In a sign that things could be getting better for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ depleted lineup, forward Jeff Carter returned to practice Friday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, and captain and top player Sidney Crosby continued to practice with full participation.
Not only that, but Crosby again centered the top line, his regular spot, between Jake Guentzel and Evan Rodrigues, and Carter centered the second line, between Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen. Carter and Crosby also practiced with the top power play unit, along with Kasperi Kapanen, Jake Guentzel and John Marino.
There could be an update after practice on whether one or both might play Saturday when the New Jersey Devils visit PPG Paints Arena for the Penguins’ first Metropolitan Division.
Carter was put into COVID-19 protocol last week. He was asymptomatic, and so now is eligible to rejoin the team.
The veteran, who was filling in for Crosby as the top-line center, had a goal and three assists before his positive test for the virus.
In 14 games with the Penguins last season after being acquired from Los Angeles, the veteran had nine goals, 11 points in 14 games.
Jeff Carter skating on the second rink before Penguins practice. pic.twitter.com/TgUDDZR9nt
— Shelly Anderson (@_ShellyAnderson) October 29, 2021
Crosby’s return from September surgery on his left wrist has seemed imminent this week as he was upgraded to day to day.
The Penguins have juggled their lineup and filled in admirably in the face of major absences due to injuries and COVID-19 protocol. They did not register a regulation loss through their first five games.
But they hit some hard times their past two games, falling twice by a combined 9-1, thanks in large part to two large, top-of-their game goaltenders, Tampa Bay’s Alexei Vasilevskiy and Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom.
So reinforcements could not come at a better time.
The Penguins made way for a return by reassigning forward Kasper Bjorkqvist to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
Injured top-line winger Bryan Rust, who is out week to week because of a lower-body injury, skated before practice. He was eventually joined by center Evgeni Malkin, who is expected to be out until sometime in December after offseason knee surgery.
Crosby and Carter, Rust, Malkin and Juuso Riikola then skated on the second rink at the practice complex to work out while the Zambonis cleaned the main sheet before practice.
Crosby and Carter then joined the team on the main rink for practice.
With Carter and Crosby skating on “regular” lines, the bottom two lines featured Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger and Brock McGinn, and Brian Boyle centering Drew O’Connor and Danton Heinan, with Dominik Simon and Sam Lafferty seemingly as the odd men out.