The East Division is not having a good day. The Washington Capitals will be without four key players for at least the next week, the Philadelphia Flyers announced several injuries this morning and now the Pittsburgh Penguins want to get in on the fun. Both Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola were absent from today’s practice and Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters including Matt Vensel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the former would be out week-to-week and the latter is out “longer term.” Chad Ruhwedel, who was also absent, was excused because of the birth of his child and should be available to the team tomorrow.
These two injuries on defense come after Mike Matheson was already ruled out, meaning the team will likely be forced to insert prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph. The 21-year-old was acquired in the Phil Kessel trade of 2019 and recorded 17 points in 52 games last season for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Joseph practiced on the third pairing next to Kevin Czuczman, who was recalled to the taxi squad just a few days ago.
This kind of depth test may be common this season as teams try to navigate a condensed schedule with the threat of COVID-19 also looming in the background. At any point, a whole swath of players could be removed from the roster by injury or illness, leaving options thin and playing time abundant. For Pittsburgh specifically, the team is already stuck in the middle of the East Division table at 2-2 and have struggled to keep the puck out of their net. These defensive injuries won’t help that as they continue to play important matches every other day.