The Pittsburgh Penguins finally found a goal scorer in their bottom six forwards as Radim Zohorna lit the lamp in the final minutes of the Penguins’ 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues last night. Zohorna was playing in his first game of the season after being sent down to the AHL after a strong training camp and formed a unit with fellow winger Drew O’Connor and center Lars Eller.
After the game, Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan was visibly frustrated with his team’s play, and while he didn’t talk about roster decisions going forward, General Manager Kyle Dubas has been. Dubas spoke with NHL On TNT just a few nights ago and said he wanted the bottom six forwards to be tougher to play against and added that he didn’t feel the group was there yet. Dubas’ comments sparked speculation that the Penguins could be looking to make a move in the bottom six and they did by waiving Jansen Harkins and re-calling Zohorna before last night’s game. The Penguins also health-scratched defenseman P.O. Joseph in favor of Ryan Shea who made his NHL debut on the Penguins’ third pairing.
Kyle Dubas stocked up on fringe NHL talent in the offseason and has stashed many of those options in the AHL specifically for a moment like this. The Penguins AHL affiliate has so many veterans in fact that Alex Nylander and Andreas Johnsson had to be veteran scratches for last night’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins game. On top of Nylander, Johnsson, and Harkins, the Penguins also have Vinnie Hinostroza, Rem Pitlick, and Colin White as former NHLers who could be called up to shuffle the furniture in the Penguins bottom six.
Josh Yohe of The Athletic wrote in his 10 Postgame Observations piece that Sullivan typically doesn’t make major changes after a loss, but given the team’s recent record and his comments, he implies that it could happen. The Penguins third line of O’Connor, Eller and Zohorna was very good last night, however, the fourth line of Matthew Nieto, Jeff Carter and Noel Acciari has offered very little to the team and appears to be constantly chasing the play. That group is at the bottom of the Penguins lineup in almost every analytical statistic and has a combined zero points in five games together. Sullivan has been apprehensive about scratching Carter in the past and became defensive with the media last season on multiple occasions when the topic was asked about.
It might be just five games into the season but given that the Penguins are 2-3 against five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season, there could be big changes brewing in Pittsburgh as Dubas and company try to find an identity for the bottom six forwards. A competent bottom-six has been something the Penguins have lacked since they lost Brandon Tanev (and Jared McCann via trade) in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and it was one of the big reasons they missed the playoffs in 2023.