Penguins notebook: Health on the upswing after Olympic break



And then there were 14, a sign that the Penguins are getting healthier.

Center Joe Vitale joined Penguins practice Sunday at Consol Energy Center. He is recovering from a right wrist injury. Winger Taylor Pyatt, who has an undisclosed injury, practiced for the second time in a row.

When the team's non-Olympians resumed practices last week, there were 12 players, one of them being goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who was newly cleared to rejoin practice after months of treatment for a blood clot.

Vitale missed the past 12 games before the Olympic break, Pyatt the final game. They had been skating separately from practice.

"You can stay a little bit conditioned with the couple guys out there and our staff, but there's nothing like a practice," Vitale said. "I was pretty winded and worn out. But I'll be better [today], I'm sure."

Pyatt said he was "getting my skating legs back under me."

Neither would predict whether they might be available to play Thursday when Montreal visits Consol Energy Center.

"Each day I'm stick-handling and shooting a little bit more, and hopefully I'll be battling [in contact situations] soon," Vitale said.

Pyatt sounded a bit more optimistic.

"We'll see how it responds [today], but I'm on track," he said.

Only wingers Beau Bennett and Chris Conner skated before practice with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. They are recovering from wrist injuries.

Although Bennett's most recent projected timetable would have him close to returning, he could be out longer; he is still stick-handling more with one hand than with two.

There has been no word from the club about defenseman Paul Martin, who got an apparent right wrist injury at the Sochi Olympics while playing for the United States.

Waiting on their return

Penguins assistant Todd Reirden, who has been running practice while coach Dan Bylsma, assistant Tony Granato and seven players were in Sochi, isn't sure when any of them will be available for practice.

"I'm still waiting to hear the travel arrangements, but I think you can expect them to come back at different times depending on different situations," Reirden said.

"I'm anxiously awaiting a full team [on the ice] as soon as possible."

While it seems likely that the players will be given a day or two off after arriving back in Pittsburgh, particularly those who played most recently in Sochi, it might be a different story for Bylsma.

Bylsma led Team USA to a strong showing in pool play, including a shootout victory against Evgeni Malkin and host Russia, and to the bronze-medal game before a loss Saturday to Finland.

"I do not know about Dan's plans," Reirden said. "We were in contact a few times prior to the last two games. I've left him alone at this point. We had a tentative plan in place for practices and what we wanted to do while he was gone, and that will stay the course until he and Tony return."

Reirden understands that it won't just be jet lag that might bother Bylsma.

"Dan wears his heart on his sleeve, is an extremely passionate guy about the game of hockey and about being an American," Reirden said. "He'll take it tough. He put a lot of time and effort into trying to help that team come back with a medal. Disappointment, but I expect him to be right back to being his old self as soon as he steps foot back in this locker room."

To Russia, with love

The Penguins not at the Olympics enjoyed watching hockey at the Games. That might have gone double for the Canadian team members after Team Canada went 6-0 and clinched the gold medal Sunday with a 3-0 win against Sweden.

"All the bars and restaurants opened up at 5 a.m. back home. All across the nation they were pretty much packed," center Brandon Sutter said. "It's pretty cool, and I think they're pretty proud of it."

The seven Penguins returning from Sochi will run the gamut -- from Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who scored Sunday and won gold with Canada; to Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta and forward Jussi Jokinen, who won bronze medals; to Martin and Brooks Orpik of Team USA and Russia's Malkin, who are coming back empty-handed.

So will those who endured the bitter disappointment of not earning a medal be given a bit of a wide berth from their Penguins teammates?

"Absolutely not," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I think you've got to rag on those guys right away.

"Most of the mentalities that we have in [this locker room], I think guys are OK with it. It's something that happens once every four years. It's an honor to get chosen for your team. You go over there and you try to do your best. But guys play 82 games here, so I think that they won't have a problem getting back into it."

Sutter said there are topics other than medals.

"I'm sure we'll all say congrats to whoever, but I think we really just want to know about what it was like, how the experience is, how the living was," he said.

"Lots of questions. Hopefully, we'll get a few stories, too."


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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