Penguins’ Justin Schultz makes return from broken leg
Four months and three days after breaking his leg in Montreal, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz was back in the lineup Saturday afternoon against the Calgary Flames.
Schultz was set to start the game on the second defense pair alongside Jack Johnson. Juuso Riikola was scratched to make room.
“I think Jack is more of a stay-at-home guy. He’s a defense-first, defending defenseman. Schultzy’s a guy that likes to jump into the rush, get involved offensively and is active off the offensive blue line,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s a similar type complementary set with (Brian) Dumoulin and (Kris) Letang.”
Sullivan said he’s confidence Schultz’s return will make a significant impact in the possession game.
“I don’t think there’s any question he’ll improve our defense corps and our ability to move the puck and get out of our end zone,” Sullivan said. “He’s a mobile defenseman. He’s a great puck mover. He’s got great offensive instincts. He sees the ice extremely well. He’s a big part of our transition game.”
Schultz, who has been skating with the team in a full-contact capacity since Feb. 4, returns during a particularly bust stretch of schedule. The Penguins will host the Rangers on Sunday afternoon and visit the Devils on Tuesday night.
“We always watch our players and see how they’re doing and trying to put them in positions to be successful,” Sullivan said. “Schultzy’s practiced for quite a while now. I think, from a conditioning standpoint, he’s strong. He’s well-rested. From that standpoint, I don’t think it will be an issue. When Schultzy’s goes in the lineup, it’s more just about getting up to game speed and the timing and things of that nature, not necessarily the conditioning aspect.”
Up front, Tanner Pearson and Dominik Simon were scratched while Teddy Blueger and Garrett Wilson remained in the lineup and Evgeni Malkin returned from a one-game suspension.
Simon has one goal in his last 15 games.
“When we have a healthy group here, we’ve got a very competitive roster. There’s going to be competition for roster spots,” Sullivan said. “The guys that have come up and we’ve inserted into the lineup have played extremely well.
“I’ve had these conversations with Dom. He’s a very good player. He’s a good playmaker. He can hang onto pucks down low. He’s strong on the wall. He’s a sound, two-way player, but I think he’s just got to bring more urgency to his game and a little bit more execution. When he does that, I think he’s a guy that certainly can help us win games.”
Pearson has one goal in his last 13 games.
“When he first came to us, he was hard on the forecheck,” Sullivan said. “He was physical when he had opportunities. He was really good by going to the net and making it hard on our opponents’ goaltenders and forcing them to defend the net front. He was good on the wall. That’s the game he brings to our team.
“When he’s going, he has some scoring touch. He can finish when he gets the opportunity. We think that’s what Pearse brings to our team. I’ve had that discussion with him over the last couple of weeks. We’re trying to communicate with all of our guys what their roles are and how they help us win. Those are the strengths of Pearse’s game and that’s what he needs to bring to our team consistently.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .