Justin Schultz may get elevated role on Penguins’ power play
Less than a week into training camp, the Penguins have tinkered with a number of different looks on their top power-play squad.
As has been the case for most of the past decade, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have found themselves in familiar spots with Crosby positioned to the right of the cage while Malkin has been holding down the right circle.
Jake Guentzel has been serving as something of a mobile net-front presence while Kris Letang or Alex Galchenyuk have been mixed in on the left wall, occupying the role forward Phil Kessel deftly operated for four seasons.
While Letang has largely served as the point man for this power-play unit for several years, he has given way — in the early days of camp so far — to Justin Schultz.
Having missed 53 games due to a fractured left leg he suffered in the fourth game of 2018-19, Schultz was rarely at his peak physically last season. He enters 2019-20 fully healthy and figures to be a vital component to a dangerous power play.
“Obviously his real strength is his offensive instincts,” Mike Sullivan said. “So when we have him in our lineup, it just gives us one more guy that we can utilize in those types of situations. We’ve got (Letang) obviously that’s a dynamic offensive player. But to have two guys like we have in (Letang) and Justin, I think just makes us that much more difficult to play against.”
Having primarily used four forwards and one defenseman on the top unit for the past four years, the usage of two defensemen is a bit foreign. But considering the Penguins allowed a league-leading 15 short-handed goals last season, adopting more of a defensive presence was seemingly a requirement entering this season.
“We were used to the same unit for so long there with the same guys, it’s different,” says Schultz. “But both of us spend time on the second unit too and you ride two (defensemen) on that unit. It’s not that much of an adjustment.”
The left wall would appear to be a coveted spot based on the way Schultz describes it.
“The two (defensemen) look, I know me and (Letang) like it because either one of us are interchangeable,” Schultz said. “We just play either position. So whether you’re the flanker or the middle, it’s pretty easy for both us to switch where ever we end up. It’s pretty fun being that flanker bombing away. So we like it.”
NOTES: The Penguins will face the Blue Jackets on Thursday night in their second preseason game at PPG Paints Arena. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. … Forward prospect Adam Johnson is day to day due to an undisclosed injury, according to Sullivan. Johnson, who scored a goal in Monday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Sabres, did not practice on Tuesday.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .