The Penguins are still trying to sort out their right wingers
When it comes to the Penguins’ right wingers, there really is only one absolute.
Bryan Rust is injured.
The versatile forechecker, who has been pliable throughout his career to just about any line coaches have placed him on, began the season on long-term injured reserve because of a suspected left hand injury. That designation will require him to miss at least the first 10 games of the campaign.
After two games, the Penguins still are trying to figure out how to sort the remaining options on their starboard side.
Patric Hornqvist opened the season in a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on the first line but was moved to the third line for Saturday’s 7-2 whipping of the Columbus Blue Jackets. When injuries to centers Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad forced a mass reshuffling of the lines, Hornqvist wound up on the first line once again. On Saturday, he scored his first two goals of the season.
Brandon Tanev has remained on the second line through both contests but with Malkin injured, the composition of that group could be altered. He recorded his first career assist with the Penguins on a goal by fourth-line center Teddy Blueger Saturday night. He spent much of the preseason skating on the first line.
Dominik Simon played on the fourth line Thursday then was promoted to the first line Saturday. While he has yet to record a point, he had a crafty offensive-zone entry that led to the Penguins’ second goal against Columbus.
Then, there is Dominik Kahun. After being used on every line in the preseason and training camp, he debuted with the Penguins on Thursday as a third-liner but was assigned to the fourth line Saturday. He also recorded his first point with the team by logging the primary assist on Blueger’s score.
Coach Mike Sullivan prefers to find pairings between centers and wingers that remain as regular as possible. Then, he determines who fits best as the other winger as situations — such as injuries — dictate. It just happens that through three-plus weeks of training camp and regular-season action, the pairings among forwards strictly involve the left wingers.
“If you look at the training camp to this point, we’ve had (Sidney Crosby) and Jake (Guentzel) together the whole time,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had (Malkin) and (Alex) Galchenyuk together the whole time. We’ve had Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann together the whole time. We’ve had Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese together the whole time.”
How the injuries to Malkin and Bjugstad, who also can play right wing, impact that dynamic remains to be seen. The Penguins had a scheduled day off Sunday and won’t return to practice until Monday. Regardless, it’s fair to say the right wingers shouldn’t get too comfortable with their place on the depth chart.
“It always tough to say what your role is when you play one game here, one game there,” Kahun said. “I have no problem with that. I like that. I just want to play. That’s what I want. You have to know your role. When you play on the first line, you know you have to make more plays. When you play on the fourth line, you go against the first line of the (opposing team) to defend. It’s always something different.”
“With (Rust) being injured right now, that threw a little bit of a wrench into the decision-making,” Sullivan said. “But we’ve had a fair amount of consistency through the process (with left wings and centers). Trying to figure out where the best fit is on the right side has been a little bit of a challenge to this point.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .