CRANBERRY TWP. — Defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Zach Aston-Reese made full returns to Penguins practice on Monday on the eve of the postseason, giving head coach Mike Sullivan two more important pieces to work with as he crafts a lineup for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Dumoulin suffered a lower-body injury during the Penguins’ 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on March 31 and missed the team’s final three regular-season games.
Aston-Reese also has been out with a lower-body injured. His was suffered during the Penguins 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins on March 10.
Both players had been skating and practicing in a limited fashion, but they were full participants on Monday as the Penguins returned to practice following their regular season finale on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, head coach Mike Sullivan made no declaration as to whether or not either player will return to the ice on Wednesday night on Long Island.
“Their status is day to day and we’ll take each day as it comes and make decisions accordingly,” Sullivan said.
During Monday’s practice, Dumoulin worked with Zach Trotman in what was obviously the Penguins’ fourth defensive pairing while Jack Johnson skated with Kris Letang in Dumoulin’s usual spot on the top pairing.
Dumoulin said he was hoping to be patient with his injury and not rush back, despite the postseason looming.
“It was good to practice,” Dumoulin said. “I’m justing taking it day by right now. It was good to get in a full practice and go with them and get ready for playoff mode. … I don’t want to rush it. I don’t want anything to happen where I get setbacks, stuff like that.”
Aston-Reese alternated with Garrett Wilson alongside Matt Cullen and Teddy Blueger on the Penguins’ fourth line.
Aston-Reese is still a fairly young player, but he’s gotten an unfortunate amount of experience in returning from injury. He feels hopeful he’ll be able to get back to a point where he can make an impact.
“There’s really nothing you can do, really, to get yourself ready for a game besides play,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s not too much of an adjustment. Last time, coming back from the hand injury wasn’t too bad. Hopefully, it’s the same thing with this injury.”
Here are the rest of the line combinations from Monday:
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
Jared McCann – Evgeni Malkin – Patrick Hornqvist
Dominick Simon – Nick Bjugstad – Phil Kessel
Blueger – Cullen – Wilson/Aston-Reese
Johnson – Letang
Olli Maatta – Justin Shultz
Marcus Pettersson – Erik Gudbranson
Those defensive pairing suggest that Johnson may be the odd man out when Dumoulin eventually returns to the lineup.
The mixed up forward lines feature Crosby, Malkin and Kessel each on a separate line, something that has been a hallmark of the Penguins playoff success under Sullivan.
“Balance is important to have success in the playoffs and every line has to have a conscience on both sides of the puck,” Sullivan said. “We’re tying to look at our personnel and figure out which combinations meet those criteria. There are times when we’ve loaded the top six and that’s never off the table. Sometimes, we may do that within the course of a game, depending on how we think our team is playing, what we think the needs are or whatever it may be.”