The Penguins’ schedule originally listed Sunday as a day off, but the team ended up having a 10 a.m. practice at Southpointe before traveling to Ottawa for their Monday night game against the Senators.
“There’s only so much ice at the rink, so had to be here early,” forward Chris Kunitz said. “Now we just wait to get on the plane and head to Ottawa and try to get another win.”
Forwards Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), James Neal (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), defenseman Paul Martin (hand) and goalie Eric Hartzell all skated prior to the team practice.
Malkin then joined the team practice, staying on the ice for the duration, while Neal participated in a few drills before leaving the skate.
“That would be an indication of him moving along in the protocol and where he’s at in his injury,” Bylsma said of Neal practicing with the team for a short while, the first time since sustaining a concussion on April 5. As a group, Bylsma said “they’re all progressing on the ice and doing pretty well.”
Malkin did not make the trip to Ottawa and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
In addition, defenseman Kris Letang did not participate in practice. Bylsma said he was ill and that he would be a question mark for Monday’s game in Ottawa (the lineup is a game-time decision).
Neal and Crosby also did not make the trip to Ottawa. When asked, Bylsma responded, “(The trip is) just an up and back. Part of their rehab (Monday) will be skating here at the rink.”
The Penguins used the same lines as they did Saturday against Boston:
(Malkin centered Steve MacIntyre and Dustin Jeffrey on a fifth line. Neal filled in as an extra defenseman).
The Penguins, winners of six straight, enter the last week of the regular season having clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division title. But that cushion and security does not change their preparation for their final four games. Both Bylsma and his players used an on/off switch reference to explain their mentality heading into this stretch.
“Our focus going along here from game to game has really been on our game and what we need to be at and what we need to do to be playing our very best right now,” Bylsma said. “That’s really going to be our focus going here. We know that a switch is not going to go on and that the playoffs are going to begin. We’ve got players and personnel we’re integrating into our team and how we need to play and playing at our very best, and we’re going to continue to do that with these four games. That will be our focus regardless (of the fact) that we can step back and say OK, we’re going to be the No. 1 seed.”
“Obviously it helps, but at the same time we have to play our game,” Pascal Dupuis said of where the team is at in the standings. “We have to know what it looks like. We have to keep playing the same way. It’s not a switch you turn on and off like we saw in the last couple years here. We have been playing the right way and we have to keep going that way.”
Practicing Sunday was the latest change to a schedule that’s seen a lot of alterations lately. They were supposed to play in Boston Friday at 7:30 p.m., but that got postponed to Saturday at 12:30 p.m. – pushing Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. home game against the Sabres to Tuesday at the same time. That means the Penguins are now playing three games in the next four days and four total this week.
“Just going with the flow, I guess,” Dupuis said. “For myself, I try to look at the schedule one game at a time. Tomorrow is Ottawa. We’ll come back here, play Buffalo on Tuesday. That’s the way the schedule has been adjusted.
“You know what you do on non-game days and you know what what you have to do on game days to get ready on back-to-backs. Guys are professionals; they know what needs to be done to be ready for games, and I’m positive guys will be.”
Veteran forward Kunitz scored his 400th point in 577 career NHL games on Saturday against the Bruins. Kunitz leads the team with 21 goals and ranks second with 49 points. He is one of just two NHL players (Martin St. Louis is the other) who have yet to go back-to-back games without a point.
“Not knowing when you start your career what you’re going to be or what you’re going to do, every little milestone is good,” Kunitz said. “But you want to make sure you’re consistent. That’s something I’ve tried to work on throughout my career and it’s something I haven’t always been able to do. But for some reason this year, it’s been chipping away and I’m slowly getting points and contributing that way. So it’s been nice. It’s something where you want to help your team as best you can.”