Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar is back on the ice for the first time in three months. The All-Star blueliner skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar prior to Pittsburgh's practice on Friday afternoon.
Gonchar has not played a regular-season game this year due to a shoulder injury he suffered after absorbing a hit from David Koci Sept. 20 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the team's preseason opener.
"It's been a while," Gonchar said. "It's been tough for me. To finally step on the ice it's a step forward for me. I feel great about it. It's exciting."
Gonchar, who ranked second in scoring among NHL defensemen in each of the past two seasons, had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 2 to repair cartilage and ligament damage to his shoulder and needed four to six months to recover.
It's the first step. We're on the right track and we're doing everything we're supposed to do. - Sergei Gonchar
"It's the first step," he said. "We're on the right track and we're doing everything we're supposed to do. The doctors said before the surgery that this was the time where we were going to start skating. It seems like everthing is going along."
It's been three months since Gonchar's surgery and he still has many steps in his rehab before he can even practice. Gonchar is only skating and passing. His shoulder is still a month away from being able to absorb contact or even take a slap shot.
"By the books, you're not supposed to have contact for four months," Gonchar said. "The ligaments not going to heal until four months. That's why I'm only skating. There are no slap shots, no one-timers, just passing the puck and that stuff. That's all that I'm doing."
While Gonchar's recovery is progressing on time, there has been no set date for his return to the lineup. Still, it's a good sign for the Penguins, who have battled through numerous injuries this season.
"With injuries you don't want to set up a timetable," he said. "You're going by how you're feeling, how you're recovering. It's going to be up to doctors and my muscles."
Forward Tyler Kennedy
returned to practice for the Penguins on Wednesday, four weeks to the day after he sprained his knee against the New York Rangers Dec. 3. Kennedy, who signed a two-year extension with Pittsburgh this season, has not been ruled out of playing Saturday against the Florida Panthers at Mellon Arena at 1 p.m.
"It's still up in the air so I'm not really sure," Kennedy said. "I'll probably make my decision (Friday). I listen to (the trainers and doctors) but I have to make my own call. I know how it feels. It feels great but I don't want to be a dragging force on the team."
Even if Kennedy feels he's ready to play, ultimately the decision will be made by Penguins head coach Michel Therrien.
"It's going to be a game-time decision," Therrien said. "He looks good on the ice. We'll make a decision (Saturday) probably after warm ups."
If Kennedy returns, he would likely be re-paired with Jordan Staal
and Matt Cooke
. The trio was the Penguins most consistent line before Kennedy suffered his injury.
"They were a good line," Therrien said. "They brought a lot of energy and gave us some depth offensively. They created some momentum the way they were forechecking. Since that line's been broken, we've been struggling a little bit."
Defenseman Philippe Boucher did not practice with the team and is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. The injury caused him to miss Pittsburgh's previous game in Boston on Thursday. ArchivePenguins Work to Get Back on Track