NHL Hockey

Penguins deal with injuries ahead of Sabres game

The Pittsburgh Penguins limp into a road game Friday against the Buffalo Sabres determined not to be deterred by mounting injuries.

Three of the Penguins' top four defensemen, including the top pairing of Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, already were injured before two players went out with what coach Mike Sullivan called "longer term" injuries Tuesday during a 5-2 win at Columbus.

Versatile winger Bryan Rust (left leg/ankle) and defensemen Chad Ruhwedel (right arm/shoulder) got hurt Tuesday, meaning assistant coach Mark Recchi had to take to the ice in practice Wednesday so the team would have four full forward lines. If not for the arrival of newly acquired defenseman Erik Gudbranson, Pittsburgh would not have had three pairs of defensemen, either.

Still, the Penguins are pushing on with their mission of making the playoffs for the 13th straight year.

"We just have to have a next-man-up mentality," Sullivan said. "That's how we've always approached it. We believe we have depth in our organization. We have capable people."

Pittsburgh, which took a day off Thursday, recalled forward Teddy Blueger to reach the minimum 12 healthy forwards, to go along with the minimum six healthy defensemen.

"It's going to provide opportunities for others to step up and play a more significant role," Sullivan said of the injuries. "They've got to embrace that challenge."

Behind big names such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, Blueger will be playing his 10th NHL game Friday. Defenseman Zach Trotman will be playing his second NHL game this season.

Gudbranson will make his Penguins debut. He was acquired at the trade deadline Monday from Vancouver for winger Tanner Pearson and, after clearing up immigration issues, arrived in time for practice Wednesday.

"I just want to come here and solidify the back end as much as possible," the hulking, physical defenseman said. "My game's pretty simple -- keep stuff in front of me, be tough in front of the net and be physical on guys. That's my plan."

Buffalo's plan is to communicate better on the ice.

The Sabres, who sit eight points behind Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference playoff race, were unhappy with that aspect of their game in successive losses Monday and Tuesday against Toronto and Philadelphia, respectively.

"It's just about taking your guy -- 'take him,' 'I got him' -- just bring clarity to the situation," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We've got too many guys standing around in front of our net whacking at pucks. That's just about picking up and being tougher to play against in that area."

Like the Penguins, Buffalo made a deadline move, acquiring defenseman Brandon Montour from Anaheim for defenseman Brendan Guhle and a first-round draft pick.

Montour made his Sabres debut in Tuesday's 5-2 loss at Philadelphia. He did not record a point, but he did get Housley's point.

"It's a system pretty similar to what we played in Anaheim, but the communication is definitely huge," Montour told The Athletic. "You have to read off one another. Whether that's the odd-man rushes or the (defensive) zone, or if you're a (defenseman) or creating offense cutting to the net or taking the board side ... it's just one of those things that come in time."

The Sabres could be scrambling because of injuries, too. Goaltender Carter Hutton left practice Thursday because of an undisclosed problem, and forward Vladimir Sobotka (upper body) and defenseman Marco Scandella (lower body) are day-to-day.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 28, 2019

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