More injuries mean more expectations for Penguins’ remaining forwards
Andrew Agozzino was in a familiar place Wednesday when he practiced with the Pittsburgh Penguins at their facility in Cranberry.
After all, he was there a little more than two weeks ago.
Assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Sept. 23, Agozzino was recalled, along with fellow forward Sam Lafferty, on Monday in the wake of forwards Nick Bjugstad and Evgeni Malkin being placed on injured reserve because of long-term ailments.
Agozzino did not play in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at PPG Paints Arena but his place in the lineup for Thursday’s home game against the Anaheim Ducks is all but assured thanks to more injuries.
Forward Patric Hornqvist suffered an undisclosed injury during Tuesday’s games after he was struck with a shot by teammate Kris Letang during the first period. Additionally, forward Alex Galchenyuk did not participate in Wednesday’s practice because of a previous unspecified ailment he aggravated.
On Wednesday evening, the team placed Galchenyuk on injured reserve and recalled forward Adam Johnson from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Prior to Johnson’s recall, Agozzino, who was scratched Tuesday, was left to center a makeshift fourth line in practice with reserve defensemen Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel.
Clearly, there is ample opportunity for Agozzino and other forwards (and apparently any defensemen considering a career switch) within the organization given the rash of maladies up front.
“It’s what you hope for,” Agozzino said of the recall. “You try to have a good camp to put yourself in that position. I thought I had done that. Obviously, they’ve had some injuries and need guys. To get back up here this quick, I’m definitely happy about it.”
A further transaction would be required for the Penguins to dress a full complement of 12 forwards Thursday, presuming Hornqvist is sidelined. Sullivan described him as “day to day.”
Regardless, there has already been plenty of promotions among the team’s healthy incumbent forwards.
“It’s an opportunity, but we’d also rather have those players here,” said Dominik Kahun, who was promoted to left wing on the second line in practice. “They are very good players. They’re missing but that’s a chance for other guys to step up and show that we can take more responsibility and play good.”
The special teams squads – particularly the power-play groups – were different as well in practice on Wednesday. Simon as promoted to the top unit with forwards Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel as well as defensemen Kris Letang and Justin Schultz. The second unit was composed of Agozzino, Kahun, Riikola, forward Jared McCann and defensemen Marcus Pettersson.
“This is a big opportunity for me,” said Agozzino, who joined the Penguins as a free agent this past offseason after spending the first seven seasons of his professional career with the Colorado Avalanche organization. “I kind of worked my way back into the NHL last year. I got a little look there, and I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Bjugstad, Galchenyuk, Hornqvist, Malkin and Bryan Rust, who opened the season on long-term injured reserve, have a combined salary-cap hit of $27.3 million. A quantifiable figure like that should make it obvious to anyone with an interest in the Penguins that a greater contribution is needed by the remaining able-bodied forwards.
“You just know,” Kahun said. “When guys are missing, you get the chance. You just know it’s expected from you that you’re going to step it up and just play a bigger role.”
That doesn’t mean the message isn’t reinforced by management.
“(Coaches) might say, ‘Hey, we’re down some key guys, it’s a big opportunity for newer guys. You’re going to be put in good positions with a lot of ice time. Make the most of it,’” said forward Zach Aston-Reese, who was promoted to the third line. “They definitely reiterate it, but it’s something you kind of know going in.”
“We’ve certainly had that discussion with guys that it’s a great opportunity for people to step up and show what they can do,” Sullivan said. “When teams go through the injury bug like it’s hit our team right now. We’ve got to pull together and find ways to win games. We believe this group is still capable. We still have enough fire power in the lineup every night. It’s going to provide some real good opportunities for other guys to step up and play more significant roles.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .