Return of several injured Penguins will force tough decisions for Sullivan
March 11, 2016 12:00 AM
Carl Hagelin has missed two games after his head hit the ice Saturday against Calgary, requiring stitches above his left eye, but passed concussion protocol and will be a game-time decision today.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan will have a few serious lineup decisions to make for the game tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets if, as expected, some of his veterans return from injury.
Carl Hagelin passed concussion protocol after missing the past two games. Eric Fehr was a full participant in practice lining up on Matt Cullen’s right wing.
Even Beau Bennett — who wore a yellow jersey, which usually signals no-contact — appeared to inch closer to a return.
Yes, this is a problem Sullivan welcomes.
“We’ll see how guys respond after our practice, but I do suspect that we’ll have some lineup decisions to make,” Sullivan said after practice Thursday.
Conor Sheary was shipped to Wilkes-Barre by late afternoon, but Tom Sestito, who brings a protective element to the game as the team’s only true muscle, could be the odd man out. Or will it be Tom Kuhnhackl? He has been a pleasant surprise since arriving from the minor leagues in early January.
“They’re difficult decisions, but they’re good problems to have when you have people playing well that you think are making contributions and you’ve got these guys coming off injury that played well at the same time,” Sullivan said. “So, as a coaching staff, as those decisions are, I think they’re good problems to have.”
Fehr hasn’t played since Feb. 2 when he served as the team’s third-line center while Nick Bonino was out with a hand injury.
He skated on his own for the past week but was ecstatic to join his teammates for a first full practice Thursday.
“Felt awesome,” Fehr said. “Feel like I’ve come a long way. I feel great, and the last week, feel like I’ve made great strides.”
He said he has seen an uptick in the Penguins’ play in two major areas during his absence.
“It’s been great to see our team get stronger in a lot of different areas. Our neutral zone, our D-zone are two areas we’ve really tightened up,” Fehr said. “You’re getting used to a little bit of lower-scoring games, which is nice, as those are what you expect come playoff time.”
Fehr spent practice lined up on the fourth line as Cullen’s right winger — a spot he occupied earlier this season before being leaned on at center.
“He takes up a lot of space. He’s one of the better guys I’ve ever played with going into the corner, getting a puck and giving it to you and allowing you the space you need,” Cullen said.
Fehr has just five goals, two assists in 39 games, but is a big body at 6 feet 4, 212 pounds. He screens well and is strong in the corners.
“I still think there’s an element of goal-scoring and offensive ability he hasn’t had a full opportunity to show,” Cullen said. “Hopefully we can get that going.”
Hagelin has missed two games after his head hit the ice Saturday against Calgary, requiring stitches above his left eye, but passed concussion protocol and will be a game-time decision.
“The morning after [the injury], things felt a little slow, a little off. The docs wanted me to be cautious, as they’ve seen similar symptoms that have gone bad,” Hagelin said. “They wanted to make sure we stayed off the ice two, three days.”
Noteworthy: In 16 career games against the Blue Jackets, Penguins C Sidney Crosby has 21 points. … Blue Jackets LW Brandon Saad, a native of Gibsonia, has missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury. … Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky was activated from injured reserve after being sidelined the past 19 games with a groin injury. … Blue Jackets D Jack Johnson is on injured reserved with an undisclosed injury.
Did you know? Penguins coach Mike Sullivan served as an assistant coach under Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella with the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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