The Pittsburgh Penguins were not without center Mark Jankowski for very long. The day after Jankowski was placed in the NHL’s COVID protocol, Jankowski was back at Penguins practice on Sunday. And speedy winger Jason Zucker was a full participant at practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Tanev also joined Jankowski in the protocol on Saturday, but he is still dealing with a lower-body injury suffered nearly two weeks ago and was not part of the practice.
“I feel good right now, and as far as the lineup goes, I don’t have any updates there,” Zucker said. “…I thought that was a good next step, and we’ll just keep taking it from here.”
The Penguins injury replacements have played exceedingly well, including Frederick Gaudreau. Head coach Mike Sullivan said the “new guys” add urgency and enthusiasm to the locker room.
The Penguins are now 10 points ahead of Philadelphia for the final playoff spot and only two points behind the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals for the top spot in the MassMutual East Division.
In the full-go black sweater, Zucker participated with the rest of the top-six crew and took a full shift in the practice drills with likely second-line mates Jared McCann and Evan Rodrigues, who moved to the right side. He missed the last 18-games after a scary lower-body injury, after which he required help getting off the ice and back to the locker room.
That was against Washington, on Feb. 23.
“It was kind of a weird play. I went out to try to block a shot when (Nick) Jenson shot it, my right skate ended up clipping his,” Zucker said of that night. “And so it kind of spun me a little bit weird and then kind of went into the boards awkwardly. So it was just a weird situation that honestly was unavoidable after I clipped the skate, I just kind of threw me a little bit off and wasn’t able to catch myself.”
Zucker also took a spot on the Penguins second PP unit along the right-wing wall and towards the point. You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as the Penguins winger has played just 17 games this season and scored only seven points (4g, 3a).
Here’s a little power-play wrinkle to watch, especially for the second unit: Watch Matheson sneak in on the backside for a quick one-timer. He rang the post behind Jarry on the first surprise attack.
You can even watch Zucker playing catch with Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola.
On Saturday morning, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Tanev and Teddy Blueger skated with skills coach Ty Hennes, which is usually the first step of the three-part injury return process. First, skating with the skills coach, then non-contact in team practice, then full-contact.
And finally, a return to the lineup. Sullivan said their statuses remailed the same on Sunday. And updated Evgeni Malkin’s injury status, too.
“Geno has not skated yet. He’s continuing his rehab off the ice,” Sullivan said.
For what it’s worth, Zucker did not appear to be favoring anything or in any way hampered. He was clearly in good spirits for the practice session.