- Malkin may practice with team on Friday; hopeful to return before end of opening round series
- Fleury continues to progress; no setbacks; he and team decided he wasn’t ready to start in Game 1
- Rust feels better everyday; no concern that injury will effect his speed
- Bennett continues to progress; focusing on conditioning
- All injured players are official listed as day-to-day
The Pens dressed 11 forwards in their 5-2 Game 1 victory against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. Soon they may go back to using 12.
Forwards Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Beau Bennett all took part in Thursday’s optional skate at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Malkin missed 25 of the Pens’ final 33 games in the regular-season (including the final 15) with an upper-body injury. He also did not play in Pittsburgh’s Game 1 victory.
“(Malkin) had a great day,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We thought he looked really strong.”
Malkin, as all of the injured players are, is listed as day-to-day. But he believes he can return to the Pens’ lineup before the end of their First Round series against the New York Rangers.
“I think so,” he said. “I’m trying to (return) as soon as possible. I don’t know when, but as soon as possible.”
Sullivan said the team is hopeful that Malkin will return at some point during their First Round series.
“I don’t really have a timeline, but that’s our hope,” Sullivan said. “He’s a difference maker. He’s an elite player. We’re a better team when he’s in our lineup.”
Malkin worked on shooting the puck at practice. While his injury isn’t 100 percent just yet, he feels good about the way things are progressing.
“First time I shot today, it’s still working, but not strong enough,” Malkin said. “Every day is better.”
Malkin, who took part in contact, was involved in team drills for the first time, even if it was only an optional practice.
“I’m glad to skate with the team though it’s not full practice, it’s optional,” Malkin said. “I may skate with team soon, maybe tomorrow. Every day it feels better.”
One of Malkin’s strengths is his conditioning. He’s worked throughout the injury to maintain his endurance so that he can make a quick return to the ice.
“He’s been working all along on his conditioning,” Sullivan said. “That’s really going to help expedite his return. We thought he had a great day, today.” *
Fleury missed the final five regular-season games and Game 1 due to a concussion. He has practiced all week and even took part in the team’s morning skate on Wednesday, but did not start or even fill the backup role.
“I was just not right to play yet. That’s the reason why I didn’t play,” Fleury said.
Even though he did not dress for Game 1, Fleury said that he has not had any setbacks in his recovery, and hasn’t ruled out playing in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Fleury said. “It’s moving along and getting better. Hopefully, it’s good enough for Saturday.”*
Rust, who has established himself this season on the team’s third line, missed the final six regular-season games and first postseason game with a lower-body injury.
“Each day is a step,” Rust said. “I’m trying to move in the right direction every day. I’m just going to see how it goes.”
Rust has only missed two weeks, so his conditioning is still in good shape.
“I haven’t been out too long, it’s something that I’m mindful of, but something I’m working on,” Rust said. *
Bennett missed the final two regular-season games and Game 1 with an undisclosed injury, though he has practiced with the Pens all week.
“I feel good out there,” Bennett said. “Conditioning is pretty good. It can always get better, so I’m just focusing on that right now.”THIS ‘N AT
Malkin on missing time: “It’s very upsetting. The last three years I haven’t played a whole season. I’m upset with myself. I’ll have to work harder every day, harder in practice. Maybe in the summer, too. Change my location and practices, find a good coach in the summer. I’m not happy missing games and it’s playoffs, too. I’m frustrated with myself.”
Fleury, with a grin, while discussing his injury: “I have to watch what I say.”
Rust on if he’s worried his lower-body injury will affect his speed: “Maybe at first that was in the back of my mind a little bit. As I move forward I’m getting more confident, and that’s not as big of a worry.”PENS PRACTICE INFO
The Pens held an optional skate. Fourteen players took part. Absentees included forwards Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Eric Fehr, Carl Hagelin, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby, defensemen Trevor Daley, Ben Lovejoy and Kris Letang and goaltenders Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff.