Share This Page

With Daley ailing, Penguins defenseman Cole waits for his chance

| Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, 5:57 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Ian Cole defends the Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw in the second period Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, at Consol Energy Center.
Getty Images
The Penguins' Ian Cole skates against the Bruins during the third period Dec. 16, 2015, in Boston.

Whatever expectations Penguins defenseman Ian Cole and coach Mike Sullivan discussed in private meetings during the past few weeks were alluded to but went unsaid by both after the team's off-ice training session Thursday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

Cole, a healthy scratch in the Penguins' past seven games, might get to meet some of his coach's demands on the ice Friday at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Defenseman Trevor Daley, who left in the first period of Wednesday's loss to the New York Rangers with an unspecified upper-body injury and did not return, underwent evaluation Thursday and was deemed a game-time decision by Sullivan for Friday's matchup with the Hurricanes. If Daley cannot play — Sullivan said only that “anything significant has been ruled out” — Cole will land back in the lineup after serving as the odd man out since Derrick Pouliot's call-up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

“We've tried to define clear expectations and what we expect or how we think each one of our players can help us win by playing to their strengths,” Sullivan said. “We feel as though we've got seven or eight defensemen that we think can help us win. We utilize each and every one of those guys, and Ian is one of those guys.

“He's played some good hockey for us. He's been a good soldier as far as preparing himself to be ready for when the time comes.”

Cole, acquired in a trade that sent Robert Bortuzzo to St. Louis in March, embraced life as a regular in the Penguins lineup this season after years of modest opportunity with the Blues. He appeared in 45 games and averaged a career-high 17 minutes, 55 seconds of ice time.

But not long after Pouliot arrived Jan. 18, Cole's string of healthy scratches began. His limited offensive production (no goals, four assists) and his poor possession numbers made him an apparent choice as the team's seventh defenseman. Pouliot's steady play only increased the likelihood of Cole, who will turn 27 on Feb. 21, remaining out of the lineup.

“(I'm) just working hard at practice and trying to stay as sharp as you can,” Cole said. “(You're) making sure that when you are in those game situations, if we're doing five-on-five in the zone in practice or whatever, that you are thinking about it like a game because that's really the only somewhat close situation you're going to be in.”

Then came Wednesday night, when Daley became tangled with the Rangers' Jesper Fast, lost his footing and crashed into the Penguins' net.

“He's come in and been great for us,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said of Daley. “If he's out, we will absolutely miss him. We feel comfortable defensively that we have plenty of depth.”

Jokingly, he added: “I think Kris Letang can absorb a few more minutes and maybe play 45 to 50.”

Daley, acquired Dec. 14 in a trade with Chicago, has eased the burden on Letang to generate offense. He's a natural fit in the up-tempo system established under Sullivan.

Cole likely cannot match what Daley provides — Pouliot is a better bet to fill that role on a short-term basis. But Cole, whose $2.1 million cap hit is second only to Letang among the Penguins' defensemen, waits for the opportunity to show that he's wise enough to recognize his coach's requests and adapt in a way that makes him worthy of more ice time.

“There obviously has been a lot of things that you try to tweak and reassess,” Cole said. “There were some conversations that were had (with Sullivan). Obviously need to put that into play in a game situation. We'll see how it is going forward.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.