. Joe's a guy that can get up ice and bang around a bit. That's something we missed in the last part of the game, was our forecheck. We have to do a better job of creating some havoc in there.”
That meant Megna, Taylor Pyatt and injured forwards Brian Gibbons and Chris Conner were the odd men out.
There were tweaks to the defensive pairs as well. Olli Maatta skated with Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi partnered with Niskanen. Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin were the only pairing to stay together.
“I don't think any of us have played at our best as a D corp,” Scuderi said. “It's just a different look. Trying to do different things. Certainly that's not my area. That's up to the coaches. We'll trust their plan and try to benefit the team.”
There were no changes to the power-play units:
Martin, Niskanen, Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz on 1.
Maatta, Letang, Stempniak, Sutter, Neal on 2.