Jamie Oleksiak ready to return, but Penguins stick with winning formula on D
ST. LOUIS – When making lineup decisions on defense for Saturday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was faced with a tough call.
Jamie Oleksiak took morning skate and has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion in a fight with Washington’s Tom Wilson on Dec. 19.
On one hand, it would be fair and just to put Oleksiak right back in the lineup. He suffered an injury while sticking up for a teammate. He shouldn’t lose his spot because of it.
On the other hand, the Penguins have been playing extraordinarily well on defense since Oleksiak went down and Juuso Riikola stepped in, winning four straight games and giving up a total of four goals in the process.
Ultimately, Sullivan decided to stick with a winning formula and keep Oleksiak out of the lineup for at least another two days.
Sullivan said his decision wasn’t based on superstition. A winning lineup isn’t sacred in his eyes.
“I just think we try to put the best lineup on the ice that’s going to give us the best chance to win. That’s the question we try to answer each and every game,” Sullivan said. “If it means making a change after a win, then we’ll do it.”
Just not this time.
“It’s not an easy decision from a coaching-staff standpoint,” Sullivan said. “What we do think is, a guy like Jamie, it gives him a few extra practices to get himself ready, but certainly we value what Jamie’s brought as well. In this particular instance, the six defensemen that have been in the lineup we think have played extremely well.”
Matt Murray, meanwhile, will make his third straight start in goal. He’s 4-0 with a .957 saver percentage since returning from a month-long absence due to a lower-body injury.
After getting off to a 7-9-3 start, firing former Penguins assistant Mike Yeo and replacing him with Craig Berube, the Blues have been playing much better hockey lately. They’ve won five of their last seven games.
“There’s such a fine line between winning and losing in this league,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes I think the standings can be deceiving. My experience has been that every night is a challenge, that every team in this league has the ability to be very good. St. Louis is no different. They’re playing much better as of late. I think they’re 6-3-1 in their last 10. They’re playing a much better game, as are we. We know it’s going to be a big challenge, a big test. We’re going to have to have our best.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.