TUESDAY’S PENGUINS BUZZ
Paul Martin sidelined since December 18th with an undisclosed injury, was a full participant in today’s practice and is nearing a return to the lineup. Barring no setback tomorrow morning, Martin is considered likely to play Wednesday night vs Boston.
Martin was back in a top pairing role today alongside Kris Letang and also worked the point on the second power play unit.
In the final year of his contract, Martin, 33, turns 34 in March and Penguin management got a glimpse of life without Martin as injuries to Martin and Christian Ehrhoff led to valuable playing time for youngsters Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington.
Pouliot and Harrington remain with the team and practiced today but at least one of them will be sent down with Martin coming off injured reserve any day now.
Always subject to change — As the March 2nd trade deadline is now less than two months, the Penguins stance hasn’t wavered in that they intend to keep Martin even with the likelihood of Martin leaving as a free agent on July 1.
“Cup contenders don’t trade a Paul Martin” is the word coming out of the organization and that message has been consistent since the start of the season.
Team officials believe barring an unforeseen trade situation that could upgrade the current roster by moving Martin, the team is comfortable by playing the the season out with Martin, letting him walk as a UFA and opening up cap space for next season. Scott Harrington has been pegged by the organization as a long-term replacement for Martin.
DO PENGUIN COACHES NOW SEE KUNITZ AS A THIRD LINE PLAYER 5 V 5?
Chris Kunitz has 12 goals in 31 games, on pace for 29 goals (74 games), yet, there have been some signs 5 v 5 that he’s a player starting to regress, far from a surprise as he’s 35 and has played a punishing style throughout his career.
An interesting statistic on Kunitz is that he’s below 2.00 points/60 5 v 5 (1.92) for the first time in his career as a Penguin.
However, the decision of late with Kunitz to take him off the top-2 lines which was the case the last two games and remained the case in today’s practice, continues to be an interesting one.
While Beau Bennett was bumped up to Evgeni Malkin’s right wing in Tuesday’s practice, an ideal fit for him due to his excellent playmaking ability, Kunitz stayed on the third line with Brandon Sutter again today.
Mike Johnston is a believer in 2’s when it comes to his forward groups so this might just be the case of evening out of his line, but could also be a case of the coaching staff no longer seeing Kunitz as a legitimate top-6 player, which he’s certainly been the last couple seasons.
In the past, there’s no way you consider not playing Kunitz with Malkin or Crosby.
The addition of David Perron and the coaching staff intending to give Steve Downie an extended look with Sidney Crosby, has Kunitz off the radar of the top-line for now. A Kunitz – Malkin – Bennett line, though, is worth a look.
TUESDAY’S LINES & D-PAIRS
Perron – Crosby – Downie
Spaling – Malkin – Bennett (Zach Sill rotated with Nick Spaling)
Kunitz – Sutter – Rust
Ebbett – Goc – Adams
Martin – Letang
Ehrhoff – Bortuzzo
Scuderi – Despres
Pouliot – Harrington