With only 2 days to go till the puck drop on opening night in Vancouver, the Penguins are starting to solidify their starting lineup to go against the defending Western Conference Champions. A lineup that will definitely not include superstar center Sidney Crosby.

The lines at practice today were:

Jordan Staal was not on the ice today as it was just a maintenance day for him. He is fully expected to be back on the ice tomorrow.

Here’s what the lineup looks like right now for Thursday night:

Sullivan – Malkin – Neal
Kunitz – Staal – Kennedy
Cooke – Letestu – Dupuis
Asham – Vitale/Park – Adams.

With Jeffrey and Crosby on IR, that leaves MacIntyre as the odd man out, along with one of Joe Vitale or Richard Park. There’s two possibilities that can be drawn from today’s practice lines;
1) Park is higher on the depth chart, therefore when Staal is present, the centers could simply shift down a line, or
2) The Penguins want Vitale to get comfortable with Asham and Adams.

My opinion is that right now, it looks like #1 is more likely.

On to the defense:

It looks as if the Penguins are currently unsure of the status of hard-hitting defenseman Brooks Orpik, as they have prepared pairings for both occasions.

With Orpik:
Letang – Orpik
Martin – Michalek
Engelland – Niskanen

Without Orpik:
Letang – Engelland
Martin – Michalek
Lovejoy – Niskanen.

There are two intriguing things to pull from these pairings:
1) What a chance for Deryk Engelland alongside Kris Letang, if Brooks Orpik is unable to give it a go. Engelland brings many of the same defensive and physical abilities that Orpik has shown over the years, but this pre-season, we’ve seen a new side to Engelland’s game, when he has joined and led a few offensive rushes. With Engelland’s promotion to the top-pairing, it’s safe to assume that he is currently slated as the 5th defenseman when Orpik returns, which narrows the battle for the 6th spot down to Lovejoy and Niskanen.

2) The battle for the 6th defensive spot has been one of the most intense throughout this entire preseason, only rivaled by the ongoing battle between Park and Vitale for the 4th Line Center spot. Lovejoy brings a significantly more balanced game to the Penguins, while Niskanen’s offensive ability is hard to ignore. If/when Brooks is healthy, it looks like Bylsma would prefer to have a true defensive defenseman/offensive defenseman pairing, which would signify that the bottom pairing would be Engelland and Niskanen, with Lovejoy as the odd man out.