Penguins defense faces stern test with Olli Maatta injured, Connor McDavid in town |

Penguins defense faces stern test with Olli Maatta injured, Connor McDavid in town

Jonathan Bombulie
Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (3) go for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Sunrise, Fla.

With the game’s most dangerous offensive player in town, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be breaking in a new-look defense corps.

With Olli Maatta out indefinitely with an apparent shoulder injury, Chad Ruhwedel looks set to play his first NHL game since Nov. 19.

Justin Schultz continues to skate with the team and is close to returning from a broken leg suffered Oct. 13, but he won’t be in the lineup against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night.

Coach Mike Sullivan said he couldn’t say whether Maatta’s injury could be season ending. He said the team will have more details as Maatta continues to be evaluated.

“To see him go out is tough, but he’s one of the hardest workers on the team,” Schultz said. “He’ll rehab as hard as he can and try to get back as quick as he can. We’ll try to pick up the slack for him when he’s out.”

The injury prompted Sullivan to shuffle the team’s defense pairs. Brian Dumoulin was back in his customary spot with Kris Letang on the first pair. Juuso Riikola skated with Jack Johnson while Ruhwedel was with Marcus Pettersson.

Ruhwedel has been eighth on the depth chart of healthy defensemen for most of the season. He played 11 NHL games in October and November and his only game action since was a five-game conditioning stint with Wilkes-Barre around New Year’s.

General manager Jim Rutherford has regularly praised Ruhwedel for his ability to step back in the lineup effectively even after sitting out for long stretches.

“It’s just about staying physically ready and mentally ready,” Ruhwedel said. “We’ve got a good strength and conditioning staff here that helps with the physical aspect of it. Then it’s making the most out of your practices and everything to stay mentally ready.”

Schultz said there’s a possibility he could play this weekend as the Penguins host the Calgary Flames on Saturday and New York Rangers on Sunday.

“It’s day by day,” Schultz said. “We’re close. It’s keep working hard and doing the right things and I’ll be in there in no time.”

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