Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins' Monday practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
1. Dumoulin, Aston-Reese full participants
The Pens got some positive news on the injury front as defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Zach Aston-Reese joined the team for practice.
"They participated in a full capacity today," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "Their status is day-to-day. We'll take each day as it comes and make decisions accordingly."
When asked if he'll be good to go for Game 1, Dumoulin said it's too early to tell at this point -he's focused on making sure he doesn't rush anything.
"I don't want anything to happen where I get set back and stuff like that," he said. "I just want to take it day-by-day. I hope and I want to play Wednesday, but if that's not the case, that's not the case. I just want to take as many steps as possible in the right direction."
Dumoulin was sidelined for the last three games of the regular season with a lower-body injury, and feels fortunate that it looks like his absence will be relatively short-term.
"Good thing it hasn't been too long, I think it's been a little over a week so it's not like it's been something crazy," he said. "Obviously playoffs are a little higher-notch, it's going to be fun and I want to get back as soon as I can."
Meanwhile, Aston-Reese has been out longer-term, missing the last 13 games with a lower-body injury.
"I feel good," he said. "It was a good day, good to be back with the guys and skating finally. We'll see how I feel in the morning and right now I'm just day-to-day."
It was a tough second half in terms of injuries for Aston-Reese, as he also missed 13 games from Jan. 11-Feb. 11.
"Both injuries were honestly pretty bad luck, so it has been frustrating," he said. "On the same token it's been nice, I've been working with (skating and skills development coach Ty Hennes) and working on my skating even more. If there's some positives to take away from it, (it's that)."
Another positive is that whenever he does return, Aston-Reese won't have any surprises when it comes to playoff hockey after experiencing his first postseason in 2018.
"I remember last year I was pretty nervous for my first game and didn't really know what to expect," he said. "I thought that it was maybe a quarter step or half step faster than the
regular season. So I'm hoping that it's not too much of an adjustment. I'll come back when I'm ready but I definitely know what to expect this time around."
During rushes, Dumoulin skated on the fourth pairing with Zach Trotman while Aston-Reese did a couple of reps with the fourth line. The coaching staff used these configurations…
Sullivan had this to say about the combinations:
"We have game plans going into each day to see what kind of combinations we want to put together. We have options at our disposal and we'll make decisions on a daily basis. Balance is important to have success in the playoffs. Every line has to have a conscience on both sides of the puck. We're trying to look at our personnel and figure out what combinations we think meet those criteria. There are times when we've loaded the top-six and that's never off the table. Sometimes we may do that within the course of a game depending on how we think the team is playing or what we think the needs are or whatever it may be."
3. 'Saves MATTer' program wraps up
The team announced today that Matt Murray and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation will donate nearly $74,000 to charity as part of his season-long "Saves MATTer" program.
Murray pledged to donate $30 for each save he made during the 2018-19 regular season - and after making 1,465 saves, his personal donation comes to $43,950. The Penguins Foundation is supporting Matt by donating an additional $30,000, raising the total to $73,950.
"I'm very proud of this cause and very thankful to the Foundation for their contribution," he said. "This donation will make a great impact in helping a lot of people. Thank you very much to everyone involved."
Charites benefitting from the program will be the Ward Home in Pittsburgh ($36,975) as well as two organizations in Matt's hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario -- Children's Aid Services and Dillco ($18,487.50 each).