Penguins Notebook: Staal not ruling out return for Winter Classic
Penguins forward Jordan Staal on possibly playing in the Winter Classic: "I don't know. I feel really good. Things are going in the right direction. If all is well, you never know."
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OTTAWA -- Sporting a smile and a mane that would make Simba proud, Jordan Staal not only skated with his teammates Sunday but also would not rule out a return to the lineup in time for the outdoor Winter Classic Saturday against Washington.
"I don't know. I feel really good," Staal said. "Things are going in the right direction. If all is well, you never know."
He cautioned, though, that "we want to go a little slow" with his surgically repaired right hand.
Staal had been skating some on his own, but participated in the morning skate as the rest of the Penguins prepared for a game against the Senators.
It originally was hoped that Staal would be back by mid-December, but his recovery has stretched longer. His hand was broken by a shot in practice Nov. 1, and he had surgery the next day.
He said there have been no major setbacks with the hand, just a revision in the timetable.
"It just needed more time," Staal said. "It was just a long healing process, a lot longer than I expected. That's the way things go. I'm glad it's starting to feel better now."
Staal, one of the top two-way forwards in the NHL, remained on the ice for about an hour. He has shed the brace that restricted a few of his fingers and just had the hand wrapped under a glove.
He stickhandled, took shots, participated in drills and worked on a penalty-killing unit with fellow forward Craig Adams. He did not skate in line rushes.
Staal, who has not played this season because of a foot infection followed by the broken hand, said it was "nice to go out and get on the ice and be with the guys and feel the puck a little bit."
He was on the verge of making his season debut when he got the broken hand, so he said he wants to be cautious in this comeback.
"It's a big step," he said of getting back to practice. "A few days ago, I jumped on the ice and started shooting, and it started to feel really good, so I took a big jump to start skating with the guys and start getting the feel of the team game and getting my hands back and my legs back."
Coach Dan Bylsma, noting that Staal has yet to "go full out," isn't pressuring him to return.
"There is no timeline right now," he said. "It's a first step, after having skated on his own, to get back with the team. We're going to see how his hand reacts to an increased level of contact."
Being out for so long gave Staal a chance to grow his blond hair to an unusually long and bushy length. He joked that he and defenseman Kris Letang were in a competition.
Senators coach Cory Clouston wasn't short on description when asked what Penguins center Sidney Crosby has done well during what became a 24-game points streakSunday night.
"He's doing everything," Clouston said.
"He's moving the puck well. He's distributing the puck. He's competing. He's as strong on the puck as I've ever seen him."
Penguins forward Arron Asham missed his second game with an undisclosed injury. He also missed the first nine games of the season because of a shoulder injury.
"I'm basically day to day," he said. "I don't want to rush back and have it come back and be out even longer. I've missed enough this year. I don't want to go out there and play and not bring my style to the team. It's better to be safe than sorry."
The Penguins reassigned forward Dustin Jeffrey to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, leaving them with 12 healthy forwards for the game.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy sat out for the second game in a row. He is sporting a magnificent shiner and bloodshot eye but said the swelling from taking a puck to the left cheek Wednesday was a lot worse over the Christmas holiday.
Goaltender John Curry backed up Marc-Andre Fleury as regular backup Brent Johnson continues to sit out because of a groin injury.
Senators defenseman Chris Phillips played in his 900th NHL game.
"It feels good," Phillips said. "Some days, it feels like it's gone by really quickly, and, other days, it seems longer, but to do it all here in Ottawa feels pretty good."
Whether he will hit 1,000 with the same team remains to be seen. Phillips, 32, is eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.
First Published December 27, 2010 12:00 am