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Penguins

Daniel Sprong's showing with Anaheim no surprise to ex-teammate

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, 7:39 p.m.
Anaheim Ducks right wing Daniel Sprong controls the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. It was Sprong’s first game with the Ducks.
Anaheim Ducks right wing Daniel Sprong controls the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. It was Sprong’s first game with the Ducks.

When winger Daniel Sprong scored on his second shift in an Anaheim Ducks uniform Wednesday night, many Penguins fans probably cringed.

Watching the 21-year-old prospect find his scoring touch in his first game after the Penguins traded him for defenseman Marcus Pettersson on Monday had to be tough to swallow.

It didn’t surprise Penguins winger Garrett Wilson one bit.

Wilson watched as Sprong piled up 32 goals in 65 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, many of them on shots like the one he uncorked Wednesday night: a bad angle-wrister from the right wing that banked in off the nameplate on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford’s jersey.

“He’s a shooter, a shoot-first mentality for him,” Wilson said. “I saw that a lot last year. If I had a shot as good as he does, I’d use it a lot too.”

After the trade, general manager Jim Rutherford said he recognized the risk he was taking by dealing away Sprong when he couldn’t crack the Penguins top nine forwards.

Wilson said he understood his GM’s perspective.

“He’s a good, young player with a lot of upside,” Wilson said. “He was working on his defensive game last year, and I thought he improved on that. Anytime you’re offensively gifted like that, there’s a chance you can light it up.”

Defensive conscience

Because the Penguins have given up a league-high eight short-handed goals this season, defenseman Jack Johnson could be put in an interesting position in upcoming games.

He could pull spot duty on the team’s top power-play unit not for an offensive spark but for his defensive conscience.

It’s not something likely to happen when games are close, but if the Penguins are protecting a lead, like when Johnson got the call to join the top power play late in a 6-3 victory over Colorado on Tuesday, it’s an option for coach Mike Sullivan.

“If the puck is turned over, you defend,” Johnson said. “You’ve got a man-advantage. You shouldn’t be giving up an odd-man rush or something like that. That’s all I was out there to do, be conscious of it late in the game. We didn’t need another goal, but if I got the chance to do something offensively, I was going to do it.”

Managing workload

Thursday’s matchup with the Islanders was the second game of a stretch that will see the Penguins play 11 times in 19 days heading into a four-day Christmas break.

With that in mind, Sullivan will have to be cautious of the workload he gives to certain players, especially in goal.

Casey DeSmith looks to be gaining momentum while Matt Murray is out with a lower-body injury.

He was 4-1-0 with a .923 save percentage in his previous five starts coming into Thursday’s game. He has not, however, played more than 41 games in a season at any level in his career.

“We’re trying to utilize the bench. We’re trying to manage minutes. We have a gameplan both in the short term and the bigger picture as far as how we utilize our goaltenders,” Sullivan said.

Injury report

The Penguins played without winger Dominik Simon, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Bryan Rust took his spot on the first line and Garrett Wilson, a healthy scratch for the previous two games, was back in the lineup.

Murray and Matt Cullen, out with lower-body injuries, continue to skate on their own. Sullivan said Justin Schultz, who is expected to be out until February with a broken leg, is on schedule in his recovery.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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