It looks like the Penguins are finally starting to get some bodies back.
Injured/sick players took part in Tuesday’s afternoon practice at Southpointe.
Forward Craig Adams (undisclosed), defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (lower body) and goaltender Thomas Greiss (mumps) all skated with the team for the first time since being sidelined, while winger Beau Bennett (lower body) and blueliner Paul Martin (undisclosed) continue to practice with the team.
Penguins head coach Mike Johnston said that Ehrhoff, Bennett and Adams are closest to returning and could be in the lineup for the Pens’ New Year’s Eve game against Carolina at CONSOL Energy Center.
“If you look at the guys who were out there today, Ehrhoff is really close, Beau Bennett is close and so is Adams,” Johnston said. “Those are the three guys that could play (Wednesday) night.”
In addition, Greiss – who’s missed four games – is expected to back up Marc-Andre Fleury on Wednesday as Jeff Zatkoff was re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earlier this morning.
“It was a fun Christmas, was in the hotel room the whole time,” Greiss joked wryly. “Played a lot of PlayStation … it was pretty boring. I was just sitting around, I hated it. It’s just nice to be back here. I’m ready to go and just happy to be practicing again.”
- Bennett, who has missed the last 15 games, skated on a line with Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter during practice.
“I feel good,” Bennett said. “Skated really hard yesterday in the pregame skate and skated with a line today in practice, so that’s a positive sign. I feel pretty good. Hopefully I can get back out there tomorrow night.”
- Ehrhoff, who has missed the last five games, said he feels ready to go.
“(Playing tomorrow) is definitely a possibility,” he said. “I’m right on the timeline of what we expected and I felt good today. It’s up to the coaches.”
- Missing games (five in a row, to be exact) is something that Adams hadn’t experienced for years, as he saw his franchise-record streak of consecutive games played ended at 319 when he sat out on Dec. 20 against the Florida Panthers.
“It’s tough. It’s frustrating watching games and not being out there,” he said. “But everybody has to go through it. I’m no different. Everybody deals with it. So it’s been a while for me since I had to deal with it, but you just work as hard as you can and do what you think you have to do to get better as fast as you can.”
- Martin – who’s also missed five games in a row – won’t be playing tomorrow, but is targeting a return within the next few games. Ideally, he’d prefer to get in one of the Pens’ back-to-back games this weekend against Tampa on Friday or Montreal on Saturday, but if he doesn’t, next Wednesday against Boston could be it.
“It feels better every day,” Martin said, “so as it continues to get better and feel better on the ice, I think it’s going to be short. Not too long.”
Getting key players back into the lineup will certainly be a huge boost, especially considering the Penguins are on a four-game winless streak and have lost three straight regulation games. However, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said they can’t put the pressure on returning players to be the answer to their problems.
“I don’t know what everyone’s timeline is, but it’s nice to see guys back in practice,” Crosby said. “That means they’re close. But regardless of how many guys and when, you still have to make sure you’re playing the right way so when guys do come back, it’s an easier adjustment for them and you’re on the right track.
“So hopefully, if we do get guys back, it will be a boost, but I think regardless of that, we still have to get our game back.”
- NOTE: Forwards Steve Downie (mumps) and Zach Sill (upper body) and defenseman Olli Maatta (upper body) all skated before practice.
These were the lines the Pens used during rushes…
Pouliot-Letang and Harrington-Ehrhoff stayed together as pairs, while Scuderi, Despres, Bortuzzo, Dumoulin and Martin rotated.
Johnston said not to read too much into the line changes, as they were doing a lot of different drills, including 6-on-5 play at the end.
“We may tweak the lines a little bit for sure, and if Beau and Adams come back in there’s going to be some changes on lines,” Johnston said.