Hornqvist out, Noesen in — and in a big way


To continue reading, log into your account:

[theme-my-login show_title=0]
Patric Hornqvist. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Stefan Noesen shoehorned a lot into his first practice with the Penguins.

He did drills on the second line, alongside Jared McCann and Alex Galchenyuk, then provided the net-front presence on the No. 1 power-play unit.

He stayed busy enough that there wasn't much time for some other details like, you know, putting names to faces with some of his new teammates.

That shouldn't be an issue for long, however, because those guys can expect to see lots of Noesen for the foreseeable future, especially with Patric Hornqvist joining the Penguins' grotesquely bloated list of injured players.

Mike Sullivan announced that Hornqvist, who was hurt during practice Monday, will be out "longer term" because of an unspecified lower-body injury which one teammate suggested was a knee issue.

Hornqvist obviously will miss the Penguins' game against the Blues Wednesday at 8:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena. The status of winger Zach Aston-Reese for that game is less clear.

He did not practice Tuesday because of an illness that Sullivan said had begun to manifest itself a day earlier.

Even with the arrival of Noesen, who signed with the Penguins Monday after spending the season to date with their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, the absences of Hornqvist and Aston-Reese meant the Penguins had only 11 forwards available for their practice, so assistant coach Mark Recchi again had to fill in on the wing during drills.

So far, there's no indication that Recchi is planning to resume his playing career.

Of course, there's also no firm evidence that he won't have to at some point if the Penguins' body count continues to climb.

They are, at the moment, playing without Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Nick Bjugstad and Hornqvist, who account for $31.2 million in salary-cap space.

While Rust, who has missed two games because of an unspecified lower-body injury sustained during a game-day skate in Columbus Friday, skated on his own before the Penguins practiced -- "That went pretty well," Sullivan said -- and might return to active duty in the not-too-distant future, it looks as if Schultz could return as early as Friday, when the Coyotes will visit PPG Paints Arena.

Schultz worked out with his teammates for the first time since suffering an unspecified lower-body injury that has forced him to miss six games, and, despite wearing a no-contact jersey for much of the practice, switched to a regular one late and got some work on the No. 2 power play.

Schultz said he doesn't expect to play against St. Louis, but suggested that barring a setback, he should be back in uniform soon.

"It depends on how I react to this (practice)," he said. "I think I'm really close. ... Hopefully, a couple more practices, and I'll be good to go."

When Schultz returns, the Penguins' defense pairings might get another overhaul. For now, at least, Jack Johnson apparently will move into Dumoulin's spot alongside Kris Letang.

Both said they don't expect to make any significant adjustments to their styles simply because of their new partner, perhaps because their roles already are so clearly defined. Letang has the skills set to get involved in the offense, while Johnson focuses on playing in his own end.

"We have a system, and we have to play the same way (as before)," Letang said. "It doesn't matter who I play with."

Johnson praised Letang's offensive talents -- "He's a great puck-mover, a great skater" -- and Letang said the scalding critiques Johnson has received from some segments of the Penguins' fan base since last season are ill-considered.

"(Fans) are not in our shoes," Letang said. "I don't think they understand what we're going through and what type of game (Johnson) brings to our team. Try to find another defenseman who hits and blocks shots like he does. None of the other six or seven (defensemen) are doing the same job he does.

"I could care less what people think. He gets the job done. That's what's important for our team."

While Sullivan and his staff have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Letang and Johnson, Noesen is something of a wild card.

He has appeared in 159 NHL games with Anaheim and New Jersey but was released from a tryout with Dallas this fall before signing an American Hockey League contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Noesen thrived in Wilkes-Barre, putting up 14 goals and eight assists in 22 games and convincing the Penguins that he deserved an NHL deal and an opportunity to prove whether he can be productive at this level.

"He's been really good in Wilkes-Barre," Sullivan said. "We think he's a guy who can help us."

Given the prominent roles Noesen filled in practice, they clearly are counting on him to do it quickly, which Noesen said he doesn't mind.

"I don't think anyone will tell you they want to take it slowly," he said. "For me, it's just going out there and playing hockey and kind of whatever happens, happens."

Noesen might want to rephrase that, considering all the bad things involving injuries that have happened to the Penguins during the first two months of this season.

"It's pretty crazy," Schultz said. "It seems like every day, there's something new. Hopefully, we're getting them all out of the way now."

Such thinking might be a source of comfort for the Penguins, but the hard reality is that teams don't have a quota for injuries that, once filled, means guys will stay healthy for the balance of the season.

Sometimes, injuries continue to accumulate, long after a club's ability to withstand such losses seems as if it should be exhausted.

"I had a year in Columbus where everyone was hurt," Johnson said. "I remember getting ready for a game, and I didn't even know everyone's name."

Just in case they haven't been introduced, Johnson might like to know that that was Stefan Noesen sitting a half-dozen stalls or so to his right.

• The game Wednesday will be the Penguins' first since their 5-2 loss at St. Louis last Saturday, when they were impressed by the Blues' solid performance. "There's a reason they won the Cup," Letang said. "They're a hard-working team. They play within structure and they're deadly with their power play."

• Sullivan, on the Penguins' struggling penalty-kill: "I think it's a number of different things. For me, it boils down to details ... and compete level. I will preface it and say that we've taken more penalties, and that's something we have to get better at, as a group. We're asking the penalty-kill to kill four or five penalties a game, as opposed to one or two. It's a big difference."

• Here are the personnel combinations the Penguins used at practice:

Jake Guentzel -- Evgeni Malkin -- Dominik Simon
Alex Galchenyuk -- Jared McCann -- Stefan Noesen
Dominik Kahun -- Teddy Blueger -- Brandon Tanev
(Mark Recchi) -- Joseph Blandisi -- Sam Lafferty

Jack Johnson -- Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson -- John Marino
Juuso Riikola -- Chad Ruhwedel
Justin Schultz -- Zach Trotman

To continue reading, log into your account: