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Penguins get a little healthier at practice on Thursday

Some....positive signs? Could it be?

San Jose Sharks v Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins were down a whopping 7 members of their team last night due to injury or illness. The total salary cap obligations of what they couldn’t dress at $34.45 million was approaching the $45.76 million of the 20 remaining healthy players that DID play.

It’s a walking MASH unit right now. Oh, and of course since hockey is weird and random and impossible to predict, the Pens shutout no less than the defending Cup champions (who were on a four game winning streak and had just defeated Pittsburgh a few days early). Makes perfect sense.

Well, for seemingly once there was good news out of the newly cleansed PPG Paints Arena today with the team getting a little healthier.

The first immediate reaction might be to note the absence of Kris Letang. Letang did play 27:48 last night, the first game of three in a tight four day window. Coach Mike Sullivan noted it to be a “maintenance day” after practice, which is the best possible news. That’s coach-speak for “expected to play next game”. Letang doesn’t need practice in these situations, so it’s no big deal.

Moonlighting for Letang today in practice was Justin Schultz, who officially is a “game time decision” tomorrow night. If Schultz can go, he probably bumps into Zach Trotman’s spot, being as Chad Ruhwedel was pretty good last night with Marcus Pettersson. But it might be a bit much for Schultz to return to the lineup on the front-end of a back-to-back situation that starts tomorrow, so we will see how that goes.

Jack Johnson (illness) wasn’t at the rink today. It remains unknown his chances to play tomorrow, but coming off a shutout win gives all the more reason to make sure he has time to get healthy and not spread an illness further. Aston-Reese also missed a practice earlier this week with what was called an illness. It’s unknown that the two sicknesses are related, but obviously the LAST thing the Penguins need right now is a contagious disease sweeping through a locker-room that’s barely holding together with the injuries they have.

The best news is probably Bryan Rust in his new-normal spot on the right line with Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin. Rust was also practicing on the team’s top power play group, and while he officially (of course) is a “game time decision”, as all players returning from injury almost always are, the situation certainly looks to be trending towards seeing Rust back as soon as tomorrow night.

Other than that, the Pens carry on. They keep the line they like a lot with Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev in tact (one would think this would be Pittsburgh’s fourth line if they ever got to full strength) and also keep two lines that produced goals together when you see Stefan Noesen staying with Jared McCann and Alex Galchenyuk sticking again with Sam Lafferty. Hey, if it ain’t broke..

And hopefully nothing else will be breaking either. For once this week, it looked to be a positive and encouraging development out of Pens practice with Schultz and Rust each showing they’re that much closer to getting back into the lineup.