The Pittsburgh Penguins not only missed out of the opportunity to get two points in they 4-3 shootout loss at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, they also lost star defenseman Justin Schultz. He will miss the next four months while he recovers from surgery after he suffered a lower-leg fracture during the contest.
Schultz, who had four assists through the four games he was able to participate in this season, will be missed and now fans are unsure about Pens general manager Jim Rutherford’s approach to fill in for his absence for the next four months.
According to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rutherford doesn’t plan on filling the hole externally.
“We’ll deal with it from within,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It won’t be any different than anything else.”
Fans might be worried to see if that will be enough for the Penguins, especially since star goalie Matt Murray has already suffered a concussion early this season, and the Pens have been struggling and allowing quite a lot of goals in the meantime.
However, fans should be reassured that Rutherford could change his mind down the line, especially if the Penguins keep struggling without depth on the blue line. On Tuesday, they fell 3-2 at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, who won 34 seconds into overtime.
“If our team doesn’t play as well as we’d like, then we have to consider other options,” Rutherford said. “At this point in time, we have guys who certainly deserve that opportunity.”
Of course, this means that players like Olli Maatta and Jack Johnson will have to step up and be difference makers during Schultz’s absence. Schultz has been consistently slotted in as the Penguins’ number-two defenseman behind Kris Letang, and now other players will need to prove they can be trusted in this role.
Maatta was a healthy scratch for the team’s Oct. 11 game against the Vegas Golden Knights and the Pens cannot deal with this kind of absence. The kid will need to get in line and start to record some points too.
As for Johnson, he needs to be a little more aggressive in the offensive zone. He has been a non-factor since the start of the season and with his five-year, $16.25 million contract, he is becoming the biggest disappointment.
He needs to fix this or else Rutherford’s first plan will need to change.