The Pittsburgh Penguins beleaguered defense looks like it will get a major boost. Despite subtle worries that Letang was still being evaluated on Tuesday, two days after suffering a lower-body injury against the New York Rangers, the Penguins top defenseman was back at practice on Thursday.
Letang paired with emerging rookie sensation P-O Joseph on what presumably will be the Penguins’ top pairing.
“I won’t talk about the injury. I felt pretty good on the ice, today),” Letang said. “I skated earlier on my own and after that, I was able to go out with the team.”
On Monday against New York, Joseph paired with John Marino for heavy minutes. Marino played just over 30 minutes while Joseph played nearly 26 minutes for the second-consecutive game.
“Overall, I think we showed character and resilience in games when things didn’t go our way,” Letang said. “I think guys put their heads down and kept working and trying to get as many points as we could.”
Marino was newly listed in the NHL’s COVID protocol on Wednesday evening and most likely be unavailable for at least one week.
The Penguins defense, which likely would have been missing seven defensemen had they played on Tuesday (the game was postponed due to 14 New Jersey Devils players being in the NHL’s COVID protocol), also appears to be getting a second defenseman back.
Mike Matheson, who was injured in the second game of the season against Philadelphia and has missed the last eight games, skated on a regular pairing with Cody Ceci.
“I wanted to come in and have an impact. Start off on the right foot, but this (injury) caused me to have some patience and sit back and watch a bit of hockey,” Matheson said. “(Watching) I tried to take advantage of and continue to learn.”
Matheson has played only 31 minutes this season and was injured when he was tripped by forechecker Nicolas Aube-Kubel, whom officials assessed an interference penalty.
The Penguins acquired Matheson and Colton Sceviour for Patric Hornqvist in October. Matheson, 26, did not score a point in the opening series and was a minus-1.
Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese also practiced as a full participant again on Thursday. He had offseason shoulder surgery, and he is fast approaching his expected timetable for return.
“I’ve been skating for two months, with Ty (Hennes),” Aston-Reese said of his conditioning. “We’ve put a lot of work in. I don’t really have any lingering side effects. To be honest, I feel better than I did before.”
The Expected Pittsburgh Penguins D-pairings
The Penguins initiated a few unique drills to add pace and competition to the hour-plus long workout. One such drill was a 3v3 battle, with nets side-by-side. Like a game of half-court basketball, a team had to get to the blue line to go on offense.
Not many goals were scored, but it sure kept the skates moving.
The Penguins also worked on their power play, but not in the usual ways. The PP1 worked on–get this–shooting the puck. Take the slot. Shoot the puck.
Pittbsurgh Hockey Now will update the practice story with quotes and insights from the Penguins virtual media availabilty.