After having a day off on Sunday, the Pens took to the ice for practice Monday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Participating in the session was goaltender Matt Murray, who skated with the team for the first time since getting injured in the Pens’ regular-season finale on April 9 in Philadelphia.
“It feels good,” Murray said of getting back on the ice. “I’ve been skating on my own for a little bit. It’s always nice to get back out there with everybody. You can’t duplicate the speed or the intensity when you’re by yourself. It’s a good feeling for sure.”
He did not put a timeline on a return to game action.
“I can’t really answer that numerically in terms of days,” he said. “I’m progressing the way I want and it’s a day at a time process. That’s how I’m looking at it. When I’m healthy and 100 percent then I’ll be ready to play in games. Until that point I’m not really thinking too much about it.”
Murray was hurt when Flyers forward Brayden Schenn collided into him as he drove to the net late in the first period. After talking with head athletic trainer Chris Stewart on the ice for a few moments, Murray decided to leave the game.
“I just knew I wanted to be careful with it,” Murray said. “I didn’t think I really had to finish the game. I was being honest with myself about how I felt and if I could come back and it just wasn’t worth it for me to go back in that game. I didn’t look much past it.”
The 21-year-old rookie netminder, who posted a 9-2-1 record with a 2.00 goals-against average and .930 save percentage heading into that game, said he never even considered being scratched even with Marc-Andre Fleury already out with a concussion.
“I don’t think I’m at that level in my career where I deserve to be rested in a game like that,” Murray said. “I hadn't played much. Every game was valuable for me. I’ve only played 12 or 13 games in this league. And that was a really good atmosphere to be a part of. It was a playoff like atmosphere. It was basically a do-or-die game for them. That’s something I haven’t experienced at this level. It was good for me experience-wise for sure.”
Fleury, who has missed the last eight games (six regular-season and two post), also practiced on Monday and his status remains day-to-day.
“To me, it’s frustrating to not play and still be talking about it,” he said afterward. “It’s tough. It feels like forever.”
Fleury said he’s hopeful that he'll return at some point during the series.
“Every day I wake up with my fingers crossed that hopefully it’s the day,” he said. “Hopefully sooner rather than later.”
In the meantime, both Fleury and Murray were complimentary of how teammate Jeff Zatkoff performed in Games 1 and 2 of the series.
“It’s fun to watch,” Murray said. “I was getting pretty fired up from the press box. That’s what playoff hockey is all about. You need guys to step up and he’s stepped up big time.”
For now, Zatkoff is preparing as if he is going to start Game 3 as well.
“I think given the situation, my mindset is just that I’m preparing like I’m playing every single game,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen with it and you’ve just got to make sure you’re ready. For me, I just go in every night, every practice like I’m going to play the next game and that’s my plan unless I’m told otherwise.”
Mike Sullivan said the coaching staff had a lengthy meeting on Sunday about their lines and combinations, and they tweaked two of their forward trios on Monday.
The biggest change was Eric Fehr skating on the right wing with Conor Sheary and Evgeni Malkin.
“If we play him there, he provides a lot of things,” Sullivan said. “He’s another guy that can take faceoffs. He’s solid in his end zone if he has to be the low forward. He has the ability to score goals. A year ago he scored 19 goals in this league.
“So we like his overall two-way game. He’s a good sized kid. I think he can help control pucks down underneath the hashmarks in the offensive zone. But he’s a versatile player. That’s what we like about his overall play regardless of who we play him with.”
If Fehr does get the chance to play alongside him, he knows what he’ll bring to that line.
“Obviously he’s a highly-skilled guy, and I definitely know what my role is there,” said Fehr, who’s a natural center but has been playing the wing. “Just continue to play strong defensively and try to get in on the puck. That’s the key. A lot of things go through Geno. And when he’s playing you definitely want to get him involved.”
The other change was Matt Cullen centering Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust. The other two lines remained the same.