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Zucker On Playing Through Injury: ‘I Don’t Make Any Excuses’

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Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jason Zucker

There was criticism of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jason Zucker’s game earlier this season – specifically that he should have had a bigger impact and produced more with other top-six forwards out of the lineup.

It turns out Zucker was dealing with a core muscle injury that eventually required surgery Jan. 25. Not that he wants anyone to look back on those earlier games any differently.

“I don’t make any excuses,” Zucker said Saturday after he practiced for the second straight day, albeit still in a non-contact jersey. “If I’m good enough to be in the lineup, I should be performing. Yes, I was playing through an injury, but if I’m good enough to be in the lineup, I should be performing.

“Do I think I could have played better? Absolutely. I expect more of myself.”

But make no mistake – Zucker was limited while he contributed six goals, 13 points in 30 games before he took a hiatus from the lineup. He came back for one game, Jan. 17 against Vegas, but afterward realized it was going to take more than rest to address the injury.

Thus the surgery.

Zucker on Friday worked out on the ice before the Penguins’ morning skate in New York, then joined his teammates. He did the same for practice Saturday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

“I thought he looked pretty good,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s been working hard to get himself to this point. Now that he’s gotten involved in the team practices in a non-contact fashion, he’s that next step closer.

“Anytime you get someone like ‘Zuck’ close to coming back, it gives everyone a boost because they know how important he is to our team and what he’s capable of doing as far as helping us win games.”

Penguins center Jeff Carter said Zucker is someone “who brings a little bit of everything to our lineup. He brings energy. He’s on pucks. He’s feisty. He can contribute offensively.”

In his first public comments since the surgery, Zucker said he “feels really good now. I’m happy with my progress.”

Zucker has been and is considered one of the best options to play alongside center Evgeni Malkin (who is ill at the moment). Malkin missed the start of the season because of offseason knee surgery, and that pushed Zucker to play despite the discomfort.

“It had been quite a while playing through the injury,” he said of the decision to have surgery. “We were kind of piecing (the lineup) together. We had a lot of guys out with COVID and things going on, so it made sense to kind of battle through that.”

Zucker had the same procedure and dealt with the same medical team as Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in November 2019.

“Everything’s case to case, but at the same time I’ve gotten his opinion on a lot of things – progressions and what he did when he first got on the ice,” Zucker said. “He got on the ice a lot sooner than I did, but … we kind of took the opposite approach where we stayed off the ice a lot longer but then were able to kind of hit the ground running on the ice, whereas for him he got on (the ice) early but took it really slow.”

Crosby was out just over two months. Zucker is just about at two months, but he’s not sure when he will be cleared for contact in practice, or after that for games.

“I don’t have a timeline,” Zucker said. “I wish I knew.”

 

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Shelly is a columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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Paul
Paul
8 months ago

Your record says that you are: 84 games, 21 goals, -8 rating, $6.25 mil. #Me-di-o-cre

CountryPickle
CountryPickle
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul

But in fairness..Has he really had an opportunity to show or perform.Half the time either himself playing injured, or without his regular linemates, or with the put together team that pulled thru beginning of the season..Let’s how how he gels come playoff time before jumping the gun .

Paul
Paul
8 months ago
Reply to  CountryPickle

The best ability is availability. The guy has been here two-plus seasons and barely moved the needle.

Chase Cranson
Chase Cranson
8 months ago

He is under six feet tall 190 lbs he can be fiesty all he wants too many small players 30 years old and grossly overpaid it was a horrible trade not a factor whatsoever in the playoffs should move him hopefully in off season