ST. PAUL, Minnesota - The Pens held a Thanksgiving Day practice at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota on Thursday afternoon after flying from New York in the morning.
"It was more about an active recovery for the guys," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "Get them a sweat, move their blood, they'll feel a lot better tomorrow by doing it today. We'll go from there."
The team will face the Minnesota Wild on Friday at 4 p.m. EST in a stretch that will see the Pens play seven games in 11 days. And the coaching staff is trying to make sure the team gets adequate rest.
"It's not just the physical recovery, it's about the mental recovery as well," Sullivan said. "That was one of the reasons we didn't have a morning skate (Wednesday). Keep them away from the rink, out of the building, give them a chance to maybe go for a walk and get outside. Sometimes that can re-energize guys mentally as much as it does physically."
The contest against the Wild will be a homecoming for two players on the Pens' roster: 19-year NHL veteran Matt Cullen and 22-year-old rookie Jake Guentzel.
Cullen, who is spending Thanksgiving with his family at his sister's home, played at St. Cloud State and was even a member of the Wild organization (from 2010-13).
"It's nice when the schedule falls just right and you can be home, see family and get a mental break," Cullen said.
Cullen, who turned 40 on Nov. 2, contemplated retirement during the offseason before deciding to return to the Pens for the current campaign. With his career winding down, this could be his final chance to play NHL hockey in Minnesota.
"We have a lot of family coming in and it's pretty special playing here," Cullen said. "Knowing that it's likely the last time that I play here adds a little bit to it."
For Guentzel, it will be his first time playing in his hometown in the NHL. The rookie made his NHL debut just four days ago, and now he'll be appearing in a Pens uniform against his hometown team.
"I'm really excited. It's going to be fun," Guentzel said. "Playing (at Xcel Energy Center) in high school, I can't imagine how different it's going to be. It will be one to remember."
Cullen's advice to Guentzel is to enjoy the moment and take it all in.
"Minnesota hockey is such a big deal," Cullen said. "I remember watching (Guentzel) play in the state high school hockey tournament when I was playing for the Wild. It's a special place for all of us Minnesotans to come home and play here."