Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jason Zucker has been sent home from Washington for further evaluation, coach Mike Sullivan said Wednesday. Sullivan said the team has no further information, although Zucker has an injury that appeared to involve a knee or ankle.
Zucker got hurt Tuesday when he twisted and fell awkwardly near the boards in front of the Penguins bench during the third period of a game at Washington. He appeared to be in considerable pain and was helped off the ice.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s an upbeat person,” Sullivan said of Zucker. “Obviously, he was frustrated with the injury. It was just kind of an unfortunate circumstance, how he went into the boards. Hopefully, we’ll get good news with respect to his injury, but ‘Zuck’ is a real resilient guy. He’s a good pro. He understands the game. Regardless of what kind of news we get, we know he’s going to work his tail off to get back as soon as he can.”
Sullivan did not specifically address a question about Zucker missing at least one game, but with the travel between Washington and Pittsburgh, time for medical evaluation and a couple of his teammates sounding as if they are going to move forward without him for at least a bit, it seems unlikely Zucker will be available for Thursday’s rematch against the Capitals, and perhaps beyond.
The Penguins won 3-2 in overtime Tuesday.
Zucker, acquired in a trade last season, has four goals, seven points in 17 games this year and has arguably been the most consistent player on the second line, centered by Evgeni Malkin, although right winger Bryan Rust has brought his high level of play to that line the past couple games, with Kasperi Kapanen moving to the top line with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby.
“We are definitely going to miss him in the lineup for a little bit,” Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci said.
It’s not just his play on the ice that his teammates will miss.
“Anytime you lose a guy, it sucks,” Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese said. “Losing a guy like ‘Zucks’ it’s a pretty big blow. He’s a guy that just kind of leads by example. It’s crazy; he’s (29), but honestly just his presence, he just feels like such an older presence, and it gives a lot of guys confidence, so he will me missed greatly.”
The Penguins practiced Wednesday at Capital One Arena, but because of COVID-19 restrictions reporters were not allowed to observe the session.
Sullivan said injured winger Jared McCann returned to practice, but in a non-contact capacity, so it seems unlikely he will be able to fill in for Zucker as soon as Thursday.
Aston-Reese, who moved up to fill in for Zucker during Tuesday’s game, said he skated on that line Wednesday in practice, and Sullivan called the Aston-Reese/Malkin-Bryan Rust combination “certainly an option that we have. We have other options as well.”
With Aston-Reese moving up to the second line, Sam Lafferty moved up to fill in on the third line with Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev.
“We’re just going to try to do our best to create the balance that we need and put the best lineup on the ice that gives us the best chance to win,” Sullivan said.