Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Pens' Friday afternoon practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex…
1. Brassard returns to practice
Forward Derick Brassard skated with his teammates for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury. The forward has missed the last nine games, with his last appearance coming Oct. 25 at Calgary.
"It felt pretty good," Brassard said. "It's been a long three weeks. A lot of hard work and rehab trying to come back and help. I think the toughest part is just to watch and you feel like you can't really help out. But we'll see how I'm going to feel the next couple days and hopefully I can try to come in and help the team to win a hockey game."
Brassard was a full participant, wearing a regular-contact jersey, skating in line rushes and practicing on the second power-play unit. He traveled with the team to Ottawa and will likely be a game-time decision for their matchup with the Senators on Saturday.
"I thought he looked good in practice today," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We'll see how he responds and we'll re-evaluate tomorrow. We'll take each day as it comes."
The fact that Brassard is so close to returning is encouraging, Sullivan said, especially now that captain Sidney Crosby is out with an upper-body injury.
"One of the things that we talked about when we acquired Brass was this very scenario," Sullivan said. "To be able to have a guy that's as talented as he is, that has a track record of being a proven top-six center ice man in this league, is encouraging from our standpoint. So he's making progress and we're certainly excited he joined the team today."
It's been an especially trying time for Brassard, as the progress has been slower than he would have liked. And as if it's not difficult enough having to sit and watch, the fact that the Pens have been struggling has made it even tougher.
"I was getting frustrated a little bit," he said. "Some days you're feeling fine and the next day you wake up and it's not coming back, but you feel a little sore and everything. You don't want to reaggravate it and be out for a longer time. But now, Sid's not there, I feel like I should be out there with the guys and trying to help out.
"Everyone wants to be out there. You don't want to miss time. I love playing the game and I want to be out there. I want to play, I want to practice with the guys, I want to travel with the guys, I want to be around the team. The last three weeks I wasn't able to do that and it's going to be nice to get out a little bit and be around the guys."
2. Pearson adjusting
Forward Tanner Pearson, acquired from Los Angeles in exchange for forward Carl Hagelin on Wednesday, made his Pens debut on Thursday in Pittsburgh's 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay.
The Lightning dominated the special teams battle, which was the story of the game, but the Pens were the better team 5-on-5 - and Sullivan said last night he thought Pearson's line with Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin was particularly good at even-strength.
"It was good obviously playing with Horny and Geno," Pearson said. "I thought we created some stuff, which was nice."
Coming from a team like Los Angeles, which has the reputation of being a defensive-minded team, it was quite different for Pearson to play Pittsburgh's fast-paced system.
"You play last night and you're used to working back, and you see Geno and Horny standing on the blue line and it's like, 'I've got to get my boots going here,'" Pearson said with a laugh. "It definitely was kind of an adjustment, but I thought as the game went on it got better for me."
It helped that he's recovering from his crazy travel day on Wednesday and is adjusting to the three-hour time change. It also helped that Pearson was able to get a full practice in today, where he said he got a better feel for how the guys play and where they like to be, "rather than just hopping in a game and going at it."
Now, he's looking forward to getting on the road with his new teammates and having the chance to get to know them better.
"Any time you go for dinner and get to know the guys more, when you're at the rink and you have video or meetings or whatnot there's not a lot of time to do that," Pearson said. "To get on the road and get to know the guys will be a big help too."
Crosby was the only player missing from practice, and Sullivan said he skated on his own again this morning.
These are the lines, D-pairs and power-play units the Pens used today…
PP1: Letang, Kessel, Malkin, Guentzel, Hornqvist
PP2: Simon/Sprong, Maatta, Brassard, Pearson, Oleksiak