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Gonchar Cleared to Play

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar has been cleared to return to the lineup by doctors and his return to the lineup is imminent. However, he will not play Wednesday night in the Penguins' matchup with the San Jose Sharks at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m.

"It’s going to be day by day; it depends on how I feel," Gonchar said. "(The doctor) cleared me to play. He said my shoulder was doing well. He’s happy with the progress we’ve made over the last month since the last time I’ve seen him. He checked out my shoulder from different angles and everything is working well."

Gonchar, who has missed the entire the season after having surgery Oct. 2 to repair cartilage and ligament damage in his left shoulder, will make the final decision on when he will return.

"It's going to be up to Gonch to decide his comeback," head coach Michel Therrien said. "He looks really sharp in practice. No one's going to pressure him to come back. You have to feel comfortable and confident as well."

"(I need to) continue my skating with the team and make sure my timing is there," Gonchar said. "You don't want to go out there and hurt it. You just have to be ready. It's a little bit of conditioning, little bit of timing, skating a little bit more - putting all of those things together."

Even though there may be a temptation to throw Gonchar into the fire right away - playing 20-plus minutes and playing him on special teams - the team is preaching patience.

"To be honest with you it's a coaching decision, it's not mine," Gonchar said. "I'm not calculating how many minutes I'm going to play. It's probably going to depend on how I start. And if I'm playing well, hopefully, he'll trust me and he'll play me. If I'm not playing well then I don't deserve to be there."

"Probably not right away to be fair to him," Therrien said. "(He didn't have) training camp, no exhibition games. The pace of the game right now is not the same when we opened up the season. We're going to have to be patient with him."

So how long does Gonchar expect it will take him to get into midseason form?

"Only God knows," he chuckled. "Hopefully, it will be soon. Obviously, when you miss more than half of a season it's going to take you a while to catch up with the guys."

"If you look at him in practice, he's able to battle, shoots the puck well," Therrien said. "It could be a matter of timing. Sometimes game shape is not the same but he's going to have to go through that process. Right now, he looks good. A good athlete like this usually can pick it up really quick. This is what we're expecting."

> The Penguins held an optional morning skate at Mellon Arena Wednesday. The only players that did not participate were forwards Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis and defensemen Rob Scuderi and Philippe Boucher.

Boucher was the only player that missed practice due to injury. He has an undisclosed injury and is listed as day-to-day. The remaining players will play in Wednesday's game.

Ruslan Fedotenko skated without the red "no contact" jersey in the morning skate even though he said he hasn't been cleared for contact. There is no contact at morning skates, so Fedotenko opted to wear black instead.

"Honestly, I had the red on (this morning) and I decided to change," he said.

> Wednesday will be a special day for forward Maxime Talbot, who will celebrating his 25th birthday with a bout against the NHL's best team - the San Jose Sharks.


"Hopefully we can get a win for my birthday," Talbot said. "My mom said, 'Can you score a goal for me on your birthday? It would be a good gift for yourself.' Hopefully, we get the victory and that would be a good gift for me."

Talbot also had an interesting take on hitting the 25-year-old mark.

"Today, I turn from prospect to suspect so that's pretty scary," Talbot joked. "I remember my first year at 20 years old in Wilkes-Barre. Tomas Sourovy, he used to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was in the minors during the lockout and he just turned 25. He said, 'Today, I'm going from a prospect to suspect.' I was laughing at it saying, 'I still have five years of being a prospect.'

"Today is the day that I turn 25. I came a long way and I'm happy to be here. I remember playing my first game with Sid and now I see guys like (Luca) Caputi and (Dustin) Jeffery coming up. I remember being there. It seems so long ago but not really. I feel that I'm fortunate to still be here and hopefully I can be here for a while."

> San Jose's Joe Thornton scored a goal against Boston Tuesday night in the Sharks' 5-2 victory. It was the second time that Thornton returned to the team that drafted, and eventually, traded the strong forward.

His first game in Boston as a Shark ended rather quickly following an incident with defenseman Hal Gill - who now suits up for the Penguins. Thornton played less than a minute against the Bruins after being ejected after elbowing Gill along the boards.

"It was his first game back in Boston and I knew he was coming," Gill said. "I didn't really make the right play, I don't think. That being said he got the penalty. He's got to slow up but I think he was assuming that I would battle and I didn't."

Despite the sequence, there is no bad blood between the former teammates.

"We grew up together," Gill said. "He had to learn the game and how to compete on a regular basis. He's a guy that when he turns it on, he's a big force. Through our first few years we both learned the game and play on a consistent basis. He's done that pretty well obviously."

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