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Pens discuss injuries

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Every team in the Stanley Cup playoffs has players dealing with bumps and bruises. And while the Pens certainly had their fair share of those, head coach Mike Sullivan declined to get into specifics on Wednesday.

"I'm not going to disclose any of our injuries," Sullivan said. "I'd rather not get into the list of injuries that guys had."

The player most asked about in that regard was Phil Kessel, who has the league's third-longest active ironman streak. The winger has skated in 692 straight regular-season contests dating back to the 2009-10 campaign.

After posting career highs in assists (58) and points (92) during a remarkably consistent regular season, Kessel was held to just one goal in 12 postseason contests.  

"He's actually dealt with injuries all year. And to his credit, he played through those during the regular season," general manager Jim Rutherford said. "But his playoffs was not what it has been the last couple of years, and I don't think - I know - that some of those things that he dealt with caught up with him."

Rutherford did say that Kessel will not need any sort of surgery, and Sullivan added that he wasn't dealing with anything significant.

"He was dealing with bumps and bruises just like some of our other guys," Sullivan said.

Derick Brassard missed the final five regular-season games with a lower-body injury, but was able to make his Pens playoff debut in Game 1 of the First Round against Philadelphia. Looking back on it now, he thinks he might have rushed his return a little bit.

"I was dealing with some stuff, maybe I came back a little too quick," Brassard said. "I hurt myself before the playoffs, but I wanted to be there, I wanted to be there for Game 1 and help the team as much as I can."

Brassard didn't want to disclose exactly what the injury was, saying he didn't want it to look like he was making excuses. But Rutherford said it was a very difficult injury to deal with.

"He tried to play through it and it made it difficult for him to play the way he's capable," Rutherford said.

"It is what it is," added Brassard, who will also not need surgery. "I'll just try to come back next year and be better."

One injury that the Pens did disclose during the playoffs was that Zach Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw and a concussion on a high hit from Tom Wilson.

Aston-Reese had surgery to insert some plates and screws a week ago - "hopefully I won't be setting off too many metal detectors," he joked - and said right now he's feeling more discomfort than anything else.

"I feel kind of like a chipmunk," laughed Aston-Reese, whose cheeks are still swollen.

"I picked my head up and braced my shoulder for it and then he just came up high on me," Aston-Reese said. "I thought it was a bit high. At the end of the day, I guess it's just part of the game."

Wilson received a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head.

"I don't know. The NHL did what they thought was appropriate," Aston-Reese said when asked what he thought of the punishment. "It's something (where) they're trying to get rid of high hits. I think moving forward, guys just need to be a little bit more aware and have more control of their bodies when going in to throw big hits like that."

Aston-Reese admitted to being frustrated that his rookie year ended with such a significant injury, especially after dealing with an upper-body injury that had him out for a month towards the end of the regular season.

"I started to feel 100 percent coming back from missing four weeks," he said. "Then I was really starting to come back into my game. Got the hesitation out of it.

It also didn't help that Wilson appeared to laughing on the bench after the hit, which upset Aston-Reese's teammates. A lot happened in the heat of the moment, but right now, he's just trying to put it all behind him.

"I'm kind of just moving past all that and those emotions and focusing on recovering and having a good summer and focusing on next season," he said.

Aston-Reese's diet is currently limited to soups, smoothies and "lots of ice cream." In about three weeks, he'll be able to get everything back to normal. And he couldn't be more excited to start getting after it again.

"I think this was a great learning experience, this whole first year," he said. "I've been reflecting a lot about it the past couple days. Definitely exposed a lot of my weaknesses, I think. I think that's something that's really good for me because this summer I can definitely work on those."

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