Pittsburgh’s Thursday practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry was overcrowded.
Not in the stands. On the ice.
The Pens had their full compliment of players taking part, including their current injured players.
Carl Hagelin (2 games missed; illness), Eric Fehr (17; lower-body), Beau Bennett (19; upper-body) and Ben Lovejoy (9; upper-body) were all at practice and took part in varying degrees.
The closest players to returning are Hagelin, Fehr and Bennett. However, head coach Mike Sullivan said that all three players will be game-time decisions.
“We’ll see how guys respond today after our practice,” Sullivan said. “I do suspect that there will be some lineup decisions to make.”
Those decisions will not be easy considering how well some of the team’s younger players have been playing on their bottom-6.
“They’re difficult decisions, but they’re good problems to have,” Sullivan said. “When you have people playing well and making contributions. These guys coming off injury were playing well at the same time.
“As difficult as those decisions are, they’re good problems to have.”
The three likeliest to return would be Hagelin, Fehr and Bennett.
Hagelin: “I felt good. I’m hoping to play tomorrow. It’s a decision we’ll make in the morning, but I feel good today.”
Fehr: “I feel awesome. I’ve come a long way and I’m ready to go.”
Bennett: “I think we’re in pretty good shape. In practice we don’t feel a step behind.”
The Pens used the following workflow in practice…
It has been very difficult for defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who has been skating all by himself with the team’s trainers. So be back around his teammates on the ice was an appreciated change.
“I’ve been skating for the last days by myself doing skating drills and that’s the worst,” Lovejoy said. “It’s so much worse. You’re skating to be in shape. To be back with other players on the ice, goalies, pucks on the ice, is a lot of fun.”
The hardest part of being injured for Lovejoy isn’t the rehab or isolation. It’s not being able to help his team.
“I hate it. I’m more nervous watching a game on TV than when I’m playing,” he said. “Not only to I desperately want to be out there, I know that I have no impact on the game. Even though sometimes in my mind my superstitions do think that I have something to do with it.”
During his absence, Lovejoy commiserated with hockey fans.
“I understand people that yell at the TV and write mean things on social media. I get it,” Lovejoy said. “I am an intense fan right now. I can’t wait to be more than that.”