Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak set to return to Penguins lineup
NEWARK, N.J. – Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is lucky coach Mike Sullivan isn’t very superstitious.
Oleksiak was a healthy scratch when the Penguins beat Arizona to snap a five-game losing streak Saturday night. Coaches prone to superstition would have filled out the exact same lineup card for the team’s next game come hell or high water, not wanting to mess with a winning combination.
Based on personnel groupings at morning skate, Sullivan isn’t one of those coaches. Oleksiak is expected to return to the lineup in place of Juuso Riikola when the Penguins face the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
“The reality is that when we’re making decisions with our blue line right now, some of those decisions may involve who our opponent is,” Sullivan said. “For example, when we played Arizona, we thought that team was a speed team and Jusso is a very mobile guy.
“We’re also trying to keep guys in the mix here because we know we’re going to rely on all of them to win games in the big picture. There’s a lot that goes into making those type of decisions, but in particular in Jamie’s instance, that’s what we think as a coaching staff.”
Oleksiak said he’s using the scratch as motivation to shore up parts of his game. He’s among the team’s offensive leaders on the blue line with four goals and eight points, but he was on the ice for all three even-strength goals the Penguins allowed in his last two games in the lineup.
“Obviously you need results, and before last game, we weren’t getting the results and needed a change to bring some energy. Sometimes bringing new guys in reinvigorates the lineup or whatever,” Oleksiak said. “It’s part of the business. It’s results-oriented, and when they’re not there, they’re going to find someone who brings results.”
Casey DeSmith, meanwhile, will make his third consecutive start in net. He has recorded shutouts in two of his last three starts.
“He’s played extremely well here in this early part of the season and he’s given us a chance to win,” Sullivan said. “That’s all you can ask from your goaltenders. Casey’s early part of this season has been impressive.”
Sullivan reiterated his faith in struggling starter Matt Murray as well.
“There’s a lot of hockey left and we’re all aware of that. We know that Matt is going to be a big part of it moving forward,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know if there’s a whole lot more to it than that. Matt knows that we have faith and trust in him as a goalie. He’s just going to control what he can to be at his best and when the time comes, we know he’s going to give us a chance to win.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.