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Schultz happy to be back in Penguins lineup

by Mark Madden / 105.9 the X

The Penguins' players don't fret about the team's plague of injuries, at least not audibly.

But after defeating Stanley Cup champion St. Louis 3-0 at PPG Paints Arena Dec. 4 despite having seven regulars out of the lineup, it had to feel like sweet relief to get three players back three nights later at home vs. Arizona.

"[The injuries are] not something we're focused on," said defenseman Justin Schultz. "We're doing a good job looking to each game and then trying to get the job done.

"The more guys we get back, the better. But whoever's in is doing a great job."

Schultz was one of those returning against Arizona, playing almost 19 minutes in a 2-0 victory. He had been sidelined for two-and-a-half weeks. Also rejoining the lineup were winger Bryan Rust and defenseman Jack Johnson.

Schultz didn't crack the scoresheet, but his puck skills and defensive acumen were at their usual level.

After a few shifts, anyway.

"I felt good," Schultz said. "I didn't miss too much time. It took a little bit to get back into it. The guys did a good job helping me out. I felt pretty normal. It feels good to get that first one under your belt."

According to Schultz, the biggest adjustment upon returning to active duty is "the timing and speed of the game. You can't simulate that in practice. It takes a couple shifts to get that back."

Schultz credits those who step up in the absence of those injured. Defensemen Juuso Riikola and Zach Trotman both played against St. Louis. Riikola was a scratch against Arizona. Trotman was sent to the Penguins' minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when Schultz was activated from injured reserve.

"Anyone who has stepped in this year has done a good job," Schultz said. "It's not easy when you've got some big names going down, especially up front."

Schultz acknowledged that he doesn't like watching games.

"Not really," he said. "I'm down in the gym, usually, with the guys who aren't playing. Trying to keep busy."

When asked if he plays close attention to the action, Schultz said, "Yeah, we do. It's tough, though. You want to be out there, obviously."

Schultz was happy with the win over Arizona. It was a second straight shutout victory for the Penguins. It was tight until the very end: Brandon Tanev's empty-net goal with two seconds remaining sealed the result.

"That's a good part about our team this year," Schultz said. "We can win in different ways.

"[Goalie Tristan] Jarry had a huge night for us. Sometimes you've got to win like that. [Arizona is] a well-structured team. They're tough to play against. It's tough to get chances."

Schultz, 29, has two goals and six assists in 22 games so far this campaign. The 6-foot-2, 193-pound British Columbian won Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and '17. His best NHL season was 2016-17 when he had 12 goals and 39 assists in 78 games, finishing tenth in the balloting for the Norris Trophy (given annually to the NHL's top defenseman).

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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