CRANBERRY — Tristan Jarry says he doesn’t have a target date for getting back into the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.
He does, however, seem to have a pretty good idea of where he expects his game to be when that happens.
“Hopefully, the second I step on the ice (it will be at its pre-injury level),” Jarry said. “That’s why you rehab and why you take the time and practice and go out with the guys and make sure you gain reps, just to be able to come back as close to where you left off (as possible).”
Jarry participated in the Penguins’ optional practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex Tuesday, then accompanied his teammates to Ottawa, where they will face the Senators Wednesday at 7:08 p.m. at the Canadian Tire Centre.
The workout Tuesday — after which he said he felt “great” — was Jarry’s first in something resembling a full-team session since he was injured in the first period of the Penguins’ 2-1 loss to Boston during the Winter Classic Jan. 2 at Fenway Park, so he seems like a long shot to face the Senators.
However, Mike Sullivan described being fully involved in practice as “the last hurdle before the actual return to play” for an injured guy, so Jarry might well be back on active duty in the near future.
Although the precise nature of Jarry’s injury still is not clear — the Pittsburgh Penguins characterized it only as a “lower-body injury” — he said it stemmed from a specific incident during the Boston game, and that he realized immediately that it could be significant.
“I was pretty aware of what happened,” Jarry said. “I knew that if I continued (in the game), it wouldn’t do anything to help the team.”
He added that the playing surface at Fenway, compared to an indoor rink, was not a factor in his injury.
“I think it would have happened, regardless,” Jarry said.
The Penguins have a fingertips grasp on the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference; they and the New York Islanders have 50 points each, but the Penguins have played two fewer games.
In such a competitive race, having close to a full complement of healthy players could be decisive. Especially if one of those players is your go-to goaltender.
Casey DeSmith and Dustin Tokarski have, for the most part, performed quite capably in Jarry’s absence, but Jarry is the goalie on whom they figure to lean during the final months of the regular season, as well as in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He has earned 15 of the Penguins’ 22 victories, and has the ninth-best save percentage (.918) among NHL goaltenders who have appeared in more than one game, as well as a 2.75 goals-against average.
So while Jarry praised DeSmith and Tokarski for their work while he has been out — “They’ve been awesome,” he said. “They’ve been battling.” — the Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospects for accumulating points during their final 39 regular-season games should be enhanced if Sullivan can call on him to handle the majority of the starts.
Particularly if Jarry is able to get his game back to its apex as quickly as he expects to.