Penguins defenseman Kris Letang sidelined against Islanders
NEW YORK — Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will not play in Thursday’s game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center because of an undisclosed injury.
Letang did not participate in the morning skate. Coach Mike Sullivan suggested Letang is “not a probability” for Saturday’s home game against the Chicago Blackhawks at PPG Paints Arena.
Given that Letang is 11th in the NHL in average ice time per game at an even 25 minutes, the Penguins are incapable of simply replacing him with any one player.
“I’m sure we’ll spread the minutes,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to replace it by committee. We have some balance throughout the three pairs right now. We’ll adjust accordingly. We’ll see how it goes.”
“He plays a lot of minutes and he does it very well,” defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. “He plays hard in every single one of those minutes. If that’s the case, for sure I think everybody’s got to step up. But we’ve been down with injuries before. We know how to handle it and how to approach it.”
During the skate, rookie defenseman John Marino manned Letang’s role on the top pairing alongside Brian Dumoulin.
Typically, the top pairing plays a lot with the team’s top line. That makes the duties for the defensemen on that pair fairly simple.
“If you’re playing with Sid’s line, you just give him the puck as much as possible,” Marino said of Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby. “I wouldn’t say anything really changes. Just go out there, play the game the right way, play your game, stick to it and the game should work itself out.”
Marino saw a jump in ice time during Monday’s 6-4 road loss to the Boston Bruins when Letang left the ice during the third period. He logged 21:35 of ice time on 32 shifts, a considerable increase from the 12:30 on 20 shifts he recorded in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss at home to the Edmonton Oilers.
More time on ice requires slight adjustments but nothing too complex.
“The most you can do is manage your skating ability, (if) you’re jumping up in the rush as much or obviously chances like that,” Marino said. “But not too much. You play your game but not too much changes. Some games, you might play 12 minutes, one game you might play 20. You don’t really know what’s going to happen. You just go out and play the game the right way.”
Juuso Riikola, a healthy scratch for 11 of the team’s 15 games to this point in the season, worked on the right side — his off side — of the third pairing with Jack Johnson.
“Almost (all) of last year,” Riikola said of his experience of playing his off side. “Of course, it’s a little bit different but what are you going to do?”
“We had a discussion based on the groups that we have available,” Sullivan said. “We decided to go with the pairs that we have. We like the (Pettersson-Schultz) pair. (Marino) is a guy that’s played extremely well for us. He’s got great mobility, he defends well. He’s got a good stick. Him and (Dumoulin) are similar in that regard. So with everything taken into consideration. We think these are the tandems that give us the best chance to win.”
The team’s lines and pairings during the skate were:
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Dominik Simon
Alex Galchenyuk – Evgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust
Jared McCann – Nick Bjugstad – Dominik Kahun
Zach Aston-Reese – Teddy Blueger – Brandon Tanev
Brian Dumoulin – John Marino
Marcus Pettersson – Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson – Juuso Riikola
Rookie forward Sam Lafferty, recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday, skated with defenseman Chad Ruhwedel on a fourth “pair.”
Letang’s absence — coupled with Patric Hornqvist’s — doesn’t figure to be helpful to the power play, which has failed to score in nine consecutive games and has gone 0 for 20 over that span. The first power-play unit included Crosby, Galchenyuk, Guentzel, Malkin and Schultz.
• Penguins goaltender Matt Murray is expected to start. Coming off Monday’s 6-4 road loss to the Boston Bruins in which he allowed three goals on 11 shots, Murray enters this contest with a 7-3-1 mark in 12 games as well as a 2.35 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout.
• The Islanders enter this contest on a 10-game winning streak, the second-longest such streak in franchise history, despite missing quite a few key contributors. Forwards Jordan Eberle, Leo Komarov, Tom Kuhnhackl, Andrew Ladd and Matt Martin are all on injured reserve with undisclosed ailments. Additionally, defenseman Nick Leddy is expected to miss his third consecutive game because of an undisclosed injury.
• Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is expected to start for the Islanders. In seven games this season, Varlamov has a 5-2-0 record with 2.14 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
• The Islanders recalled defenseman Seth Helgeson and forward Otto Koivula from Bridgeport of the AHL.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .