The Pens held their first practice coming out of their bye week on Friday at PPG Paints Arena.
Missing from the session were winger Carl Hagelin and goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.
Head coach Mike Sullivan said Hagelin and Fleury didn't practice because they were sick. Murray, who is week-to-week with a lower-body injury sustained late in the second period of Pittsburgh's 3-2 win over Carolina on Dec. 28, skated on his own Thursday for the first time and again this morning with goalie coach Mike Bales.
"He's making progress," Sullivan said. "Obviously the next step is for him to join the team and that will be day-to-day."
This was the first of two skates the Pens will have before they host Tampa Bay on Sunday at 5 p.m., and the hour-plus session was understandably a little rough.
"Today was so hard," Evgeni Malkin said with a laugh. "It was a long break. It's usually like two days max. It's a tough practice today, but it's good."
However, it's not like the team came in without doing anything over their break. Director of sports science and performance Andy O'Brien and strength and conditioning coach Alex Trinca put together a plan for the players to stay active during their vacations so they would feel as good as possible upon returning.
"We took two days off right off the bat and then had three workouts plus cardio," Ian Cole said. "I think it was really beneficial in the sense that you don't get out of shape and try to get back in shape quick. The skating is a different story."
The coaching staff understood that, and planned the practice accordingly.
"It's very difficult to simulate game simulations and the on-ice environment," Sullivan said. "What we tried to do as a coaching staff today was give them a little taste of that. We tried to push the pace out there, we had a lot of puck exchange to get them feeling and moving and sharing the puck and we had a lot of compete in the practice where we literally put them in a scrimmage. Not for a long period of time, but enough that we thought we would get them in the compete mindset."
Sullivan said this is a unique experience in the sense that not every team in the league is breaking at the same time. So he wants his players to approach this situation as a positive.
"We've tried to handle it in a way and certainly encouraged our players to handle it in a way that we hope will give us a competitive advantage if we take care of ourselves and do things the right way," he said. "So we tried to do that. I thought we had a pretty good practice today after having a bunch of days off.
"My hope is tomorrow our team will feel a lot better physically when we're on the ice and then it's drop the puck and play again. We've certainly tried to put a game plan together that we think makes the most sense to prepare our team to play."