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Reunited and It Feels So Good

Jake Guentzel is glad to be back with his teammates after completing his COVID protocol, and is close to a return

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

After being confirmed positive for COVID on Oct. 3, Jake Guentzel did what he could to stay busy during his isolation period.

He remained active by riding the exercise bike in his home. He read a couple of sports books, including a biography on Tiger Woods. He even began working on a 1,000-piece puzzle. But despite his best efforts, Guentzel was antsy to get out of the house and rejoin his teammates.

"He's feeling good, I think he's just getting bored," Bryan Rust joked the other day. "He's hoping this thing passes quickly and he can get back to the rink as soon as possible."

Fortunately, Guentzel returned to team practice on Monday before the Penguins left for their two-game season-opening road trip in Florida, and skated with them again on Wednesday at FLA Live Arena.

"It was a long couple days there, but just glad to be back and be around the guys again," Guentzel said. "It's mentally tough. You're isolated and just away from everyone, away from the wife and stuff like that, too. So just kind of on your own, but I'm just glad it's over with."

While Guentzel missed Pittsburgh's season-opening win on Tuesday at Tampa Bay, there were some encouraging signs that he could be ready to play as soon as Thursday at Florida. 

He skated on the top line during rushes, reuniting with Rust and Jeff Carter, as the three of them had played together for much of training camp before Guentzel was sidelined. Guentzel also practiced on the first power-play unit, replacing Jason Zucker. 

While head coach Mike Sullivan said they would communicate with Guentzel individually about where he's at, saying they want to make sure he's prepared to play and that they put him in a position to be successful, the 26-year-old forward said he is feeling good.

"I'm just fortunate that I was asymptomatic and got through it and didn't really have any problems or issues," Guentzel said. "Some people went through some problems and issues of that sense. So I was just fortunate to not have any of that, and just glad to be back here again."

Guentzel's teammate Zach Aston-Reese was someone who did become symptomatic after confirming positive for COVID on Sep. 27, which made his situation a much different circumstance.

"I felt really badly for Zach, because I thought his conditioning was really good coming into camp," Sullivan said. "Then he misses 10 days, and on top of that, he was symptomatic. So it wasn't like he had the ability to work out at his home through that COVID protocol like Jake did."

So while Aston-Reese has been skating with the team since Saturday, Oct. 9, he has a little more ground to make up when it comes to getting into game shape.

"Zach is working really hard, Jake is working really hard," Sullivan said. "We'll try to get these guys back in the fold when we think they're ready and well prepared for it."

As for Sidney Crosby, who joined team practice the same day Aston-Reese did after undergoing a wrist procedure on Sep. 8, Sullivan said he continues to progress really well.

"I think his conditioning is terrific," Sullivan said before adding with a smile, "It seems like he can skate forever. Obviously we're progressing him with the direction of our medical staff and doctors in a controlled environment. But we're encouraged with all the progress he's made to this point and we'll see where it goes. But everybody seems to be really pleased with how he's tracking."

Meanwhile, defenseman Mike Matheson was absent as he continues to deal with a nagging lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for Tuesday's season opener.

"His status is day-to-day," Sullivan said. "We'll take each day as it comes."

The Penguins recalled P.O Joseph from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, who made it down to Florida in time to skate with the team. Here is the workflow the Penguins used…

Guentzel-Carter-Rust 

Zucker-Rodrigues-Kapanen 

McGinn-Blueger-Heinen 

Simon-Boyle-Lafferty 

(Crosby and Aston-Reese did not do line rushes)

Dumoulin-Letang 

Pettersson-Marino 

Friedman/Joseph-Ruhwedel

PP1) Letang, Rust, Guentzel, Kapanen, Carter 

PP2) Marino, Pettersson, Rodrigues, Simon, Zucker

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