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Inside Scoop: Pens-Islanders

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' morning skate prior to facing the NY Islanders at PPG Paints Arena.

* After joining the team in a non-contact fashion for Sunday's practice, Patric Hornqvist progressed to full-contact for today's morning skate.

"He will not play tonight, but he's getting closer," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We'll take each day as it comes."

Hornqvist, who has missed the last six games with a lower-body injury, said that he feels good. He's certainly working hard towards a return, as the 32-year-old forward has gotten on the ice early to work with skills coach Ty Hennes and stayed out with the scratches.

"It's fun to be back on the ice and practice with the guys and see if I can keep up," Hornqvist said with a laugh. "It feels good. Day by day from now on and I like the process I've been through here the last two weeks and getting closer to playing."

In addition, Sullivan provided a couple other injury updates…

- Defenseman Kris Letang (lower-body, five games missed) has been skating on his own. "The fact that he's been on the ice a number of times now, he's certainly making progress," Sullivan said. "He's getting closer. Obviously he's not close enough to join the team yet."

- Forward Nick Bjugstad (lower-body, two games missed) is going to be out longer-term. "He's continuing to be evaluated right now, but he's going to be longer term," Sullivan said.

* It was an early morning for the coaching staff after getting back late last night following Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. Sullivan couldn't say enough about the evening.

"It was terrific," Sullivan said. "It was an honor to be a part of Jim's celebration. He's certainly so deserving of that honor. I think on a personal note, I couldn't have been happier for Jim. Just being a small part of that celebration was a thrill for me and our coaching staff. He really is a unique person. We value his friendship. He's a great leader for this hockey team."

When asked if he was going to procure one of the Jim Rutherford Bobbleheads that are being handed out to fans in attendance tonight, Sullivan responded, "I'm sure I'll get one," before adding with a grin, "Maybe Jim will be kind enough to sign it for me."

* A big focus for the Penguins going into their last game on Saturday against Toronto was having a good start. And they got it, with Jake Guentzel opening the scoring on the power play just 6:38 into their eventual 6-1 win over the Leafs.

The Penguins want more of the same today, with the players all saying that's the main focus for them.

"I think we just have to come out from the drop of the puck," forward Bryan Rust said. "I think that's our key tonight, is our start. We've got to be ready, be patient and play hard."

They don't want to find themselves in another situation like the one they had the last time the Penguins played the Islanders exactly two weeks ago on Nov 7. That night, Pittsburgh got off to a slow start and had to rally from a 3-0 deficit, scoring four unanswered goals with Rust getting the overtime winner. 

"I think the most important thing is being able to get off to a good start," defenseman John Marino said. "Hopefully get the first goal. We did that last game and once we established that momentum, it makes it a whole lot easier."

* The Penguins are going from a game where they had a lot of ice to work with to a game where they will not have a lot of ice to work with. Under Barry Trotz, the Islanders have transformed into a strong, structured and defensively-sound team.

"They play really hard, they don't give up much," Rust said. "We've got to be patient with our offense and try not to give them too many free opportunities."

I liked what Jared McCann had to say about how to handle that.

"We've just got to take it one shift at a time and not get too antsy here and we'll be good," he said with a smile.

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