Game 1 on Long Island is tomorrow night. The big debate among Penguins fans is: Which defenseman sits?
That assumes Brian Dumoulin is OK to return from injury. He skated on the fourth (extra) pairing at today’s practice. Coach Mike Sullivan called him a game-time decision.
If Dumoulin plays, the decision boils down to scratching Jack Johnson, Olli Maatta or Marcus Pettersson.
Here’s betting Maatta gets the chop.
Maatta may have the most talent of those three, and he’s got two Stanley Cup rings. Maatta missed seven weeks due to injury starting in mid-February but has played well in the five games since his return.
But Johnson and Pettersson have played every game this season. Each is firmly established in an effective pairing: Johnson with Justin Schultz, Pettersson with Eric Gudbranson.
Johnson went from minus-13 on Dec. 1 to just minus-4 by season’s end while adding a needed physical element. He has silenced his previously vocal critics.
Pettersson has been a revelation in this, his rookie season. He finished plus-17. Pettersson is 6-foot-3, and his tandem with the 6-5 Gudbranson has proven tough for opposing forwards to navigate given their reach and positioning.
There’s not a bad decision for Sullivan to make.
That’s the kind of depth needed to make a long playoff run.
The Penguins used eight defensemen during each of their Cup campaigns in ’16 and ’17. Whichever defenseman doesn’t play in Game 1 will be involved at some point.
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