Three periods: Kessel experiment on left wing pays off
Coach Mike Sullivan had two reasons for trying longtime right wing Phil Kessel on the left side for Friday night's game against New Jersey.
First, a rash of injuries forced him to shuffle his lineup in ways he previously never considered. Second, he thought it might provide an offensive jump-start for Kessel, who was without a goal in his previous 13 games.
Kessel scored a first-period goal and Sullivan isn't in a massive hurry to get him back on the right side.
“I talked to him this morning,” Sullivan said Saturday. “I asked him how he liked playing the left side. He says, ‘Hey, I didn't mind it. It was a little bit different.' He likes coming down that off side.
“We'll see how it goes. It all depends on who we have available for our lineup and what kind of lines we put together, the lefty-righty thing, who's comfortable where. But it is encouraging to know we can use Phil on both sides.”
Brian Dumoulin logged five minutes and five seconds of short-handed ice time Friday, which matched penalty kill veteran Ian Cole's. No other Penguins defenseman came within four minutes of those marks.
Expect that trend to continue for Dumoulin, a likely replacement for Ron Hainsey as a go-to penalty killer and shot suppression specialist. Hainsey, acquired via trade to address the absences of Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley, is “week-to-week” with an upper-body injury.
Dumoulin has averaged 1:46 of short-handed ice time this season, up from 1:17 in 2015-16.
“I think it's definitely something that throughout the year I've gotten better at,” Dumoulin said. “It's about challenging entries. Right now, the way we want to PK is to utilize whether we can jump on guys quickly or disrupt plays or just read plays. I think that benefits me, and it's something I'm going to try to do a little more of.”
Although enthusiasm was dampened a bit by a loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, a 3-0-1 swing through western Canada earlier this month has Sullivan feeling better about the way his team is playing on the road.
Through the end of January, the Penguins were thoroughly mediocre away from home, going 10-10-3, giving up 3.26 goals per game. Since then, they have been a more respectable 6-3-3, giving up 2.42 goals per game.
It's no reason to plan a parade, but it is progress.
“We've shown the ability to win no matter where we play when we play the game the right way,” Sullivan said. “I think there's a belief in the room that we're capable.”
Worth noting: Of the Penguins' remaining 12 games, six are on the road, but they're all in the Eastern time zone.
better late ...
Forward Carter Rowney celebrated his first NHL goal Friday, less than two months ahead of his 28th birthday.
Rookies like Rowney who tally their first goal in the league in their late 20s aren't particularly unique.
Europeans and Russians who spend time in leagues overseas do it on an almost annual basis. But the Penguins journeyman represents the rare skater whose pursuit of an NHL career continued strictly within the confines of North America.
Rowney spent three seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League and four seasons at University of North Dakota before he turned pro and spent three-plus seasons between Wheeling in the ECHL and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League.
On Jan. 31, Rowney, at the age of 27 years, 266 days, made his first NHL appearance. On Friday, he became the second Penguin since 1987-88 to exceed 27 years of age and score during a debut season. Roman Simicek's breakthrough came at 28 years, 345 days on Oct. 14, 2000, according to hockey-reference.com.
Rowney's goal at 27 years, 311 days made him the oldest NHL rookie to score this season.