What is it about this time of year?
As I wrote for todayâ€™s paper, the Penguins, from Dec. 16-23 of last year, relied on a group of young defensemen.
They will again, hence the story. Even younger, too, given the news Saturday that they called up Derrick Pouliot, their 2012 first-round who will make his NHL debut tonight. Pouliot had 7-13–20 in 23 games with the WBS Penguins.
Christian Ehrhoff is out for at least three games. Paul Martin is out tonight and maybe the next two. Robert Bortuzzo skated on his own prior to the gameday Saturday and probably wonâ€™t play before Christmas.
The Penguins now have four defenseman who are 23 years old or younger in Brian Dumoulin (23), Simon Despres (23), Scott Harrington (21) and Pouliot (20).
Coach Mike Johnston knows Pouliot better than any of us, having coached him in Portland. Johnston approached Pouliot following the gameday skate to tell him to get some rest â€“ he left after Wilkes-Barre/Scrantonâ€™s game last night and arrived here in the middle of the night â€“ and that heâ€™d be playing with Rob Scuderi.
â€œIt was a late night,â€ Pouliot said. â€œIt was unexpected. It just happens. Itâ€™s very exciting. Very happy to be here.â€
Pouliot spent time on the No. 2 power play this morning and figures to log quite a few minutes tonight. That was not the plan. The plan was to let him develop, but a blue line ravaged by injuries has changed the plan.
â€œWith Derrick not participating in training camp, the idea was to leave him down there, let him play, let him experience playing a lot of minutes, playing on the power play,â€ Johnston said of Pouliot, who missed training camp after offseason shoulder surgery. â€œThe same with Harrington, the same with Dumoulin.
â€œWe were fortunate we were able to do that. Now weâ€™re in a position where we have to call them up.â€
More good news comes in the form of forward Chris Kunitz tonight. He will return, giving the Penguins an intact top power play unit for the first time since Nov. 28, the game where defenseman Kris Letang hurt his groin. Theyâ€™re 2 for 29 in the 10 contests since.
â€œWe need to bring it back to what it was at the beginning of the year,â€ Kunitz said of the power play. â€œHave a bunch of urgency with scoring goals at timely situations.â€
It will also be interesting to see how Johnston configures his top six. Does he play Kunitz with captain Sidney Crosby and right wing Patrick Hornqvist? Does Brandon Sutter stay at center with Evgeni Malkin and Blake Comeau?
With Craig Adams out â€“ his 319-game streak no more â€“ the final roster decision likely comes down to Andrew Ebbett or Bobby Farnham. I think Bryan Rust has done enough to warrant a spot, and Iâ€™d maybe try him with Malkin to see what happens.
That could bump Sutter to the third line between Nick Spaling and Steve Downie â€“ those three, remember, were excellent before Beau Bennett came back â€“ and play Marcel Goc with Rust and Farnham.
We shall see.
In the meantime, be GRATEFUL to each other,