Defensemen Marcus Pettersson, Justin Schultz steady for Penguins
In the early days of training camp, the Penguins defensive pairs were all over the place.
Franchise staple Kris Letang skated with journeyman David Warsofsky.
Defensive stalwart Brian Dumoulin worked alongside promising prospect Calen Addison.
Physical presence Erik Gudbranson fired passes to AHL mainstay Kevin Czuczman.
None of these duos would ever see a second of ice time in an NHL game of consequence unless some sort of cataclysm overwhelmed the Penguins’ medical staffers.
One pairing did make sense, however, even if it was rarely utilized last season.
Marcus Pettersson was teamed with Justin Schultz from the morning training camp opened in mid-September, and they’ve been fused together since. They’ve been the team’s most regular pairing this season based on common five-on-five ice time, although that’s partly because of Dumoulin’s four-game absence because of injury.
“We thought they had the potential to be a solid pair,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re both good players. They both have an offensive dimension to their game. (Schultz) has an elite offensive dimension to his game. Marcus is just a good, solid 200-foot defenseman. They’re both fairly mobile guys. They can pass the puck. There’s a lot to like about that pair. We felt as though they had the potential to be good. When we put them together, that’s why we put them together. We’ve really liked what we’ve seen to this point.”
The Penguins’ top forward appreciates what the duo offers, as well.
Since Sullivan took over in December 2015, one of his primary focuses has been getting Crosby on the ice as much as possible with Letang. And through 13 games this season, that’s been the case. Crosby and Letang have skated together for 118 minutes, 19 seconds of common five-on-five ice time, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s Crosby’s highest figure with another defenseman.
Dumoulin, as expected, is second with 75:39. But Schultz (73:37) and Pettersson (72:49) aren’t far behind.
“Pretty similar to (Dumoulin) and (Letang). Having played with those guys for so long, you get used to tendencies. With (Schultz) and (Pettersson), we’ll develop that kind of chemistry. (Pettersson) is stay at home. He’s got a long reach. He’s good at keeping pucks alive and making defensive pays. He probably gives (Schultz) the comfort level to join the rush and make plays there, too. Very similar.”
A member of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship squads in 2016 and ‘17, the 29-year-old Schultz is the more established player. The 23-year-old Pettersson, who the Penguins acquired in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks a little more than 11 months ago, is still developing.
“Marcus is a guy that just has a good, solid two-way game,” Sullivan said. “He’s hard to play against by nature of his size and his reach. He’s got a real good stick. His gaps are really good. By nature of that, he’s a real tough player to play against, we think.”
Despite management’s clear faith in the pairing, Pettersson suggests there is room for improvement.
“The more that we play with each other, the more we get to feel each other out and learn from each other and how each other works.” Pettersson said. “We can up our game a little bit, but it’s for sure nice to have that constant (presence) playing with each other.”
Notes: The Penguins assigned rookie forward Sam Lafferty to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. The 24-year-old native of Hollidaysburg was recalled Oct. 7 and scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 10 games.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .