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Penguins Roundup: One Game in Eight Days

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins practiced Monday after a much needed and deserved day off on Sunday, as they didn’t land until around 6 a.m. that morning after their 2-1 win in Calgary on Saturday to wrap up their western Canada road trip.

Forwards James Neal, Joe Vitale and Brian Gibbons were all absent from the skate. Vitale was scratched Saturday against the Flames with an upper-body injury, while Gibbons left in the first period of that game with a lower-body injury.

Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma provided updates on those players after practice:
- Neal had a maintenance day.
- Vitale will be out three weeks. More specifically, he will be off the ice for a week and then the three-week time period will begin
- Gibbons is week-to-week.

Those weren’t the only updates Bylsma had to give, as prior to the team practice, injured players Paul Martin, Jayson Megna, Beau Bennett, Andrew Ebbett and Chuck Kobasew skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar.

Bylsma said that Martin (broken tibia; missed last 22 games), Megna (lower body; missed last 12 games) and Ebbett (broken ankle; missed last 17 games) will be re-evaluated on Wednesday “to see if they can progress and return to play.”

In addition, Bylsma stated that Bennett is still four weeks out from returning from hand/wrist surgery because while he is able to hold a stick, he can’t catch a pass yet. The winger, given an original timeline of 8-10 weeks after being injured on Nov. 22 vs. NY Islanders, has missed the past 24 games.

The head coach concluded by saying Kobasew (lower body; missed last five games) is more on a day-to-day time frame.

Sunday marked the start of a unique stretch where the Penguins will play just one game in eight days.

Guys tend to be divided when it comes to scheduling quirks like that. Some would prefer to just keep playing games – not only because they want to stay in a rhythm, but also to keep other teams from gaining on them in the standings – while others view this as a perfect opportunity to rest and refocus.

For this Penguins team in particular – which has a 17-point lead over the second-place Capitals in the Metropolitan Division – the players all seem to agree on the latter: that this stretch will be nothing but beneficial to them.

“I don’t think there’s any disadvantages,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik with a smile. “(Especially in) terms of rest and recovery. I think we have a veteran enough team that we’ll have good practices and stay sharp. Any rest we can get I think will be good for us.”

The rest factor is huge, especially considering the Pens have not had a break like this up to this point (their longest was one game in six days back in November) and the Olympics are next month. It’s especially important for guys like Orpik and Sidney Crosby, who will be representing their countries in Sochi at the Games and plan to take full advantage of these off days to prepare as best they can for what’s going to be a grueling few months with the tournament, rest of the regular season and playoffs.

“I think you always try to use that time to rest up and with the Olympics coming closer, I think everyone’s kind of got that in the back of their mind,” Crosby said.

But the biggest reason this stretch will be huge for the Penguins is because of all of the players who are close to returning to the lineup and those who recently have, like Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and recent acquisition Taylor Pyatt.

“Frankly, some of our players need to practice,” Bylsma said. “(Like) Taylor Pyatt, who needs to get in practices with our group and get used to how we play and how we practice through getting out there.”

These days of practice will be crucial to getting everyone back on the same page – and hopefully give others precious time to recover in time for when the schedule starts getting busy again on Monday.

“I think it will be huge,” Orpik said, who didn’t return all that long ago himself from a concussion that sidelined him for eight games. “I’m still trying to get comfortable after coming back from injury. We got some more guys coming back. We really haven’t had a lot of practice time with ‘Geno,’ ‘Tanger’ and some of the new guys that we’re plugging in, so having some good practices with the group that we’re playing with will be a good thing for us.”

“For our team, we have a lot of guys out. It’d be nice to have those guys a whole extra week to get better without having to miss a game,” defenseman Rob Scuderi added. “So I think for our team, it’s a big benefit right now.”

As of now, the Pens are scheduled to practice Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday with the game Wednesday and an off day Friday.

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said he has yet to hear from the league regarding his hit on Flames captain Mark Giordano in the third period of Saturday’s game. Bortuzzo was given a match penalty and a five-minute major for the check.

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