Defenseman Brian Dumoulin skated with his teammates on Thursday morning for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury on Saturday afternoon in Detroit.
“Today was my first day practicing with the guys and having guys skating around me and playing with pace,” Dumoulin said. “So right now I’m taking it day to day and seeing how it is (Friday).”
Dumoulin did not play the second and third periods of Pittsburgh’s 7-2 win over the Red Wings after getting hit into the boards by Justin Abdelkader.
“It happened obviously in Detroit. I was a little foggy coming off, and I just wanted to make sure that everything was ok,” Dumoulin said. “I didn’t really feel myself. It was good to get out there and skate with the guys again.”
“We know he’s making progress,” head coach Mike Sullivan added. “We’ve ramped up his work load. Today was the most that he’s gotten to this point. We’ll see how he responds to it but certainly he’s making progress.”
Dumoulin knows that it’s easy to get frustrated when dealing with an injury, but he understands that the best thing he can do right now is take care of himself.
He was the first player on the ice this morning, and he spent 30 minutes working on small skill sets with Sergei Gonchar and Rick Tocchet before the rest of the group took the ice.
“This is the first time I’ve been injured this year, so it’s something new to me, but it’s something that happened so I can’t be frustrated with it,” Dumoulin said. “I’ve just got to go through the process and make sure that I’m ok to go.”
Dumoulin is willing to be patient, but he can’t help but be excited to get back into the lineup – especially with the postseason right around the corner.
“I want to play as soon as possible,” Dumoulin said. “I don’t like sitting out. I don’t like being away from the team. I want to be with them. I want to be a part of this group, and I feel like we can do something special here.”
TAKING THE OPTION
The Penguins’ skate was optional this morning. The following players were not in attendance: Fleury, Cullen, Kunitz, Letang, Hornqvist, Kessel and Crosby.
Although Fleury did not skate this morning, Sullivan confirmed that he will be starting in net tonight.
Times have certainly changed since these teams last met back on Oct. 24, a 2-1 overtime win for Pittsburgh. Now, both the Penguins and the Predators are currently close to clinching playoff spots. Pittsburgh’s magic number is four, while Nashville is in if they win tonight.
“They’ve put a long stretch of pretty good hockey together,” Sullivan said of the Predators. “They’ve lost their last couple, but prior to that they played really strong games. They’re a good team.
“I think they generate a lot from their back end, their defense core. They score a lot of goals. They help them get out of their end zone. They can really shoot the puck. I think we’re going to have to make sure that our transition from defense to offense is really efficient so that we try to discourage their defensemen from getting involved in the offense because they’re dangerous.”
Tonight’s game marks the end of a very impressive month for the Penguins. With 16 games, March was the Pens’ busiest page of the calendar, and they are 11-4 so far in that stretch.
The Pens are currently ranked third in the Metropolitan Division with six games left, just one point behind the New York Rangers.
The Pens scored two shorthanded goals in their 5-4 win over Buffalo, but they also allowed the Sabres to go 2-for-3 on the power play.
The Pens will have to find a way to shut down Nashville’s power play which is run by pointman Shea Weber – who currently leads all NHL defensemen in power-play goals with 13.
“They have a lot of players with good shots,” winger Carl Hagelin said. “They have a lot of right handers out there that are good at finding seams. Then you look at their backend, they have (Roman) Josi and (Shea) Weber back there who both can pound the puck. So we have to make sure we’re aggressive and not let them set up.”
The Pens know Nashville is dangerous on the power play, but are confident that they can contain them if they stick to what they know.
“Just getting back to what we’ve done all year that’s made us successful,” forward Nick Bonino said. “I think making it hard for them to enter the zone. When they get in easy and get some zone time we get tired, and they make their plays. So if we could make it challenging for them to set up, and if they do set up, pick our spots when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive and make sure we block shots and get clears.”
Both Patric Hornqvist and Matt Cullen played for the Predators prior to coming to Pittsburgh, while former Penguin James Neal has been one of the best offensive players in the Music City this year with 52 points.
Neal has passed the 30-goal mark for the second time in his career, and he is just three goals shy of tying the franchise record for most goals in a single season.
“James is an awesome guy and a good player,” Beau Bennett said. “I’d say he has the best shot in the league for sure because I’ve asked goalies who has the best shot, and they’ve all said James Neal. We miss him, but at the same time we picked up two good guys last year with (Nick) Spaling and Hornqvist. We still wish him the best though.”