AHL callups contributing to Penguins, Canucks’ future is now (Feb. 20)

Mark Allan

2016-02-20

Derrick Pouliot is paying attention to defense and playing with more assurance on Pittsburgh's blueline.

Derrick Pouliot is paying attention to defense and playing with increased assurance on Pittsburgh's blueline. "Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Penguins"

 

Injuries to four forwards and one defenseman are not helping the Pittsburgh Penguins in their desperate struggle to qualify for the playoffs.

Promoted prospects are contributing, though, in bottom-six and third-pairing roles.

Superstar Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Nick Bonino (hand), Eric Fehr (lower body) and the oft-hurt Beau Bennett (upper body) are each missing up front and David Warsofsky (concussion) is gone from the back end. Winger Pascal Dupuis was forced to retire earlier this season.

That means forwards Oskar Sundqvist, Tom Kühnhackl, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson plus blueliner Derrick Pouliot, Pittsburgh’s top prospect, are getting invaluable NHL experience and doing their best to help secure a hotly contested post-season berth.

The team’s current bottom six forwards all began the season with AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Sheary, Kühnhackl and Sundqvist each played their first NHL games this season.

So far in a hectic four-game week, the Penguins are 1-2 and face a must-win Sunday against the host Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh’s third game in four days.

The current lines are:

#1           Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Phil Kessel

#2           Carl Hagelin – Matt Cullen – Patric Hornqvist

#3           Tom Kühnhackl – Oskar Sundqvist – Bryan Rust

#4           Scott Wilson – Kevin Porter – Conor Sheary

The defense pairings are:

#1           Olli Maatta – Kris Letang

#2           Brian Dumoulin – Trevor Daley

#3           Derrick Pouliot – Ben Lovejoy (Lovejoy was injured Saturday and will not play Sunday).

Most of the callups from WBS have got some special-teams ice time, with Dumoulin and Kühnhackl significant contributors to a penalty kill that has thwarted 19 consecutive power plays by opponents. Wilson, who has had a smattering of PK duty this week, has enjoyed some PP time as well as Sheary, Rust and the offensively gifted Pouliot.

Pittsburgh’s week began slowly with an extended 2-1 shootout loss in Florida.

Although Crosby and Kessel, with a pair of goals, were in the spotlight in a 6-3 victory Thursday over the visiting Red Wings, the Penguins’ hard-working fourth line was arguably their best albeit in limited ice time.

Sheary, who replaced Kunitz on the first PP unit, set up Wilson for his first NHL goal, which proved to be the winner. Outworking both opposing D-men behind Detroit’s net, the pint-sized Sheary protected the puck, took a quick look into the slot from the back boards and zinged a perfect pass to Wilson, who tallied on a five-hole wrister.

 

Scott Wilson’s first NHL goal, set up with some outstanding hustle by Conor Sheary.

{youtube}d81JzcgZrv4{/youtube}

 

Failing earlier to translate impressive AHL playmaking into NHL production while on a line with Crosby and Kunitz, Sheary is making a case to stay with the big club when injured forwards begin returning to action. Propelled by a constantly revving motor, the little guy goes to scary areas, outbattles opponents who tower over him and makes int