Penguins notebook: Derick Brassard returns for Game 1; Carter Rowney out
It’s easy to forget, since they ended with parades, but the Penguins opened the last two postseasons with significant injury concerns.
They’ve been much luckier this time around.
Derick Brassard was in the lineup for Game 1 of a first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night, returning after missing the last five games of the regular season with a lower-body injury.
Brassard’s return gives the Penguins the three-line offensive attack general manager Jim Rutherford envisioned at the trade deadline.
“He’s a very good player,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “One of the reasons Jim went out and acquired him was because he gives us that much more depth down the middle of the ice. He gives us more balance in our lineup at both ends of the rink.”
Beyond that, the only other absence was forward Carter Rowney, who has been out since March 14 with an upper-body injury but might not have been in the lineup even if he were healthy.
It’s a stark contrast from the last two seasons.
Last year, with Kris Letang already out with a neck injury, Matt Murray tore his hamstring before Game 1 against Columbus. In addition, Carl Hagelin was in the middle of a six-week absence due to a broken ankle and Chris Kunitz missed the first round with a lower-body injury.
Two years ago, Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were out with concussions when the playoffs opened against the Rangers. Evgeni Malkin, who missed about a month with an elbow injury, also sat out the playoff opener, as did Bryan Rust, who had a lower-body injury.
The relative good health the Penguins are enjoying this season is rare and could be a significant competitive advantage if it keeps up.
“I think that’s a good thing,” Rust said. “I’m not sure how much I want to talk about that, because anything can happen and things can happen quick, but I think right now, we like where we’re at.”
Protecting the net
While the Flyers have successfully shed their Broad Street Bully image, they’re still tough on goaltenders.
In fact, the Penguins starting goalie has left three of the past nine regular-season meetings between the teams because of injuries suffered in net-front collisions.
This season, Murray suffered a lower-body injury when Jakub Voracek plowed into him Nov. 27, and Tristan Jarry hurt his hand when he got tangled up with Michael Raffl on Jan. 2. In the 2015-16 regular-season finale, Murray suffered a concussion when kneed in the head by Brayden Schenn.
While goalie injuries are often unavoidable, the Penguins defense will do what it can to keep Murray out of harm’s way.
“You don’t want to let those guys get as much room in the paint as they have been,” defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said. “It’s boxing out and getting sticks and making it tough for them to get there. I think that’s huge.”
The Penguins left hockey sticks outside the entrances of PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday night as a tribute to those who died in the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus crash last week.
The team also wore Broncos logo stickers on their helmets for the game.
Watching the Eagles celebrate a Super Bowl victory in February and Villanova win an NCAA basketball championship earlier this month, Claude Giroux had one emotion: jealousy. The Flyers captain wants a parade of his own.
“The Eagles were able to kind of enjoy it a little bit too, with the whole team in the streets celebrating the win,” Giroux said. “It gives you a (desire) to want to do the same. Hopefully it motivates us a little bit.”