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Penguins Roundup: Injured Players Practice

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

After two days away from the ice, the Penguins returned to practice on Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center with three new additions – as defenseman Paul Martin (broken tibia) and forwards Jayson Megna (lower body) and Chuck Kobasew (lower body) rejoined their teammates for the first time since sustaining their respective injuries.

Winger James Neal, who missed Wednesday’s game against Washington with an upper-body injury, also participated in the practice.

“It’s a good break for us. I missed the last game so it was a good couple days for me to get better,” he said. “I feel good now and I got a good couple practice days here to get ready for Monday.”

And not only did all of those guys practice, they all resumed regular roles in terms of linemates/D partners and special teams situations – which had a chain reaction on the lineup in terms of getting everybody back into their usual spots and is a good sign that it may be getting back to normal soon.

“It’s nice to see injured guys come back,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “You know how hard it is for them to rehab and get back into it. I think you’re excited for them. Obviously the more you see of that - guys coming back - the more excited everyone gets. It’s a good group and it’s good to see that guys are getting better.”

Pittsburgh’s current stretch of one game in eight days has been hugely beneficial to those injured players. After having productive sessions with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar all this week, they now get two full days of practice with the team to help them get ready for a return – all without having to worry about missing a big chunk of games.

“Yeah, typically you don't get this,” Martin said. “You're playing every other day and you don't get a lot of good practices in. So a couple days of things to work on and change up a couple things I think is good to get back in the swing of things before you start playing some more games.”

While coach Dan Bylsma had no injury updates following the practice and none of the players would commit to a return on Monday against the Florida Panthers, they all felt optimistic about how their returns to practice went and would re-evaluate where they were after tomorrow’s skate.

“Obviously I'd like to play Monday, but I want to get a couple practices under my belt and see how it feels after tomorrow and probably go from there,” Martin said.

“I don’t want to make any speculations, but I feel good,” Megna said. “It’s up to the coaching staff and the training staff whether they clear me or not. Today, first full day of practice, I felt really good. I felt like I was skating well out there, so I’m optimistic.”

"I have to see how tomorrow goes, to be honest,” Kobasew said. “Today went well and we'll see what practice brings tomorrow."

Here are the lines and D-pairings the Penguins used during their 90-minute practice,their longest of the season to date…



First PP unit: Letang, Malkin, Crosby, Kunitz, Neal.
Second PP unit: Martin, Niskanen, Jokinen, Sutter, Pyatt.

Martin has been out the longest of all the injured guys, missing 23 games with a fractured tibia he sustained blocking a shot on Nov. 25 against Boston.

“It's been a while,” the 32-year-old defenseman said wryly. “I felt good, actually. Timing, stuff like that was a little bit off, but as far as the injury and being back out there everything felt great.”

Martin resumed his regular roles at Saturday’s practice, skating with usual D partner Brooks Orpik on the top pairing and practicing on the second power-play unit – both good indications for a return sooner rather than later, perhaps even as early as Monday.

“Obviously I'd like to play Monday, but I want to get a couple practices under my belt and see how it feels after tomorrow and probably go from there,” Martin said.

Of course every injured player wants to return as quickly as possible, but Martin has added motivation to get back in and get back into form as he was chosen to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Team USA begins preliminary round action on Feb. 13 vs. Slovakia, and Martin conceded it would be ideal to play as many games as possible in (the Penguins have 10 left) before the Olympic break.

“Definitely,” he said. “I’m not quite sure how many are left, but a couple
(games) at the end of this month and the beginning of February would be nice
to get ready for that and get back on the ice here, too.”

Megna was injured back on Dec. 16 vs. Toronto when he was upended after colliding with Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier as they raced for a loose puck.

“I guess it’s just really a hockey play,” said Megna, who’s missed 13 games. “It’s something where I blocked a shot and it was just a race for the puck and credit to him, he made a smart play coming out and it was just unfortunate I went down and ended up missing five weeks. Obviously a little bitter about it, but it’s just one of those plays where it ended up working well for them and not so much for me.”

Megna has skated in the top six on a line with Malkin and Neal before, but today marked the first time the 23-year-old rookie – who has four goals in 15 games with Pittsburgh this season – was slotted in with Kunitz and Crosby.

“(Brian Gibbons) was doing a great job on that line, but unfortunately he went down with an injury too,” Megna said. “It’s just a whoever is ready and ready to go and healthy and slot in and try to take on that role, especially one as important as playing on a line with those guys.”

Megna’s biggest asset is his speed and it’s what Bylsma wants to see from him on that line.

“His speed that he played with in practice today is evident right from the start,” Bylsma said. “There’s speed in his game, (attacking) down the wing, it’s tough to handle. There was one particular play where Sid was going through the middle of the ice and dished it wide to him with speed and he drove the net hard. That’s an element that when he was a factor in maybe his best game in Carolina, it was speed every shift.

“He’s coming back from being out a while. So for your first day back, to be on the right wing with Sidney Crosby, we may see other people be there as well. But he adds that speed and can add that. He’s also a guy you can’t deny has bumped into points when he’s gotten the opportunity. He’s gotten some goals, made some plays and there’s something to be said for that in addition to the speed that he brings.”

Kobasew has missed the last six games with a lower-body injury. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time he’s had to rehab this season, as he missed 17 games from Oct. 30-Dec. 3 also with a lower-body injury.

"I'm sure I can speak for anyone who's out of the lineup at any time – you know you don't want to be out at any time, you want to be in and helping out and contributing and being a part of the team,” he said. “When those things do happen, you have to do what you need to do off the ice and stay in shape so when your opportunity comes to get back on the ice with the team, you're ready."
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