PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins gave their beat-up blue line a needed shot of depth on Monday, acquiring Chris Wideman from Florida and Erik Gudbranson from Vancouver.
Pittsburgh, which sat on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the trade deadline, sent forward Tanner Pearson to the Canucks for Gudbranson and center Jean-Sebastian Dea to the Panthers for Wideman.
The Penguins are hurting on defense. Olli Maatta is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin will both miss Tuesday’s game at Columbus after getting banged up in an overtime loss to Philadelphia on Saturday.
Dumoulin is dealing with a concussion after getting hit by Wayne Simmons and Letang suffered an upper-body injury after getting tackled by Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere while both entered a scrum following Simmons’ collision with Dumoulin.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan described Letang as “day to day” though neither Letang nor Dumoulin skated on Monday and will both miss at least one game as Pittsburgh scrambles for position in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference playoff race.
The 27-year-old Gudbranson struggled this season with the Canucks, scoring two goals and adding six assists in 57 games with a minus-27 plus/minus rating. At 6-foot-5 and 217 pounds, he does provide the Penguins with some size and is signed through the 2020-21 season.
“Getting the type of player that Gudbranson is, was something we’ve talked about for a while,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He wasn’t available, to my knowledge, until today. We are very pleased to bring Erik in to join our team.”
Gudbranson joins a team that has been running in place since an eight-game winning streak that ended on Jan. 6. The Penguins are 9-10-3 in their last 22 games. The Penguins haven’t missed the playoffs since captain Sidney Crosby’s rookie season in 2005-06. Now they head into the stretch looking to regain a semblance of the form that helped them win consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
“We’re good enough to get in,” Rutherford said. “We’re good enough to make a run. But there’s some inconsistencies in our play. We have to have everything going that makes you a good team.”
Part of the problem has been an inability to keep the puck out of the net. Goaltenders Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith have both been uneven at best for most of the last two months and the power play has allowed 13 short-handed goals, the most in the NHL.
The Penguins begin a four-game road trip against the Blue Jackets, who went all-in at the deadline in an effort to not only reach the postseason but win a playoff series for the first time in franchise history. Barring something unforeseen, Gudbranson will be in the lineup.
“He’s a team guy,” Rutherford said of Gudbranson. “He’s going to help in the room. He’s going to make guys feel more comfortable. He’s got experience playing in the league.”
Pittsburgh is Wideman’s fourth NHL stop this season. He began the year in Ottawa, was traded to Edmonton in November, shipped in Florida in December and will report to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton upon reporting to the Penguins. Pittsburgh will bring up Zach Trotman to fill in on defense against the Blue Jackets.
Pittsburgh brought in Pearson in November in a trade with Los Angeles but his production dipped in recent weeks after making an initial splash. He scored nine goals in 44 games with the Penguins but had just one point in his last 14 games before being dealt. Dea had five goals and two assists in 29 career NHL games with Pittsburgh and New Jersey.
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