Erik Gudbranson gets used to left side for Penguins
Erik Gudbranson was in a foreign place on Sunday.
No, not Winnipeg. The veteran Penguins defenseman has played there a handful of times throughout his nine NHL seasons.
The unfamiliar realm he ventured into was the port side of the ice at Bell MTS Place.
After being a scratch for two consecutive games, he returned to the lineup during Sunday's 7-2 win and was placed on the left half of the third defensive pairing along with rookie John Marino.
Gudbranson, a right-handed shot, had little experience on the left side previously in his career, either at the professional ranks or juniors.
He wasn't even afforded much practice on the left side.
"I asked (Marcus Pettersson) to give me a couple of (defensemen to defensemen) passes at the end of warmup and that was about it," Gudbranson said. "We did two or three. Just trying to receive it and get my body facing up ice as soon as possible. Then during the game, I don't think Johnny and I went 'D to D' once."
Gudbranson and Marino logged 11 minutes, 1 second of common five-on-five ice time together and were on the ice for two shots attempts for as well as 17 against according to Natural Stat Trick.
Despite the less than flattering advanced metrics, Gudbranson's play on the left side got an endorsement from coach Mike Sullivan.
"He had a real solid game," Sullivan said. "(Gudbranson), the value that he bring is in his simplicity. He has a real good understanding of what he brings to the table. He plays within himself. When he does that, he's very effective."
Gudbranson, who will never be confused with Paul Coffey on the left side, had to make a few adjustments playing his off side.
"I thought I did all right," Gudbranson said. "If I get a couple of more cracks at it, I'm sure I'll get better at it and make little changes at it here and there. It's not different body movement, but you have to position yourself correctly pretty much every time. My bailout for the most part was getting it off the glass and out, putting pressure on their (defensemen). I thought we did pretty well."
Gudbranson is not expected to be in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena. He was on the ice for an optional skate which included only goaltenders Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry as well as Gudbranson and fellow reserve defensemen Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel. Jack Johnson, who Gudbranson replaced on Sunday, is expected to return to the lineup.
Playing defensemen on their off side is a habit Sullivan typically tries to avoid. The Penguins were forced to play several left-handers such as Johnson and Jamie Oleksiak on the right side last season while right-shooting Justin Schultz was sidelined for four months due to a fractured left leg.
Using Gudbranson on the left side wasn't ideal, but it was necessary, in Sullivan's eyes, to keep him fresh while the team tries to deal with its nonet of defensemen on NHL contracts.
"We did (use Gudbranson on the left side), but we also thought it was important to keep him in the flow," Sullivan said. "We're trying to manage as best we can. We feel like we have nine real quality, capable defensemen. The challenge is for us, and I guess that's a real good challenge to have, is to find a way to get him in the lineup. And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to keep them all involved. At the same side of the coin, we're trying to make decisions to win the hockey game. We chose to put (Gudbranson) in the lineup (Sunday). I thought he had a solid game."
Gudbranson appears to be pragmatic about the scenario.
"It's a logjam. That's what it is," he said. "I think (Sullivan) explained it to you guys at the start of the year, saying some guys are just going to have to take it and sit some out. That's really what it is."
Given the organization's immense faith in the right-shooting Marino, Gudbranson might just have to get used to life on the left side if he's to stay in the lineup, even if it's an irregular assignment
"I had a conversation with (Gudbranson) about his comfort level on the left side," Sullivan said. "He said to me he didn't mind playing the left side. He's done it in the past. Not a whole lot, but enough that he has a comfort level there and so that's why we made the decision that we did the other night and put him on the left side."
* Penguins forward Jared McCann is considered a game-time decision. He missed practice on Tuesday due to an undisclosed ailment.
* Goaltender Matt Murray is expected to start in net for the Penguins.
* Avalanche goaltender Philip Grubauer is expected to start.
* Avalanche forward J.T. Compher is expected to return to the lineup after missing three games due to an undisclosed injury.
Follow the Penguins all season long.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
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