With five games in seven days and just 10 games left before the Olympic break, the Penguins are getting a number of key players back into the lineup, including a few tonight vs the Florida Panthers.
Paul Martin and James Neal are both on track to return to the lineup tonight vs the Florida Panthers (18-23-7, 43pts).
Martin who has been sidelined with a broken leg since November 25th, went through two long practices over the weekend and will be reunited with Brooks Orpik as the Penguins shutdown pair.
The Penguins will be fully healthy this week on the blueline for one of the rare times this season and how the d-pairs look tonight is how the coaching staff envisions them in the post-season with Martin and Orpik as the No. 1 pair, Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang as the No. 2 pair and Olli Maatta and Matt Niskanen anchoring what the Penguins feel is a very strong third pair.
As the depth chart shakes out, Deryk Engelland figures to see more time upfront than on the backend if the Penguins are able to stay healthy from here on out.
Robert Bortuzzo goes back to being a depth defenseman and he remains a player who could become involved in trade talks as the Penguins look to add prior to the deadline. Pittsburgh is not actively shopping Bortuzzo but have gauged his trade value in potential “hockey trades”, sources say.
CHATTER ON PENDING UFA’S
The Penguins have no plans to move pending free agents Brooks Orpik or Matt Niskanen. One source tells me Simon Despres’s inability to push his way into the top-6 this season, has made the Penguins against the possibility of moving Niskanen while his value is at his highest. Barring an offer they can’t refuse, he’s going nowhere.
One team that had steady interest in Niskanen since the summer was the Ottawa Senators and tried to acquire Niskanen again in September, an NHL source says. Pittsburgh’s price tag on Niskanen has always been a first round pick and that continues.
Those in the know, fully anticipate the coaching staff led by head coach Dan Bylsma to make a strong push to not only resign Brooks Orpik but also Matt Niskanen, despite the influx of young d-men in the system and several close to being ready, including Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot, though, could use at least a half season in the American Hockey League, scouts say.
The bet here, though, is that the Penguins only resign one of Orpik/Niskanen and possibly neither.
MEGNA TO GET LOOK WITH CROSBY
Upfront, the musical chairs of being Sidney Crosby’s right winger continues. Jason Megna will be the latest to get a shot.
Megna who has been sidelined for over a month, skated with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz over the weekend. The Penguins really like Megna’s potential as a long-term third line fit but he could do well with Crosby as he possesses excellent speed.
Chuck Kobasew who has been out since the New Year, is a candidate to play tonight. Kobasew has no goals in his last 23 games.
The Panthers come into tonight’s game playing much better hockey under new coach Peter Horachek. While a big longshot for the playoffs, Florida is still just nine points out of the final wildcard spot.
If the playoffs started today, Pittsburgh and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets would be facing off in the first round.