Malkin, Bonino practice for Penguins but won't be available against Bruins
February 23, 2016 11:16 PM
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin battles for loose puck Nov. 25 against the Blues at Consol Energy Center.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A welcome sight greeted the smattering of Penguins fans gathered Tuesday at the team’s practice facility in Cranberry: Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino were back on the ice.
One fan even yelled out: “Oh, thank God.”
It’s not quite time for that ticker-tape parade. Both centers wore yellow, no-contact jerseys for the first portion of practice and will not be available tonight in Boston. But their presence marked a key step toward a return.
“It’s their first practice with the team. I thought both of them looked strong, so they’re that much closer,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
Malkin has missed nine games with an undisclosed injury. He hasn’t played since Feb. 2 against Ottawa. Bonino (hand) previously played Jan. 12.
Throw in the loss of Eric Fehr (undisclosed injury), and the Penguins were forced to call up a half-dozen depth players from their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) minor league club. Those players repeatedly plugged holes, often getting work above their pay grade while the coaching staff had to tinker with lines and special-team groupings.
The Penguins have gone 10-4-1 since Bonino left the lineup, 6-3-1 without Malkin, and managed to hold ground in the jumbled Eastern Conference standings. They hold the second wild-card spot.
“The fact that we’ve been able to play some good hockey, climb in the standings, I think it says a lot about this team,” center Matt Cullen said.
He agreed this could have been a disastrous stretch considering the major injuries coupled with a new coach and nonstop lineup changes.
“No question. The guys who have come up and the guys who are filling holes are doing a heck of a job. It’s been big for our team. It’s a big step, I think. And I think the way that we’re playing now is more like what we all expected from day one. I think that when we get guys back, hopefully, we can take that next step.”
Sidney Crosby said he has seen a surge in desperation since Bonino, Malkin and Fehr went down — and that needs to remain when they return.
“When guys are missing, I think everyone raises their level, their desperation,” Crosby said. “Young guys understand they have a great opportunity. I think it really brings out the best in guys. When you do start to get guys back, you can’t kind of relax and think everything’s going to be easier. I think you have to maintain that same mentality.”
Exactly when that will be?
“Hopefully, soon. Sooner rather than later,” Bonino said. “Medically, everything is all healed up, so now I’ve got to get in shape.
He said the club’s play through this tough spate of injuries has helped to lessen the stress of trying to recover quickly.
“I think every organization hopes for that. They don’t hope [injuries] occur, but, when it does they have the depth in the organization to win games,” Bonino said. “So far, every guy that’s come in has played really well. It makes it easier when you’re out to know your team is winning and staying in the playoff hunt.”
But not all injury updates Tuesday were positive.
Sullivan announced that defenseman Ben Lovejoy will be out “long term” with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Lovejoy left the ice Saturday at 7:12 of the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He appeared to be injured after a hit by Lightning winger J.T. Brown that sent him to the dressing room, unassisted.
“It’s long term. As I said in the past, I’m not going to put a time frame on it, but it’s of the longer-term nature,” Sullivan said. “As he goes through the process of rehab and we think we have a better handle on time frame we’ll let you know.”
Lovejoy had been paired almost exclusively with defenseman Brian Dumoulin until late January, when the pairings were shifted. Most recently, he had been paired with Derrick Pouliot.
Lovejoy’s absence moves Ian Cole back into the lineup, a move Sullivan said he was more than comfortable with.
“Very comfortable. I thought he played a good game [Sunday against Buffalo]. He’s a veteran player. He’s played in this league for a long time,” Sullivan said. “He’s comfortable playing the right side. I thought he was solid with us in Buffalo. I’m very comfortable with him.”
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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