Four injured players return to roles at Penguins practice
January 18, 2014 11:43 PM
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
James Neal is one of several Penguins still waiting to return to game action.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Break up the clique.
The Penguins, bombarded with injuries this season, have had a revolving subset of players who have gone through rehabilitation together, skated together, watched games together.
“Too many of us,” winger Chuck Kobasew said.
In a big step Saturday, four players who have missed between one and 23 games returned to practice. All skated in a regular role and seem close to playing, although it’s not known if it will be as soon as Monday when the Florida Panthers visit Consol Energy Center.
“To see a lot of guys come back and [to think] some guys will be returning soon, is promising,” said defenseman Paul Martin, who practiced in a pairing with Brooks Orpik and on the No. 2 power-play unit. He has been out since Nov. 25 when his leg was broken.
Also back at practice were winger James Neal, who was in his customary spot on the right side of the second line with Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin and on the top power-play unit; winger Jayson Megna, who skated on the right side of the top line with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby; and Kobasew, who skated on the fourth line.
Neal, who has 17 goals, 36 points in 27 games, missed a 4-3 win Wednesday against Washington and two practices before that because of an unspecified injury. Megna has missed 13 games because of a leg injury. Kobasew has been out the past six games because of an unspecified injury.
Others remain out, including regulars Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett, but the Penguins had four full forward lines and four defensive pairings for a rigorous practice.
In particular, the defense was as intact as it has been nearly all season.
If Martin suits up Monday, it will mark just the third game in the first 49 for which the top eight defensemen in the organization — Martin, Orpik, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi, Matt Niskanen, Olli Maatta, Robert Bortuzzo and Deryk Engelland — have been available.
“I’d like to play Monday, but I want to get a couple of practices under my belt and see how it feels after [Sunday] and go from there,” said Martin, who has two goals, 11 points in 23 games.
“Timing, stuff like that is a little bit off, but as far as the injury and being back out there, I felt great.”
Martin blocked a shot during the third period in a game at Boston. He finished the game and later learned that he had a broken tibia near the bottom of his left leg.
“It didn’t feel great, but once you come out of the [skate] boot … you recognize you can’t walk,” he said. “I knew something was wrong, but at the time you have adrenaline going and you’re still playing and on the ice, so you don’t really pay much attention to it.”
Even if his return doesn’t come as soon as Monday, he’s confident he will play in a portion of the Penguins’ 10 games before the NHL’s Olympic break.
“A couple [of games] at the end of this month and the beginning of February would be nice to get ready for that,” said Martin, who, along with Orpik, will play for Team USA at the Sochi Winter Games.
Like Martin, Kobasew is in wait-and-see mode.
“I’ve got to see how [Sunday] goes,” he said. “[Saturday] went well.”
Kobasew, who earned a contract and a roster spot after coming to training camp as a free-agent invitee, is coming off of his second injury this season. He missed 17 games earlier because of an ankle injury. He has two goals in 25 games.
Megna, a rookie, is part of a parade of players who have been promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. He has four goals, six points in 15 NHL games.
“I don’t want to make any speculations, but I feel good,” Megna said of a possible return. “I felt like I was skating well out there. I’m optimistic.”
Coach Dan Bylsma said he placed Megna on Crosby’s right wing — Dupuis’ regular spot — because of his speed and because he is “a guy who has bumped into points when he’s gotten the opportunity. He’s gotten some goals, created some plays.”
Another rookie, Brian Gibbons, also has played on Crosby’s right side, but now he is injured. Brandon Sutter, usually the third-line center, played Wednesday in that spot.
Megna got hurt Dec. 16. He and Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier were in a race for the puck, with Bernier coming way out of his crease. Get to and control the puck, and Megna had a sure goal. Instead, Bernier got to it, and the collision between the two sent Megna hard into the boards.
“I blocked a shot, and it was a race for the puck,” Megna said. “Credit to him, he made a smart play coming out and getting it. It was just unfortunate that I went down. I was a little bitter about it, but it’s just one of those plays that ended up working out well for them and not so much for me.”
Faced with a similar scenario, Megna won’t shy away.
“In the same situation if I get a chance to play on Monday, I’m going to do the same thing — I’m going to go for it,” he said. “That’s just the way I play.”
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