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Penguins coach Mike Sullivan: Derick Brassard will play when he’s healthy

Jonathan Bombulie
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Pittsburgh Penguins’ Derick Brassard (19) deflects the puck past Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard (35) for a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018.

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan found the suggestion literally laughable, letting out a small chuckle when he was asked about it following Thursday’s practice in Cranberry.

Is there any chance the Penguins might keep center Derick Brassard on the sidelines, even if he has recovered from the upper-body injury that kept him out of Wednesday night’s game against Tampa Bay, to protect an asset as the Feb. 25 trade deadline approaches?

“When he’s ready to play, he’ll play,” Sullivan said flatly.

Despite criticism of Brassard that has come from both the stands at PPG Paints Arena and from the office of general manager Jim Rutherford, it’s not hard to see why Sullivan would take this approach.

Even though the Penguins came away with an impressive 4-2 win over the first-place Lightning, they actually missed Brassard’s presence more than you might think.

Matt Cullen took Brassard’s spot on the third line between wingers Tanner Pearson and Patric Hornqvist. When Cullen was on the ice at even strength, the Lightning outshot the Penguins, 14-0.

Cullen’s line was matched up with Steven Stamkos most of the night and started a lot of shifts in the defensive zone, so it was obviously a difficult assignment. Still, the Penguins are going to want their third line to possess the puck more than that.

In addition, with Brassard out for a game against a formidable opponent, Sullivan played fourth-line forwards Teddy Blueger and Garrett Wilson only about six minutes each. When Brassard is in the lineup, he’s comfortable rolling four lines more evenly.

Regardless, Brassard’s return could come as soon as Friday night against Ottawa. He practiced Thursday and reported some progress.

“Just probably something that happened in the last game before the break and something that carried over. It’s nothing bad,” Brassard said. “I played the first game after the break. I just have to give it a little time and get away. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Brassard also said that the churning of the NHL trade machine at this time of year is something that veteran players in the league have grown used to.

“We know it’s coming up here at the end of the month, but at the end of the day, we have a job to do,” Brassard said. “We have to play well for the team and everything and whatever happens happens. You can’t control anything.

“I know that we have a good team here. We have a good group of guys. The sad part is sometimes guys are leaving. You create friendships with some of the guys and they end up leaving the team. That’s just the business of the sport.”

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Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.