Mark Eaton was gassed after the Penguins' morning skate yesterday. He's hoping the extra work he did will pay off with a return to the lineup soon.
The veteran defenseman missed his third game in a row last night when the Penguins played Toronto at Mellon Arena. His left knee was injured Dec. 19 at Buffalo, but he could be back as soon as tomorrow night when the Penguins play a return date at Buffalo.
Eaton skated hard with conditioning coach Mike Kadar for more than a half-hour before the skate, then participated with his teammates. He said the knee is not bothering him anymore.
"It's just getting the rust off from not skating for a week," said Eaton, who practiced with the team Saturday evening for the first time since the injury.
"I look forward to being more physical at practice [today], testing [the knee] that way. But it feels pretty good. I've had this kind of injury before, so I kind of know when I'm ready to get back."
Coach Dan Bylsma confirmed that Eaton is close to returning.
Martin Skoula again took Eaton's place in the lineup.
The Penguins had a surprise healthy scratch at forward.
Winger Tyler Kennedy, who participated in the morning skate and usually is a fixture on the third line, was not in the lineup. Kennedy had gone 12 games without a goal.
As a prospect, it's hard to remain prominently on the radar overseas, so the Penguins were glad Russian goaltender Alex Pechurski over the weekend joined Tri-Cities of the junior Western Hockey League.
Pechurski, 19, a fifth-round draft pick in the 2008 NHL draft, had been playing in various tournaments and with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the former team of Penguins center Evgeni Malkin. He played with the organization's junior team and sparingly with the major league Kontinental Hockey League club.
"Our scouts, people in our organization can watch him a little more now," Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill said. "Also, he gets acclimated more to playing on a smaller ice surface, getting more shots on net, gets used to riding the bus and a new culture and gets to learn English."
Botterill said Pechurski, 6 feet and 187 pounds, has size and quickness as his best assets.
Toronto didn't have a formal morning skate, although four players got on the ice for a while.
That has become a fairly common occurrence for opponents when the Penguins have a home game after an off day. That's because the Maple Leafs are the sixth team over November and December that played and traveled the night before playing at Mellon Arena while the Penguins relaxed at home.
The Penguins were 3-1-1 before last night in games in which they were off and at home the night before while their opponent played.
Longtime Penguins public address announcer John Barbero, who is on a medical leave of absence, attended the game. ... Bylsma indicated there is a good possibility backup goaltender Brent Johnson will play tomorrow at Buffalo or Wednesday night at New Jersey. ...Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson was named to the Swedish Olympic team. ... Former Penguins winger Konstantin Koltsov was named to the Belarus Olympic team. ... Toronto scratched defenseman Jeff Finger and winger Viktor Stalberg.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.