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Penguins Skate: Karlsson Returns; How to Avoid the Vegas Flu



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Erik Karlsson

LAS VEGAS — Defenseman Erik Karlsson returned to the ice at the Pittsburgh Penguins morning skate Saturday, one day after missing practice due to illness.

Reilly Smith, who is currently on injured reserve, skated for the second consecutive day.

But those news items come in second compared to the Penguins’ biggest challenge Saturday when they face the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena: Avoiding the Vegas flu.

It’s becoming common practice again for teams to arrive a couple of days before facing the Golden Knights. It’s also becoming increasingly common for teams to get skated out of the barn because they’re not prepared to play after succumbing to the temptations of the surrounding city.

Not many people enjoy going to work in the middle of their vacation. A few days out here, even on business, can feel like a vacation.

The Penguins have a double challenge on Saturday. They haven’t played since Monday. Due to a quirk in the NHL schedule, this week was essentially a week off to rest up for their coming bye week, which begins in eight days.

Even if the game were in Fargo, ND, under a mountain of snow, the Penguins might find themselves rubber-legged in the first period.

It won’t be easy.

“I just think it takes a certain focus and making sure that we’re in the right mindset,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think a lot of (mindset) starts before puck drop. We’re just making sure that we have the right mindset, the right intentions going into the game.”

The Penguins are 8-2-3 in their last 13 games. While they’ve fallen to the bottom of the wild-card pack, their winning percentage remains among the top 10 teams. They also have multiple games in hand on nearly the entire cadre of teams chasing those final playoff spots.

However, that Vegas flu has buckled a few teams this season. The Golden Knights are down five regular forwards, including Jack Eichel, who had surgery this week, yet they handily beat the New York Rangers on Thursday, 5-1 at T-Mobile Arena.

The Penguins can ill-afford a similar stumbling loss as the playoff race magnifies every point.

Must Read: Penguins Game 43, Lines, Notes, and How to Watch vs. Golden Knights.

“Intentions” is a newer Sullivan buzzword that has arrived since the Penguins had no intentions to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 16. The Penguins got an extra day to avoid or perhaps indulge the temptations but also recover and refocus.