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Guentzel could return for Penguins after pause, GM says

Forward's rehab following Dec. 31 shoulder surgery going well

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

Jake Guentzel could return for the Pittsburgh Penguins if the NHL season resumes from its pause caused by the coronavirus.

A recovery timeline for the forward was set at 4-6 months after he had shoulder surgery Dec. 31. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Wednesday he doesn't expect Guentzel to require the full six months.

"If you take the shortest period, that would be the end of April," Rutherford said. "Obviously, you can do the rest if it's six months. I would expect that, knowing Jake Guentzel, that he's going to be ready. His rehab is going well."

Guentzel has remained in Pittsburgh while self-quarantined during the pause; NHL players have been directed to do so until at least April 4. Rutherford said he has been told there have not been any setbacks regarding Guentzel's recovery.

Guentzel was injured crashing into the end boards immediately after scoring a goal at 6:55 of the third period in a 5-2 win against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 30. He has 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games after he had an NHL career-high 76 points (40 goals, 36 assists) in 82 games last season.

The Penguins (40-23-6), in third place in the Metropolitan Division, are 16-12-2 without Guentzel.

Rutherford said, to his knowledge, no Pittsburgh player has been tested for the coronavirus. He also said no player has reported any symptoms.

Whether Guentzel is able to return, Rutherford said the Penguins intend to compete for the Stanley Cup if the season resumes.

"I evaluate it the same way as I have every year since I've been in Pittsburgh," Rutherford said. "If we're playing in the playoffs for the Cup, we're going for it this year. … We're in new times. Everybody needs to adjust and do whatever they need to do, whether it's playing sports or going to school, or their jobs or whatever it is. We have to adjust.

"If, in fact, we're fortunate enough to play for the Cup, whoever wins that Cup is going to feel the same way about winning it, whatever day they win it, compared to winning it usually in the middle of June."

Rutherford said he would expect the Penguins to regain their form from the first half of the regular season when the NHL returns, after going 3-8-0 in 11 games prior to the pause.

"I think that, prior to us stopping play, we had run into a period where we were overusing guys in certain areas, and it started to catch up with us," Rutherford said. "We didn't have that same energy and juice we had in the first half of the season. So I would suggest it would be to our benefit, having the break."

To help the players maintain game shape, each has received a workout program he can follow at home while adhering to guidelines from health officials. Rutherford also said having consistent communication throughout the organization has been emphasized. 

"My priority is keeping people safe and healthy, but also as you know and we all know, we have a lot of time on our hands," he said. "We continue to work. … Each different department head still plays the same role in their communication. So I'm aware of what everyone is doing, but it goes through a process of who each person reports to. In my case, I talk to (coach) Mike Sullivan every day. And Mike Sullivan, he's talking to different people every day. So the communication has been very good."

Rutherford said there are several proposals on how to conclude this season, but he thought it wouldn't make sense for him to discuss any, because the decision is not up to him.

"There's a lot of people working on different scenarios," he said. "We're just preparing, trying to be prepared, for when we start and be able to deal with whatever the scenario is."

Since returning 13 days ago after their game at the Columbus Blue Jackets was postponed, Rutherford has spent all his time at home with his wife, son and two dogs. As much as he is focused on Pittsburgh's quest for a third Stanley Cup championship in five seasons, he is more focused on the larger picture.

"We just have to continue to stick together and do the things we can do," he said. "It's interesting for me, like a person at my age, when I think back and how I was brought up, there weren't a lot of things to do. We spent a lot of time at home. We were just around the house, really a lot. My family lived from check to check. We didn't have very much. So we didn't do extra things.

"We ate the same dinner, the same food, for three nights in a row. Things like that. Those are the things we're doing now. What's happened to me is, family is so important to me, but to appreciate what my family did for me under tough times, not going through a virus, but having to kind of live the way we're living right now. It brings back a lot of memories and the appreciation, and respect, I have for my mom and dad."

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