After a day off Sunday, the Pens were back at practice on Monday afternoon at Southpointe following their 2-1 western Canadian road trip.
Forward Blake Comeau (upper-body; 20 games) joined the team practice, his first since suffering an injury Dec. 22 at Florida.
“It feels good,” Comeau said. “It was a long six weeks of skating on my own and for a while, skating around with no pucks. So it definitely feels good to be back with the guys and I’m excited.”
Even though Comeau is practicing, his status for Wednesday night's game against the Red Wings is still undecided.
“It’s not out of the question, but it’s not definite, for sure,” said head coach Mike Johnston, who still has to speak with the team’s trainers regarding Comeau. “I’ll wait and see and if he doesn’t play Wednesday, I don’t know if he’ll play Thursday (at Ottawa). So it’s probably a Wednesday-Thursday combination. If he is available, will he play a back-to-back after being out that long? That’s something we’ll have to decide, if we can manage his minutes or not.”
Comeau accompanied the team on their swing through western Canada last week, working on his own with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. Though Comeau had been skating for a couple weeks, he was cleared to begin shooting pucks during the trip. Now, he's progressed to full practice.
“Blake had a good practice today,” Johnston said. “He looked like conditioning-wise and everything, he’s fine. The big thing for him was how he handled battles, checking situations, but he seemed to be OK.”
“That was a good test for me today, to do all the battle drills, 1-on-1 stuff, stuff where I had to hold onto the stick and everything went well, no problems,” Comeau said. “So just go day-to-day here, get some flow skates, keep skating with the team and see how it goes.”
Comeau, who worked with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist during 5-on-5 drills at practice, will skate again on Tuesday even though the team has a scheduled day off as he progresses towards a return.
“I think when you miss that amount of time, it’s just about getting your timing back, which I think is going to come practicing with the team, doing those fast-paced drills and 2-on-1s and things in tight,” Comeau said. “And I felt pretty good doing that. So any time you miss that amount of time, especially at this time of the year (where) everyone’s playing at a really high pace, it’s always important for me to keep my legs in the best shape that I could. And now it’s just a matter of getting the timing down.”
EHRHOFF SKATES Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (concussion-like symptoms) skated on his own with Kadar before practice.
“Christian is still going through workouts," Johnston said. “With all these workouts and skating, it’s a matter of how he reacts to that type of thing. Whether he has any headaches or symptoms, that’s what everybody looks for with that.”
Ehrhoff will skate Tuesday with Comeau and Johnston said there will be “some battles, (we'll) work as much as we can with the two of them.”
BENNETT WORKS TO RETURN Forward Beau Bennett has been a healthy scratch for four of the Pens’ last five games. He is working hard to regain a spot in the lineup.
“Just keep working the right way and do the right things in practice and hopefully get back out there,” Bennett said. “It’s tough. But just work hard in practice, take in what the coaches are telling me and try to get better.”
The coaching staff wants to see Bennett improve in his puck battles. Bennett’s hesitation in the corners and along the wall have to do with the numerous injuries he’s suffered over his career.
“I’ve got to get better at 1-on-1 battles for sure,” Bennett said. “It’s not like it hasn’t been there before, it’s just with the injuries, mentally, it’s tough to overcome that you’re going to be alright when you go into a battle. I’ve had some tough luck, but just got to get over the hump.”
The coaches want Bennett to play and had planned on playing him during the western Canadian trip. But after the team won the first two games they didn’t want to disrupt the lineup.
“Our intention was we would have wanted him to get back (in the trip),” Johnston said. “The way we played in the first two games, Calgary and Edmonton, I thought we played well, it was tough to make a lineup adjustment.
“With a young guy like that, yeah, we’d like to get him in. It’s something we don’t want to force, but we obviously can’t let him sit for too long.”