So begins the story. Again. The Pittsburgh Penguins season, of course. They’ll have been away for exactly two weeks when they host the San Jose Sharks on Sunday afternoon. Assuming there aren’t any last minute issues that lead to further postponements, of course.
So let this serve as an introduction – a reminder of the state of affairs. a look at what the lineup might look like and what to expect for this game at PPG Paints Arena.
* The Penguins were leading a seven-game winning streak in their most recent game, a 3-2 win on Dec. 19 over the Devils in New Jersey. After that, five games were postponed, most recently Friday in Ottawa, directly or indirectly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the realigned NHL Christmas vacation, equivalent to two weeks.
* Four of the eight players who entered the league’s COVID protocol during free time have exited the protocol and are available to play. They are defenders John Marino and Mike Matheson, as well as forwards Dominik Simon and Evan Rodrigues. The top three returned to training on Saturday; Rodrigues was out of protocol a day earlier.
Matheson said he had no symptoms and noted that “I was fortunate enough to have a small home gym so I could continue to train. “
Marino also said he was asymptomatic.
* Also in protocol as of Saturday were centers Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger, winger Kasperi Kapanen and No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry. None will be available for Saturday. In addition, center Brian Boyle, who missed practice on Saturday for what the team called personal reasons, will not be available on Sunday, coach Mike Sullivan said.
This throws the center position into the stream. Evgeni Malkin is set to return but has excluded himself for Sunday. He held the position of second-line center on Saturday in practice.
After frontline center Sidney Crosby, the guys in the middle could include Drew O’Connor, Sam Lafferty and maybe Rodrigues. Overall, to reach 18 skaters, taxi team forwards Kasper Bjorkqvist and Anthony Angello could be in the lineup, or the Penguins could choose to dress seven defenders, but that’s something they do not normally seem inclined to do.
* Casey DeSmith should start in goal.
Jarry, Sullivan confirmed, is one of the protocol actors who had what he called “very mild symptoms,” but Sullivan admitted that “I don’t know when Tristan will be available to us. This, I think, will be an overnight thing.
DeSmith, as a replacement, had an even longer layoff than the team. He last played on December 11, a 33-save shutout in a 1-0 win over Anaheim. It followed a 28-save performance on December 6 in a 6-1 win over Seattle.
Those two games together marked a notable turnaround for DeSmith, who struggled in his first four starts, going 0-3-1.
“I feel great. I’m really excited to play,” said DeSmith, who is expected to be assisted by taxi team goalkeeper Louis Domingue on Sunday.
While all penguins are vaccinated and take precautions, revolutionary COVID infections are occurring. As long as Jarry is away, DeSmith is an important figure.
He does what he can.
“Just be very careful. Don’t take unnecessary risks, ”DeSmith said. “Obviously, you still have to go to certain places, whether it’s the grocery store or whatever, but for the most part, wear a mask and not go anywhere unnecessarily. “
He indulged in one of his passions other than hockey.
“I like spending time outdoors and playing disc golf. There has been hot weather lately, ”he said. “I’m not going to have COVID in the woods.”
* The Penguins could be at a bit of a disadvantage in that they haven’t played a game in two weeks, the Sharks have played twice since the Christmas break ended, a shootout win and an overtime win.
The Penguins have held several practices, worked on many aspects of their game and held scrimmages all over the ice during the time out, but there could always be some sort of layoff “hangover”.
“These guys are used to playing more than three times a week, and so when you get out of that routine, I just think there’s a little adjustment process,” Sullivan said. “For me the most important thing is just the state of mind and the level of competition because it’s hard to simulate that in practice. There is a certain intensity to an NHL hockey game that is very difficult to simulate.
“Keeping the games simple is going to be an important aspect. It’s going to get us into the hockey game, to think about it a little bit, so that we can play on our toes and use our speed and things of that nature to get involved in the game. ”
Or as Matheson said, “You have to treat it like the first game of the season.”
What it could be after the long layoff.