The Penguins have gone the entire 2013-14 season without a healthy roster. Injuries are inevitable in sports, but they’ve hit Pittsburgh particularly hard. On total this year the Pens have suffered 296-man games lost to injury, including to some big-name players Rob Scuderi (29), Paul Martin (25), Pascal Dupuis (10), James Neal (16), Beau Bennett (36), Brooks Orpik (8), Kris Letang (19) and Evgeni Malkin (11).
But for the first time this year it looks like the Penguins are starting to get healthy. Well, healthier.
Four players returned to the lineup Monday night against the Florida Panthers: Martin (broken tibia); Jayson Megna (lower-body); Neal (upper-body); and Chuck Kobasew (lower-body).
At Tuesday’s practice at Southpointe a few more injured players made progress in their recoveries. Forward Andrew Ebbett joined his teammates for full practice for the first time since breaking his ankle. He’s missed the past 19 games.
Prior to practice Beau Bennett (wrist/hand) and Brian Gibbons (lower-body) skated on their own with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. Bennett has missed 37 games this year with various injuries. Gibbons has missed the past two contests.
Head coach Dan Bylsma also had an update on goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has missed the entire season with a blood clot. He’ll skate Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at CONSOL Energy Center and has been off blood thinners for a week. When his blood levels return to normal he’ll be able to take shots.
“It’s really encouraging for Tomas,” Bylsma said. “It’s been a long road. To be able to get on the ice and with the possibility of taking shots after the doctor gives him the OK, that’s just another step, just a first step. He has a long road ahead of him. We’ll hopefully get the OK from the doctor and move forward with his progress.”
The Penguins used the following workflow at practice…
MARTIN “NO SIDE EFFECTS”
All signs were positive on Martin’s tibia after playing his first game in nearly two months in Monday’s contest against Florida.
“It felt good. I have no side effects from last night,” Martin said. “I played about as many minutes as I thought I would play. There is no soreness today. It feels good.”
Martin, who typically leads the team in ice with over 25-minutes per game, logged 20:06 in the contest. Though he expects that the number will increase with each game and situations.
“Hopefully each game I’ll get a little more comfortable and get more minutes and we’ll go from there,” he said.
There is still the issue of rust, something that shouldn’t be surprising when considering it’s been a couple of weeks since he last experienced game action.
“After eight weeks there is definitely some rust,” Martin said. “It will take some time to get the timing down on some things. It felt pretty good. Hopefully with each game it will get better.”
The past six weeks have been hard for Ebbett to take. With a rash of injuries in Pittsburgh in late November he was given the opportunity to play with the Penguins in the NHL.
But then a hard shot from Dan Boyle broke through his ankle guard, and then broke his ankle.
“It’s been one of the most frustrating times in my career because I thought I was playing pretty well. With the injuries and the opportunities presented to guys in here, it’s tough watching people go out and play,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get the doc to go a little earlier. Finally two weeks ago I gave in and let him decide.
“We’ve been playing cautious the last week or two to be sure. There was no pointing rushing it, coming back early and having something happen to it and be done for the year. Credit the doc for holding me back.”
Ebbett had been skating with the team’s injured players, but the doctor finally cleared him to rejoin practice.
“It feels really good to get out there and practice with the whole team instead of three or four guys,” he said.
And after skating for over an hour at practice, Ebbett said there were no setbacks. But there is no timetable on when he’ll be ready to return.
“Ankle feels great,” he said. “It may be some practices and then it’ll be up to the coaches. Doc gave me the green light now. The ankle feels strong. Strength isn’t a problem.
“It’s more of a mindset. If you come into the game and you’re worried about your ankle or your injury then you won’t be successful.”