Penguins’ Jared McCann practices, could send Juuso Riikola back to ‘D’
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jared McCann resumed practicing Thursday in Cranberry. He missed Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche because of an undisclosed injury.
“He had a good practice,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “His status is the same. He’s day-to-day, so he’ll be a game-time decision (Friday). But certainly his practice today was encouraging.”
Said McCann: “A lot better. Just kind of a nagging injury that’s been bothering for me a bit here.
“It’s frustrating. I don’t want to miss any games, and I want to be out there helping the team.”
In six games this season, McCann has three points (two goals, one assist).
With McCann absent, the Penguins shuffled their lines against Colorado by promoting Sam Lafferty from fourth-line right wing to second-line center in place of McCann. Adam Johnson flipped from left to right wing on the fourth line, and that prompted defenseman Juuso Riikola to make his season debut as left wing on that line.
He had a few less-than-graceful moments, including a shift where he was late in defending Avalanche forward Matt Calvert on the opening goal during the first period and when he slid into goaltender Matt Murray later in the period. Given Murray’s considerable injury history, there were a few anxious moments until Murray recovered to his skates without any apparent issue.
Riikola logged 6 minutes, 27 seconds of ice time on 11 shifts and was credited with three hits, not including his collision with Murray.
“I was trying to do my best,” a typically succinct Riikola said.
Said Sullivan: “He did a good job. It allows us to use him on the second power-play (unit) as well on the point. We think he’s pretty good there. I thought he played well. What made us think that he could play that role is that we’ve watched it in practice a handful of times. He can really skate. And he’s got good sense. We thought we would try it. We thought he played very well.”
The plan to use him in that role wasn’t hatched Wednesday’s morning. Given the team’s rash of injures among the forwards and the decision to keep nine healthy defensemen, the Penguins have been toying with the idea of deploying him as a forward for at least a week.
“I was ready. I was ready,” said Riikola, who had been skating as forward on occasion in practice going back to the presason. “When we were (on last weekend’s road) trip, there was the same type of thing. If someone is not able to play, then I will be a forward.”
If McCann returns for Friday’s home game against the Dallas Stars, presumably Riikola’s aspirations of being left winger will go into a holding pattern.
On Thursday, Riikola rotated with fellow defensemen Erik Gudbranson, Jack Johnson, John Marino and Chad Ruhwedel on a third pairing.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .