With the Pittsburgh Penguins coming off a bye week followed by the All-Star weekend, it seemed like a possibility that defenseman Justin Schultz would participate in the team’s late-afternoon practice Sunday.
He did not.
In fact, coach Mike Sullivan said Schultz, who is recovering from a broken leg he got Oct. 13, and winger Zach Aston-Reese are “both making progress. They’re both probably more week to week at this point than day to day.”
Sullivan insisted Schultz has not had a setback, even though he had been skating in a non-contact jersey at the end of practices before the break. Sullivan said then that Schultz appeared close to returning for a full practice
“I don’t think it’s a change,” Sullivan said. “We still think he’s close.”
“We don’t have any specific dates at this point in mind, but we do know they’re approaching joining the team,” Sullivan said, including Aston-Reese.
The two players, the only ones dealing with an injury on the club, skated before practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Schultz went through fairly strenuous drills. Aston-Reese skated and had a stick with him but did not use his left hand.
They and All-Stars Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, who were excused, were the only players missing.
When Schultz is ready to return to games, he will give the Penguins nine capable defensemen, potentially a cumbersome number, assuming none is traded before Schultz’s return.
“Internal competition is good for everybody. We talk about that at length,” Sullivan said. “We believe in competition. We think it keeps us all at our best. We do have some very capable guys, and we believe in all of them.
“It will force the coaching staff to make difficult decisions, but those are difficult decisions to have to make.”