The Pittsburgh Penguins hustled through a 30-minute practice Friday at their UPMC Lemieux Center complex the day after the team ground the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 1-0 win at PPG Paints Arena.
The latest player to catch the contagious illness which has sidelined several players including Jack Johnson was Evgeni Malkin. Malkin did not appear at the practice rink of Friday even as head coach Mike Sullivan explained Malkin felt much better.
“We had him stay home for a couple of reasons. We’re trying to keep him away from the group that feels good,” Sullivan said. “And give him an opportunity to recover, get some food in him.”
Malkin is still not confirmed to play Saturday, though the Penguins did send emergency recall Joseph Blandisi back to the WBS Penguins.
The large Penguins center has not played since he suffered a lower body injury against New Jersey on Nov. 15. Sullivan reported Bjugstad skated for the first time on Friday morning. He skated on his own and there is not yet a timetable for Bjugstad to rejoin team activities.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now did some poking around to find the Penguins Patient Zero. Zach Aston-Reese was the first Penguins player to miss time with an illness a couple of weeks ago, but he claimed food poisoning and not an illness.
Jokingly, some believe the first exposure came from now-demoted defenseman Zach Trotman. Another thought it was a veteran player’s children who first went through hell (We would happily share the player, but since it involves a player’s children and some of you would miss the humorous tone, we’ll leave it mysterious).
However, Sullivan addressed a question as to his personal precautions.
“I guess I wash my hands more often,” he shrugged.
Towards the end of practice, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang unleashed a slapshot from the point. Brandon Tanev, who doesn’t have an “Off” switch jumped in front of it to block the shot.
Tanev went down in obvious pain and laid in the slot. After checking on him, Letang decided to flop on top for a squishy bear hug. Tanev then moved quickly to get up and skate it off while the top units laughed…and empathized with his pain.
The Penguins didn’t waste time on Friday with fancy drills. They worked on the power play and rebounds for the high-slot player. They also went through another shooter-tutor drill, though Penguins center/winger/Dan Potash sweater icon Jake Guentzel did not participate, nor did he raise the stakes with another boisterous victory celebration.
PHN is working on a few stories from Friday, including the genesis of the Penguins identity and Sullivan’s role in it. We’ll also have our one-on-one chat with Zach Aston-Reese.