The Pens practiced on Wednesday afternoon at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex coming off a dominating 4-1 win against the Columbus Tuesday night.
All expected players were on the ice today except for winger Bryan Rust, who left Tuesday's game late in the second period and is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Forward Tom Sestito and defenseman Trevor Daley participated in contact for the first time during practice (they wore yellow 'no contact' jerseys on Tuesday).
Daley is excited to be back on the ice after missing last 19 games (knee surgery) and feels ready to go as the Pens' embark on a three-game road trip to end the season.
"That is kind of what I looked at with the schedule and making sure I was healthy," Daley said. "These next three would be nice. I may not get all three, but obviously the more I can get the better."
Defenseman Olli Maatta was another player who made a return to practice today in a yellow 'no contact' jersey. This is the first time Maatta has skated with the team since sustaining a hand injury that kept him out of 22 games since Feb. 17.
Maatta feels that getting on the ice with the team is a step in the right direction, but is trying to take things day-to-day and hopes to get at least a game under his belt before playoffs.
"I think it would be really important," he said. "It is definitely going to be tough to hop in right before playoffs, but if you want to get a game in since you missed seven, almost eight weeks."
Daley, Sestito, Maatta, Rust, Carl Hagelin, and Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) will all be on this final road swing. Chris Kunitz (lower-body) is the only player not make the trip.
"Everyone is tricking back in the lineup as we expected," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "The next step will obviously be to get 'Geno' (Malkin) in practice. He has been skating for a number of days now and he is making progress and we are encouraged by that."
Malkin, who has missed the last nine games, skated before today's practice and the team hopes he'll be ready by playoffs.
"We are optimistic that Geno will be ready," Sullivan said. "I think we are tracking the right way."
FILLING LETANG'S SKATES
One player that will not be returning to the Penguins' lineup for the foreseeable future is defenseman Kris Letang.
The team announced that Letang will undergo surgery for a herniated disc in his neck and will be out for 4-6 months.
Letang has not played since Feb. 21, missing the last 20 games. He is one asset to the team that is irreplaceable, but he will continue to help even if it is not on the ice.
"This guys is a great teammate and I know how much his teammates respect him," Sullivan said. "His first priority is his recovery and he will take care of that first, but we will have him around the team as much as we can. He is another set of eyes for our coaching staff and his teammates have so much respect for him and I am sure he can lend some insights into watching the game from the press box. He is still very much a part of this team and a part of the fabric of this teams identity."
Despite having Letang out for the rest of the season, injury is something the Penguins have had to overcome all year and believe that if they can continue to fight and play how they have, they will be successful.
"We don't expect any one guy to replace Kris Letang," Sullivan said. "We believe we have a group of players that are capable of winning games and having success. We have done it all year long, regardless of injuries. We have found ways to overcome it and win games and that is the mindset we will have moving forward."
PENS REACTION TO LETANG
Here is what some of the players are saying about Letang's injury and what the Pens need to do in upcoming games:
Marc-Andre Fleury: "He is strong. He has been through a lot and big things, not just broken bones. He is a guy who loves the game so much and loves to compete on the ice so I think it is hard on him to be sitting out and watching the games. He comes around. We try not to talk about it too much and obviously we want to know how he is doing."
Trevor Daley: "Obviously, you lose a top player in the game. He is obviously the best guy that we have. We show that we get the job done. We haven't been around for the last little bit so it is more options for young guys to step up and to do that role. Not one guy is going to step up and do it. It is going to take a village to get that done. We have to move forward and hope for the best for him."
Olli Maatta: "I feel bad for him. He is a great teammate, a great player, but even better teammate. It is surprising how happy he still comes in everyday. It just tells how good of a guy he is."
Mark Streit: "He was one of the first guys who reached out to me when I got traded and welcomed me right away. He told me if I needed anything to just let him know. That tells you everything about a guy. He is a great guy, but on the ice it is amazing how good he is and all around great offensively, great defensively, competes really hard, plays physical and I was impressed with his game. It was great to meet him in person and see what kind of great guy he is off the ice as well. First class guy."