In the past few months, the medical reports haven’t been exactly encouraging for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It seemed like almost every week another player was lost to injury.
Well, the news is getting a little better for the Penguins. Marian Hossa and Gary Roberts are back on the ice.
However, Hossa is expected to return to action much sooner than Roberts. Hossa hopes to return Sunday following a bruised knee that forced him out of his first game in a Penguins uniform, while Roberts is still a couple weeks away.
Hossa, acquired from Atlanta in a blockbuster deal at the NHL trading deadline, lasted just 10:13 in his Pittsburgh debut on Feb. 28 in Boston. He’s eager to get back into action with his new teammates.
“When I come back, I just want to make sure I am not worried about my knee, but focused on my game. I don’t want to come too early and be hesitant. That’s the worst thing you can do as a player,” he said. “I just want to make sure the knee is 100 percent. I am looking forward to the long run, not the short run.”
During his rehabilitation, Hossa accompanied the Penguins on their recent three-game roadtrip, which wrapped up last Sunday with a wild 4-2 win in Washington.
“What a game. I had fun just watching it. It looked like a playoff game,” Hossa said. “The guys played really well. We got a lucky goal, but we won in the end and that’s what’s most important. I think that was really a good game for us.
“That was a good trip to get to know those guys. It seems like a really good group of guys in this dressing room. There are lots of younger guys and it seems like this group is pretty tight and that’s very good.”
That chemistry and camaraderie is one reason the 29-year-old Slovakian winger was happy to come to Pittsburgh.
“It was a nice surprise that Pittsburgh got me. I am happy I am here, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It’s a great city to play in and a great group of guys from what I have seen in the past couple weeks. That’s very important. It kind of reminds me of my younger years in Ottawa when we had a lot of young guys and we were a tight group growing up together.
“The same thing is happening here. It’s a young group of guys growing up together and there aren’t many changes. That’s huge,” he said. “Those guys know each other well and they play for each other. We are right near the top of the standings, so that is nice, too.”
Pittsburgh has always been a special place for Hossa. He entered the NHL at Mellon Arena when the 1997 Entry Draft was held in this building.
“I had great memories of Pittsburgh. I was in this arena when I got drafted. That was my first building I visited,” he said. I have lots of good memories from that time.”
Of course, there’s another reason why he’s excited to don the black and gold – skating on a line with Crosby.
“Definitely. That’s why they got me here. Hopefully, I will be a good addition for the Pittsburgh Penguins and I am looking forward to playing with Sid or, if not him, it doesn’t matter who,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys. I am really looking forward to jumping on the ice with those guys.”
Hossa can speak some Russian, which helps him communicate with another potential linemate – Evgeni Malkin – as well.
“I speak it a little bit. I understand more than I speak,” Hossa said. “Geno and I have had a few little conversations. His English is getting better. I definitely think it’s easier when he speaks Russian to me. He’s probably glad there is another guy here who can speak Russian.”
The status of Roberts is encouraging for the Penguins, too. While he’s still a while away from returning to the lineup, significant progress has been made in his recovery from a broken leg and high-ankle sprain. Both injuries occurred on Dec. 29 against Buffalo.
“I am feeling much better. It’s been a long road. I am starting to get my conditioning back to where I think it needs to be to start playing again. I am hoping to get back and start practicing with the team soon,” he said.
Roberts won’t circle a date for his return, but he knows he’s getting back to full strength.
“I don’t like to guess because then you put dates in people’s heads, especially my own. I don’t want there to be a date,” he said. “I just want to know that I am 100 percent. To play my game, I can’t go out there at 80 percent and think I am going to be effective. I am just going to hurt them team if I go out there and am anything less than 100 percent. Especially with an injury like this, it’s one where you tend to avoid contact. And that’s something I am not going to be able to do.”
Roberts has healed from the broken leg, but continues to rehab his injured ankle – a common theme for the Penguins this year.
“My leg is healed, it’s more just the ankle sprain that’s holding me back right now. But, I am getting closer, for sure,” he said. “I hurt my ankle when I broke my leg. Unfortunately, I went back on the ice with a somewhat healed leg, but not a healed ankle. So, I re-injured it skating early on when the ankle just wasn’t strong enough to be out there. It was very unfortunate because I really thought I’d be back by now. I put it behind me and am doing the work I have to do to get myself ready to play the five, six games left in the season – hopefully to get some games under my belt before playoffs.”
Still, the fact Roberts has a chance to return to active duty this season is promising for Penguins fans.
“It could be worse and that’s exactly the way I have to look at it. There’s always a positive,” he said. “In order for me to be mentally prepared to play, I have to look at the positives. Our team has played pretty darn well and we’re in a pretty good position. If we get everyone back healthy, hopefully, we’ll be a stronger club.”