Penguins defenseman Ian Cole's physical style of play complements Justin Schultz more offensive style on the back line.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins defenseman Ian Cole dutifully played the role of odd man out earlier this season as a healthy scratch for 11 consecutive games between Jan. 23 and Feb. 20.
Since then, Cole has flashed a more physical edge to his game, which seems to complement the skill set of partner Justin Schultz, a puck-moving and offensive-minded defenseman.
“In the sense that Justin is more of an offensive guy, he’s a puck mover that joins the rush and Ian is a more stay-at-home defenseman. He’s a big body, he’s strong down low, he’s strong in front of the net,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They have complementary skill sets in that regard. We’re trying to make decisions with our lineup each and every night with our lineup that we think is giving us the best chance to win.”
Providing that balance also seems to be the key to keeping a spot in the lineup for Cole.
“I think he’s playing more physical,” Sullivan said. “I think he’s been stronger in front of our net. I think he’s done a nice job on the [penalty kill] and that’s how we need him to play in order to help us win. When he plays with that intensity level and he has that edge to his game, I think he’s at his best.”
The Penguins are close to getting defenseman Ben Lovejoy back from injury, which could complicate matters. That will give Sullivan two extra defensemen — Lovejoy and Derrick Pouliot — to pick from nightly.
“Ben is ahead of his schedule, his time frame that our medical staff had allotted,” Sullivan said. “When we put guys back in the lineup we try to put them in a position to be successful, so it’s more than just being healthy. It’s being healthy and then having an opportunity to get your timing back, get in some intensity drills so that you’re in a game-like scenario so that when you do go back in the lineup, you’re in a position to succeed. That’s the stage we’re at with Ben. He hasn’t been in that many practices yet, but we have guys like Ben and Beau Bennett for example that we think we’ll have here moving down the stretch that are going to make our lineup decisions hard.”
Cole said he’s always played physically, but it is more apparent now because of the type of minutes he’s getting on the third pairing with Schultz.
“Being tough to play against, that aggression has always been part of my game,” Cole said. “When you’re playing 20 minutes a night against the first or second line it’s a little bit more subdued. When you’re playing 16 minutes a night against the third or fourth line — and against those guys, it’s their job, too — it certainly comes out a little bit more. They’re the ones that are trying to run you, trying to stick you, going after you. No one, especially me, is going to back down from that. I’m going to give it right back and then some.”
Cole and Schultz have been paired together since Schultz cracked the lineup March 6 against the New Jersey Devils. The two also are a lefty-righty match — Cole is a left-handed shot, and Schultz a right-handed shot — which Sullivan has previously said he pays attention to.
“He’s pretty easy to play with. He’s always talking out there, which makes it easy on me being new to the system,” Schultz said. “It’s a good balance. He’s always going to be back there if I’m jumping up. He jumps up sometimes too, but having that balance I think is what we have to keep finding.”
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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