Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino took part in team practice on Tuesday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Both players started the session wearing yellow no-contact jerseys, but eventually switched into black and white sweaters.
“It’s a big step for them to join the team,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s their first practice with the team.”
Bonino partook in a couple line rushes and did reps with the penalty killers and Malkin practiced on the top power-play unit. But while the two of them are progressing, Sullivan said they will not play Wednesday in Boston.
“I thought both of them looked strong. They’re that much closer,” he said.
Both players were excited to be back with the boys. Bonino in particular was cracking jokes during his media scrum, starting with the color of their sweaters.
“We had those cool-looking yellow jerseys on for a bit so everyone knew who we were,” Bonino said with a laugh.
Bonino has missed the last 16 games with a hand injury after getting injured on Jan. 12 vs. Carolina.
“I’ve got to get timing back and stuff like that, but the body feels good,” Bonino said. “I had a really good workout while I was out. It was good to be on the ice with the guys.
“It’s definitely tough (to get back in shape with a hand injury), but at the same time during your rehab you can work your legs pretty good and ride the bike a lot and skate a lot. So that part of it was good recovery-wise. I just waited on the hand to come around, and it feels good now.”
He said five weeks of skating with staff members at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and with some of the other injured guys could get redundant.
“You want to get into the pace with the guys and kind of get on the road,” Bonino said. “There’s so many inside jokes I miss out on now. I don’t know what anyone’s talking about. So it’ll be fun to get back and hang out with the guys, go to some dinners with them, and see what’s going on.”
I asked Bonino if he and the other injured players had any inside jokes of their own.
“I can’t understand what ‘Geno’ is saying so maybe we do, I don’t know,” he laughed. “You’d have to ask him. But I think hanging out with Beau (Bennett) and ‘Fehrsy’ (Eric Fehr) a good amount, they’re two good guys to hang out with when you have to.”
Speaking of Bennett, who’s missed the last 11 games with an upper-body injury, Sullivan said “he’s on the same path. He’s making progress, but he’s not to the point where he’s close.
Meanwhile, Malkin has missed the last nine games with a lower-body injury. He collected two assists in Pittsburgh’s 6-5 win over Ottawa on Feb. 2 after attending the All-Star festivities the weekend before in Nashville.
However, the injury was something that had been bothering him for a while and after practice the next day, it was brought to the attention of the staff and they decided to hold him out to rehab it.
LOVEJOY OUT LONG-TERM
Sullivan said that defenseman Ben Lovejoy is out “long-term” with an upper-body injury suffered Saturday against Tampa Bay.
“I’m not going to put a timeframe on it but it’s of the longer-term nature,” Sullivan said. “As he goes through the process of rehab and we think we have a better handle on the time-frame, we’ll let you know.”
Lovejoy hadn’t missed a game prior to Sunday’s matinee in Buffalo, where Ian Cole slotted back into the lineup for the first time since Jan. 21 vs. Philadelphia.
Cole finished with 13:28 minutes skating on the right side of a pairing with Derrick Pouliot.
“It’s no fun not playing, so the ability to get back in and play well, it’s great,” Cole said. “I don’t think there were any huge epiphanies in not playing for a while. I think it’s just kind of being able to step back and re-assess a bit and get back to your roots of what you’re really good at and go from there.”
And Sullivan said he’s very comfortable with Cole moving forward as Lovejoy rehabs and recovers from his injury.
“I thought he played a good game,” Sullivan said. “He’s a veteran player; he’s played in this league a long time. He’s played the right side a number of times. He played it a lot when he was in St. Louis. Him and I had that conversation, he’s comfortable playing the right side. So I thought he was solid for us in Buffalo.”