It’s not super, duper, etched in the ice, official, double official, but it sure seems as if Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz will return to the lineup Friday when the Philadelphia Flyers visit PPG Paints Arena.
He declared himself a game-time decision Friday after a late afternoon practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the first time the team skated together after the All-Star break and a bye week.
“We thought he had a strong practice,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Schultz. “We’ll see how he responds. We’ll make a decision on the lineup (Friday). But it certainly looked encouraging based on what we saw.”
Perhaps the only caveat is that Schultz seemed highly likely to play in the Penguins’ final game before the break, a 4-0 loss Jan. 21 at Philadelphia, but it didn’t happen.
“No point in rushing it,” Schultz said. “Make sure you’re 100 percent healthy.”
While some of his teammates scattered to warm climates or fun places during the break, Schultz said he hung around and worked out, “trying to get ready.”
Schultz left early in a Dec. 17 game at Calgary because of a lower body injury.
It’s difficult to know how Schultz might be used or exactly what the defensive pairings will be. He spent some time on the third pairing, alternating with Chad Ruhwedel alongside Juuso Riikola, and at other times was paired with Marcus Pettersson, but the defensemen also rotated partners a good bit.
Schultz also practiced with the No. 2 power play unit.
Center Nick Bjugstad, who had core muscle surgery, defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who had ankle surgery, and winger Dominik Kahun, who has a concussion, did not practice.
“They’re all making progress,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Kahun skated earlier in the afternoon.
“He’s still going through the concussion protocol. The fact that he’s back on the ice suggests progress,” Sullivan said of Kahun.
Neither Bjugstad nor Dumoulin skated. That’s not all that surprising with Dumoulin, but it might be of some concern coming off the break with Bjugstad, who had been skating before the break.
The forward lines at practice looked like this:
Jared McCann-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon
Bryan Rust-Evgeni Malkin-Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese-Teddy Blueger-Brandon Tanev
Alex Galchenyuk-Andrew Agozzino-Anthony Angello
Popping the water bottle
Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson drew a few ooohs and aaahs from his teammates when he took a shot toward the net manned by Tristan Jarry and sent the goaltender’s water bottle flying from the top of the net, the lid separating from the bottle.
“Just one of those shots. Just one. It’s been my only one so far this year,” Johnson said with a smile.
OK, it wasn’t Sidney Crosby popping a water bottle on a winning shootout shot against Montreal when he was a rookie, but it was still cool, Johnson said.
“Yeah, they’re fun,” he said.