TORONTO — Noel Accairi took the ice before the Pittsburgh Penguins bus arrived at the Ford Performance Centre on the outskirts of downtown Toronto. The rest of the team took their time, as the Penguins’ bus didn’t arrive until 15 minutes before practice was scheduled to begin.
The Penguins news also took a positive turn with the inclusion of Rickard Rakell as a full participant. Rakell had the black full-contact jersey and was moving swiftly in drills. He looked unencumbered by the upper body injury that landed him on the long-term injury list retroactive to Nov. 21.
Rakell was mired in a slump before the injury, with just four assists and no goals in 17 games. He also joined the second power-play unit Friday.
UPDATE: Rakell’s status remains unchanged, though coach Mike Sullivan acknowledged it was the last step before being activated.
“His status hasn’t changed. This is the first practice he participated in at full capacity,” Sullivan said. “We’ll see how he responds. We’ll take it day to day, but we certainly encourage what we saw out there today.”
The boys didn’t hit the ice until closer to 1 p.m., but for the first time in a week, the drama of losing, power play struggles, and lineup uncertainty have cooled with the Canadian arctic winds.
Acciari has been skating on his own for about a week rehabbing from a lower-body injury, as the Penguins lineup deals with a handful of injuries forcing several emergency call-ups, including Jonathan Gruden and Valtteri Puustinen.
All other players were present and accounted for except Matt Nieto, who continues to work his way back from a lower-body injury that has kept him out since Nov. 30.
Acciari also hasn’t played since that no-show loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 30.
The practice was otherwise devoid of the daytime drama that hitched itself to the flightless birds for weeks. The Penguins have won two in a row, the power play is four-for-seven, and the worst is either behind them or yet to come, but those answers won’t be known for a few weeks.
And so, they practice in front of their dads, most of whom made the trip with the team to the rink for the workout.
With Rakell back, it seems Vinnie Hinostroza will be the odd man out. The lines fell into place almost as everyone would expect.
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith-Evgeni Malkin-Valtteri Puustinen
Drew O’Connor-Lars Eller-Radim Zohorna
Marc Johnston/Jansen Harkins-Jonathan Gruden-Jeff Carter
Defense (or Defence in Toronto?)
Marcus Pettersson-Erik Karlsson
Ryan Graves-Kris Letang
P.O Joseph-John Ludvig
Penguins Power Play #1:
Penguins Power Play #2:
*Pittsburgh Hockey Now updated the story after practice when coach Mike Sullivan spoke to the media.