Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust were full contact and full go for the first time on Monday. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the news and seemed encouraged we could see Rust in-game action if there is a game, this week.
Malkin may not be ready so soon, but Sullivan was also optimistic about Malkin’s sooner-than-later return.
“Rusty and Geno practiced in a full capacity today, full contact. They appeared to do very well. I haven’t had discussions with them–After practice, I had a little bit of a discussion with Geno–but I have not spoken to Rusty. In just in watching their participation, I thought they had strong practices, so that’s a huge step for us,” Sullivan said.”I think Rusty is certainly a reasonable expectation … I don’t think Geno would be ready for that soon. They’re both making significant progress. The fact that they participate in practice in a full capacity today suggests so.”
*PHN will provide a separate and full update on all injured Penguins and COVID protocol players.
We thought Evan Rodrigues would be the only Penguins player in COVID protocol, but that’s not the way things work around the Penguins or in this COVID world. As practice began Monday at the UPMC Lemieux Complex, complete with school kids enjoying their time off to see their heroes (and bang on the glass to elicit a few laughs from players), the Penguins PR put out more bad news.
Penguins winger Jason Zucker who played in the most recent games but missed the last few practices with “maintenance days,” was not on the ice for practice, either. Sullivan confirmed he will be out week to week with the nagging lower-body injury.
Jake Guentzel was absent for a non-COVID illness but could return as early as Tuesday. Penguins EBUG (emergency backup goalie) Mike Chaisson was in net opposite Casey DeSmith. Stick tap to velvety Pittsburgh Penguins play-by-play Josh Getzoff for the ID.
And this concludes the attendance portion of practice. Beuller…Bueller?
The Pittsburgh Penguins schedule is currently in flux. Late Sunday night, the Penguins’ visit to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Wednesday, Dec. 29, was postponed due to COVID issues. Later Monday morning, the National Hockey Now network national reporter and Boston beat writer James Murphy reported the Penguins visit to Ottawa on Dec. 31 was “up in the air.”
As I stated numerous times here last week, I didn't see the #NHLBruins playing again until New Year's Day.
As we navigate through the Omicron surge in the next two weeks, USA teams playing in Quebec/Ontario will be. https://t.co/JXHXQsr5tS
— MurphysLaw74 (@MurphysLaw74) December 27, 2021
And just in case you need visual proof of the Penguins’ practice, the boys were getting after it on the two-man drills. That’s Bryan Rust in a full-participant black jersey who snapped one past DeSmith (bright yellow pads). Chiasson has the all-black Darth Vader look going.
Later in practice, Chiasson made a diving save after a brilliant Malkin feed to Brock McGinn, which elicited stick taps from the boys and a little applause from Brian Dumoulin. Sorry, no video of that, but here’s Rust hitting the twine.
The Penguins saved a little fun surprise, which could mean a lot or mean absolutely nothing (we don’t know which) for later in their first practice. Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust comprised the Penguins’ top line with Sidney Crosby. Malkin was on the left, and Rust was on the right, which means both players were on their natural side. However, on the shift before, Malkin was on the right wing. Take it for what you will because of the number of players missing, including Jake Guentzel and Jason Zucker. PHN (this guy) has advocated Malkin take a wing (at least in the beginning of his return) to leave Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger in the middle six and save wear-and-tear on Malkin, at least for a while.
Update: Sullivan’s answer on the matter evolved. Make no mistake, Malkin is a center and Sullivan prefers the 1-2 punch of Crosby-Malkin. Sullivan defined the parameters by which we will see more Crosby-Malkin two-headed monster lines. Malkin won’t be making the switch unless the game dictates it.
“Well, you know, we have used Geno there on occasion over my time as the coach. I wouldn’t anticipate Geno playing the wing on a consistent basis. We really like him at the center ice position. He and Sid have been, in my mind, the best one-two punch in the league for a long time,” Sullivan said. “So it helps us create that certain competitive balance that we think makes our team so hard to play against … that’s always something that’s been part of the conversation that the coaches had or continue to have with respect to situations. If we’re down a goal or depending on how the game goes, if we want to load up a group and put them over the boards that’s the obvious discussion is with those two guys on the same line.”
So, maybe the two-headed monster, but not Malkin-Crosby-Rust unless the game situation dictates.
That’s Malkin camped on the far wall, which becomes the LW when they transitioned to the rush.