With winter slowly creeping around the corner, it seems no one is safe from falling ill – not even professional hockey players.
Penguins forward Blake Comeau came down with an illness on Friday, which kept him from suiting up against the Toronto Maple Leafs later that night. However, feeling under the weather didn’t hold him back from making an immediate impact the following night against the New York Rangers.
Late in the first period Saturday, Comeau opened the scoring when he beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a shot from inside the left circle. The play began when winger Patric Hornqvist skated into the slot and dropped a pass back for Comeau to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Pittsburgh went on to win the game in a shootout, 3-2.
“I was glad to be able to get back to contribute,” Comeau said. “With us winning, it felt good to get that goal. It was a bit of a whirlwind of a game, but we were happy to get the two points.
“I’ve been feeling like I’ve been getting better. With the back-to-backs, I think coach made the right decision to try to get me rested.”
Forward Nick Spaling, who played with Comeau earlier in the year, was impressed with how his teammate performed against New York after getting sick just 24 hours earlier.
“I think it was good for him to take the day off there,” Spaling said. “When you get the flu, it’s tough to sit out. You know you don’t want to, but it’s just a thing he had to do. To come back, it’s tough to get that energy back right away and I think he did a good job of that.”
Penguins head coach Mike Johnston lauded Comeau for his performance not just on Saturday, but the whole season thus far.
“He plays a physical game,” Johnston said. “He hangs onto the puck. He protects the puck really well. And defensively, I think he’s sharp. So by hanging onto the puck while he creates offensive chances, his physical play creates room for other linemates. And then defensively as a coach, you always want to be able to trust guys.
“I liked what he’s added to our team and I knew in the summer what he may bring, but he’s probably even exceeded our expectations a little bit. He’s in a good spot right now. He came off the illness, but boy, did he come in with a really good game the next day.”
After having a career year with the New York Islanders in 2010-11, where he scored 24 goals and posted 46 points, Comeau will be the first to tell you his numbers dropped off after that. He didn’t score more than six goals in each of the three seasons after that.
After signing a one-year deal with the Penguins this summer, heading into this season Comeau said his top priority was to get back contributing offensively like he knows he can. And so far, he’s doing just that as his goal against the Rangers was his fourth of the year – which puts him on pace for over 20 goals.
The Penguins coaching staff have moved Comeau around the lineup, including next to Evgeni Malkin for a stretch of games. And it looks like Comeau could get an opportunity alongside Sidney Crosby, as he slotted into Pascal Dupuis’ spot next to the Penguins captain during Monday’s practice and may get a chance to play there Tuesday in Montreal with Dupuis unavailable for the game.
“I feel like I’ve been getting a good opportunity here to show what kind of player I can be,” Comeau said. “The previous seasons, my role has been a little bit limited. The coaching staff has given me a good opportunity to play some important minutes. I just want to keep going and keep trying to contribute any way I can.”