Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney has been targeting the team's Dec. 23 matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a possible return date from offseason foot surgery.
Head coach Michel Therrien confirmed after Pittsburgh's afternoon practice on Friday that Whitney will likely return for that game, which would be his first game this season.
"We're targeting the game against Tampa Bay," Therrien said. "We'll work with that plan."
“It’s good to get back playing,” Whitney said. “You just get sick of watching and just coming in and practicing every day. It’s good to get back into games.”
Before Whitney makes his NHL debut this season, he will first make his AHL debut. He is scheduled to join the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for their Saturday matchup with the Albany River Rats as part of a conditioning assignment.
“We believe that to go play at least one game in the American Hockey League will be very good for him,” Therrien said. “He didn’t have any training camp. He didn’t have any exhibition games. You could practice and do drills for hours. It’s not the same thing as a game.”
You just get sick of watching and just coming in and practicing every day. It’s good to get back into games. - Ryan Whitney
“I haven’t been down there in a while so it’ll be fun,” Whitney said about playing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “I haven’t played in a game in six months. I just have to get in game shape and little things like that.”
It will be a short stint in the AHL for Whitney. Following the Baby Penguins’ game on Saturday, he’ll return to Pittsburgh in preparation for his NHL debut Tuesday night.
“I’m just playing (Saturday) and then coming back,” Whitney said. “I played down there for a year and a half. It was awesome. It should be fun to see some old friends.”
Whitney doesn’t mind the re-assignment. He put his AHL stop into perspective.
“If Chris Chelios can do it, I have no problem doing it,” he said. >
Maxime Talbot, fresh off inking a two-year contract extension, returned to practice for the Penguins. He missed the team’s previous two games due to an undisclosed injury.
“It was my first practice with the team,” Talbot said. “It feels good.”
Talbot’s status for Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Mellon Arena at 7 p.m. is still unknown.
“I don’t know, hopefully,” Talbot answered when asked if he’ll play.
Absent from practice were forwards Mike Zigomanis, who hasn’t played since suffering an undisclosed injury Dec. 3, and Pascal Dupuis
, who was injured in Thursday against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Jeff Taffe handled the left wing duty on the top line with Sidney Crosby
and Miroslav Satan. >
Therrien has already named goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
as the team’s starter against Toronto. Fleury made 28 saves on Thursday against Atlanta to earn a 6-3 victory in his first game since suffering an undisclosed injury more than a month ago.
“It was good,” Fleury said of his health. “I didn’t feel any pain or pulling. That was a good start and we got a win. That was great.”
“We want him in the lineup,” Sidney Crosby
said. “He didn’t look like he missed a beat in there. He played well for us. He’s going to be a big boost for us.”
We want him in the lineup. He didn’t look like he missed a beat in there. He played well for us. He’s going to be a big boost for us. - Sidney Crosby
Fleury was tested early in the game by the Thrashers. Atlanta had a number of great scoring chances in the game’s opening minutes that helped Fleury get into the rhythm of the game early.
“At the beginning I was a little nervous, my first game out,” Fleury said. “It was good to get some shots and the team gave me a good cushion with the quick goals early.”
Fleury kept Atlanta off the scoreboard during those initial minutes and the Penguins responded by jumping out to a 2-0 lead, en route to the win.
“Early in the game, he was making key saves that gave us the momentum, gave us the confidence to perform and score some goals,” Therrien said. “If you give up those goals then it’s a different game. This is what the No. 1 goalie should do and he did a great job for his first game.”
“Anytime you’re on the road, the home team is going to start off well,” Crosby said. “You need your goalie to make some saves. It’s good for him. He was able to get into it early and feel comfortable. He was solid for us all night.”
With his first game back complete, Fleury must turn his attention to the Maple Leafs.
“We have to be ready,” Fleury said. “They’ve got some young guys. They work hard every night. I’m sure they’ll want to bounce back.”
The Maple Leafs are coming off of an 8-5 loss to the Boston Bruins. Toronto pulled within one goal at 6-5 despite falling behind 5-1 in the contest. The Penguins are aware that Toronto will be focused on erasing the disappointing loss in its game against Pittsburgh.
“Most team’s bounce back from a game like that,” Crosby said. “They’ll make sure they’re focused on that. They had a shootout. Sometimes those games happen. We’ve had those.
"For us, we want to make sure we build off of last game. We played pretty solid.”