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Familiar Face on the Ice

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
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Marching along through a five-game winning streak and a 7-1 overall record that ties them with the New York Rangers at the top of the National Hockey League standings, the mood has been pretty jovial for the Penguins through the early part of the season. However, in case they needed another reason to enjoy coming to the rink, Maxime Talbot provided one for them Monday morning.

Talbot, the hero of the team’s Game 7 victory in Detroit to clinch the Stanley Cup on June 12 when he scored both goals in a 2-1 victory, returned to the ice with his teammates in a limited capacity for the first time since that magical late-spring night. As usual, Talbot’s presence placed smiles on the faces of his teammates and coaches.

Talbot, who has been sidelined so far this season following offseason shoulder surgery, wore a red ‘non-contact’ jersey and took part in team drills for the first time in ’09-10.

“Max always adds life,” head coach Dan Bylsma said when addressing reporters. “You like to add him to the room, you like to add him to the ice. Even though he is in the red jersey, he is still adding life to our practice for sure.”

“It’s great,” added teammate Bill Guerin. “The entertainment value of practice just went up. A lot more cameras were around. I’m sure he put them there. It’s great because Max is a big part of our team on the ice and off the ice. It’s always good to have him around as often as we can. We missed him.”

“I’m excited for Max to come back,” said Evgeni Malkin, Talbot’s linemate for much of last postseason’s run to the championship. “It’s good for the team and we hope Max is coming soon. He looks good, his shot and skating look very good. He’ll help the team.”

Talbot underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum on July 7, less than a month after his dramatic performance secured the Penguins’ third Stanley Cup.

Prior to taking part in practice with his teammates on Monday, Talbot had spent the past couple weeks skating on his own with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar, progressing from simple skating moves to handling a puck and taking shots.

Talbot’s red jersey reminded everyone that he was off limits for physical contact. He took part in all individual drills – those emphasizing skating, passing and stickhandling – but sat out team drills where action is more intense, and by nature sees more players bumping into one another.

After practice, Talbot sounded pleased with where his game was after such an extended layoff.

“(I felt) good. I have been skating by myself for almost two weeks now. It’s different with the team, obviously. Physically I feel very good. Shooting feels good. I just can’t have contact right now.

“Like I said, I’ve been (skating) for two weeks so I have been trying it out and taking shots. If I wasn’t ready to skate with the guys I would not have skated. I am definitely ready to be out with the guys.”

Boy were those guys ready to welcome back a player they have watched undergo intense rehabilitation in an effort to return to the lineup as soon as possible.

“To see a guy who has been injured back on the ice, that is a big step for any guy,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s great to see he is able to be with us. All the hard work he has been doing over the past months is paying off.

“He is an energetic guy who adds something to this group of guys. We have a lot of different personalities. He brings a lot of energy to the room, especially on the ice.”

It has to be great for Talbot to hear his teammates happy to see the player they call ‘Superstar’ back on the ice because those moments of bonding with them are something he has missed the most.

You miss the boys, that’s what you miss the most. You miss being there in the room getting dressed, getting ready. Being out there and joking around when you miss a shot – guys laughing at you. That’s definitely the hardest part – being on the sideline and watching the guys. - Maxime Talbot
“You miss the boys, that’s what you miss the most,” Talbot said. “You miss being there in the room getting dressed, getting ready. Being out there and joking around when you miss a shot – guys laughing at you. That’s definitely the hardest part – being on the sideline and watching the guys.”

How long he is going to remain on the sidelines is still something that is a mystery to him.

Talbot spoke at length about the healing process for an injury of this nature. Doctors told him the shortest minimum length he should sit is four months from the date of the surgery, with five months being a more realistic figure and closer to six months being ‘very careful.’

While he was loath to set a definitive target date for his return, Talbot did give insight into factors that will be used to determine when he’s ready to return to game action.

“I obviously need to be mentally ready, which includes being able to take a faceoff, if Marc-(Andre Fleury) gets run over, I want to be able to go in, drop the gloves and do a little pushing and shoving. You want to be comfortable to do those things because if something happens in front of me and I can’t drop my gloves and be there for my teammates, I am not valuable on the ice.”

Talbot alone will not make the call regarding his return.

“There is a plan. I think I am well-surrounded. We have a great team of doctors here with (Penguins physical therapist) Mark Mortland and Stewy (head athletic trainer Chris Stewart). They are taking great care of me. We have a great team around me. We won’t rush it. The team is playing well and giving me time.”

While a lot of players injured long term tend to push themselves to return quicker than they probably should, Talbot is the opposite. He says watching the team get off to such a great start with seven wins in eight tries has allowed his rehab to progress at a normal rate because he doesn’t have to feel the pressure of coming back to be a savior of sorts.

“The team is playing great. I’ve been watching from the box. It’s nice to see we are playing very confident and ‘Flower’ has been strong in net. For me it makes it easier to watch.”

As he was nearing the end of his interview scrum, Talbot was then asked a second time if he could offer any timeline as to when fans can expect to see the crowd favorite in the lineup.

“Let’s aim for mid-December. Then if I come back sooner it will be a surprise for (everybody).”
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