Head coach Mike Sullivan said that forward Kevin Porter underwent surgery on his ankle this morning after getting injured Thursday night against the New York Rangers.
“It’s a longer-term injury, probably around the 12-week mark,” Sullivan said. “It’s a tough setback for him and for us. That’s where he’s at.”
Porter was hurt late in the first period of Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win when he got tangled up with Rangers forward Viktor Stalberg and went into the boards feet-first. Porter needed assistance down the runway to the locker room and did not return.
With Porter out, the Pens currently have just 11 forwards on their roster. Sullivan said they have not yet made a decision on which player(s) to recall from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Center Evgeni Malkin was the only other player missing from practice, and Sullivan confirmed that was just a maintenance day.
BENNETT, FEHR PRACTICE
On a positive note, injured forwards Eric Fehr and Beau Bennett were on the ice before practice to take shots on Jeff Zatkoff and Matt Murray – and both players ended up staying out for the duration of the team skate.
“That’s great progress,” Sullivan said. “The fact that they’re joining the team is great for us. I think it’s good for them to get in the mix with the group. They’re that much closer to being in our lineup, so that’s good progress from their standpoint.”
It was a big mental boost for both players, who have dealt with injury issues throughout the season.
“You’re completely isolated when you’re injured,” Fehr said. “You’re finished with your work by the time the guys get to the rink. That’s one of the toughest parts of being injured. You want to get back in the mix and help your team win. The team has been doing a great job right now. I want to try and get back in there and help as much as I can.”
Fehr has been sidelined for the last 14 games with a lower-body injury sustained on Feb. 2 vs. Ottawa. He also missed the first 10 games of the season while recovering from offseason elbow surgery.
“I’m in the process of ramping it back up,” he said. “I’m slowly working without contact, then slowly working with contact. I don't have a timeline right now, but obviously being out there with the team is a step in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, Bennett played just one of the last 33 games with an upper-body injury. He was hurt on Dec. 14 vs. Washington and missed 17 in a row before returning on Jan. 23 vs. Vancouver, where he aggravated his ailment and has since sat out 15 straight.
“I’m in pretty good shape right now having skated so much for the last three weeks,” Bennett said. “The first step is being around the guys. March is a big month for us in terms of little practice and a lot of games. I just want to keep taking each day by day and make progress.”
“WHAT I LOVE TO DO”
Bennett was candid when discussing his situation, admitting it’s not always easy staying positive despite everything he’s been through over the years.
After a few injury-riddled seasons, Bennett worked tirelessly over the summer to put those behind him and be ready for the 2015-16 campaign – where he had a phenomenal preseason and start to the year, only to suffer a number of setbacks that have forced him to miss 37 of 63 games.
When he suffered his latest setback on Jan. 23, Bennett said he immediately texted his family questioning whether or not hockey was the right sport for him. But that feeling went away as quickly as it had come.
“It’s just your initial thought,” he said. “You’re like every time I come back, something happens. But that was just the initial reaction. I was so upset that I had worked so hard for six weeks to come back, and then literally the first hit back after six weeks (I got hurt). It’s tough on you mentally when stuff like that happens. But you get over it pretty quick. Once it stops hurting, you’re like ‘OK, this is what I love to do,’ and I couldn't even imagine not being able to do it every day.
“I’ve just got to work hard and hopefully put this behind me. The good thing is that I’m only 24 (years old) and I’m trying to take these times when I’m out to actually still get better, still get stronger. I think I’ve done that so far.”
It helps that he’s had a veteran guy like Fehr alongside him during these long weeks of rehab.
“Having a guy out there who’s in the same situation, he’s a guy who’s had a lot of injuries through his career too,” Bennett said. “Being able to bounce ideas off him and kind of talk me through this time of mine, he’s a good guy to have around.”
While Sullivan confirmed that Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal against the Flames on Saturday, he said they have not made a decision on if defenseman Justin Schultz will make his NHL debut that afternoon.
If Schultz does play, it would be against a team he’s very familiar with as Edmonton has a rivalry with Calgary termed “The Battle of Alberta.”
“I was thinking about that last night, actually,” Schultz said following practice, his first real skate with the team since arriving in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. “I’ve played them a lot being from Edmonton, so if I am in tomorrow, that’s probably the best-case scenario.”