The Pens have been decimated by injuries again this year.
They've lost over 200 man-games and have seen several players out for weeks at a time. Right now Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Kris Letang and Carl Hagelin all have injuries that have or will force them to miss significant time, while Evgeni Malkin, Ron Hainsey and now Jake Guentzel are sidelined as well.
In those weeks away, the players and staff work incredibly hard to make sure they'll be ready to go when they return to the lineup.
"I think our medical staff and our strength and conditioning staff does a real good job of preparing these guys to get back in the lineup," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "And I give the players themselves a lot of credit for putting the work in and the commitment level in order to be ready when they go back in the lineup."
So what exactly is it that they do to prepare themselves? Well, on a typical practice day in Pittsburgh, injured players get to the rink earlier than usual.
"I usually wake up around 8 (a.m.) and get to the rink by 9," Maatta said. "I warm up and then I go on the ice at about 10."
The players that skate are worked out by two members of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex staff - skills professional Ty Hennes and power skating professional Max Ivanov. After that, Sullivan wants all of his players - both healthy and hurt - to sit in on all team meetings.
"We want them to be a part of that learning process," Sullivan said. "That's an important aspect, I believe. We do have them around the team a lot, they are interacting with their teammates, they are sitting in meetings so that they're up to speed on any of the adjustments we're making or just simply part of the learning process."
After that, the injured guys either do a workout in the gym with director of sports science and performance Andy O'Brien and strength and conditioning coach Alex Trinca, which lasts for about 45 minutes to an hour, or begin the rehab process, which lasts for about an hour and a half. If O'Brien or Trinca are on the road with the team, the players work with physical therapist Rick Joreitz.
Maatta particularly likes rehabbing at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex because of the convenience factor. Everything they need is right there in the facility.
"You don't have to travel to anything," Maatta said. "You can get all the X-rays and treatment and you can get your workouts in at the same time in the same building, which makes it a lot easier. It's pretty remarkable."
When all is said and done, it ends up being a pretty long day.
"I'd say rehab days when you're hurt or out of the lineup are a little bit longer than normal practice days," Rust said. "You're usually here before all the rest of the guys, you're usually on the ice earlier. So you're skating first, then you're going into the meetings. Then after that the team will do their warmup, they'll go on the ice. Then you'll get a workout in, you'll get a treatment in and usually by the time the team leaves, you're one of the last ones to leave too."
Game days are less busy. They'll still come to the rink early in the morning to skate, work out, get a treatment and sit in on the morning meetings, but after that they don't come back until the team is on the ice for warmups.
And in between, Rust said he doesn't take his pregame nap or stick to really any of his game day traditions, for that matter.
"I don't think about anything I do on game days," Rust said with a laugh. "It's a totally different routine."
They typically have a workout during the first or second period, and then either watch the game from the locker room or go up into the press box.
"I like to do that once in a while," Maatta said. "It's a different view you have because everything down here looks so fast and when you go up top, you see the game way different. And you can definitely learn something."
When the Pens leave for the road, they do their best to follow what's happening with their team.
"Usually a lot of the guys watch by themselves, especially on this last trip, the western Canada trip," Rust said. "Games were a little bit later. One of the games I didn't make it through, I actually fell asleep (laughs). Which probably isn't the best thing to say, but I did. It all kind of varies. Sometimes you'll go watch games with guys, sometimes you'll do it on your own but guys are always trying to keep up with everything."
And with so many guys injured at a time, which has unfortunately been the situation this season, both Rust and Maatta said that group does form a bond.
"At the rink, it's kind of a different group that you have and you get closer to the guys that are injured because they're the ones you're working with every day," Maatta said. "Sometimes there can be just two of you and then like right now, with so many guys hurt, we have way more than two of us. So it's a closer group for sure."
When they're not at the rink, they try to stay busy.
"You just kind of do whatever," Rust said. "A lot of naps, a lot of hanging around, a lot of video games, a lot of quality time with the girlfriend."
And even though it can be a long, frustrating process - as Maatta put it, sometimes he counts the minutes - overall, it does go by quicker than expected.
"When you're hurt, time flies," Rust said. "It's been five-and-a-half weeks for me and it hasn't seemed nearly as much. I see on the sheet every game I've missed, and even though it's been a lot it doesn't feel like that. It sucks that I've missed that many games, but it definitely doesn't feel like I've missed that many games."