Quite a bit of news and notes around the Penguins on Tuesday, let’s jump right in and get all caught up and sorted out.
First, the Penguins have established a taxi squad for short-term boosts to help them fill out a full roster after six players entered COVID protocol earlier.
The Penguins have assigned forward Kasper Bjorkqvist, defensemen P.O Joseph and Juuso Riikola, and goaltender Louis Domingue to the taxi squad from the @WBSPenguins.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2021
Details: https://t.co/4c8mdgOcKZ pic.twitter.com/YHi6rhrwBk
The only thing particularly surprising is that early reports from the media about the taxi squad indicated that waiver non-eligible players (like Joseph and Bjorkqvist) couldn’t be on it, yet the Pens did it, so they must. Anyways, whether they’re on the 23 player roster or taxi squad, they’re in Pittsburgh.
But, a Lee Corsi sized — NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND! — about Joseph:
Mike Sullivan said that P.O Joseph tested positive for COVID in the AM. https://t.co/G6f4uDTHBG— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 28, 2021
Adding Riikola only leaves Pittsburgh with six healthy defenders, so another name from Wilkes might be added.
Just how long a taxi squad might be needed could shift as the times do. The CDC updated recommendations today, shortening the length of isolation from 10 days to five for a positive COVID case. The NFL, NBA and now NHL are exploring these new guidelines and could all be adjusting how they handle positive cases, as we learn more about dealing with the contagious but apparently usually not terribly symptomatic variant.
Sources: NHL & NHLPA engaged in talks about allowing asymptomatic players to return to play earlier.— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) December 28, 2021
The two sides have been in constant communication about protocols, but latest push follows new CDC recommendation shortening isolation periods. NBA has made similar adjustment.
This could be huge for the Pens, since Sullivan also said today:
“Nothing’s changed with respect to their symptoms or lack thereof, from yesterday. Most of them are all asymptomatic. A couple of them have very mild symptoms. So we’re fortunate in that regard.”
If the NHL/NHLPA does move to shorten the isolation window, the Penguin players who entered the COVID protocol earlier this week (Rodrigues, Jarry, Marino, Blueger, Matheson, Simon) might not miss much time at all....Because the Pens’ last remaining scheduled game in 2021 on Friday in Ottawa has very unsurprisingly been postponed as of today.
As of now, the next scheduled game is against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday January 2nd, which feels like a long time away but is five days.
In even more news, the Pens were back on the ice for a practice and Jake Guentzel (out yesterday with a non-COVID illness) was back in a regular contact jersey, and also a spot on the first line.
#Pens lines at practice:— Josh Getzoff (@PensJG) December 28, 2021
The one item that stands out the most right now with that alignment is Evgeni Malkin taking fourth line rushes on the wing. That could suggest he is not a lock to play in the very next game, whenever that might be. It kinda feels assumed Malkin will play the next time the Pens do, but his rehab might need a bit more time, especially when he’s only taking work as a fourth line placeholder at the moment.
However — as fast as more certain immediate future returns go — the path looks increasingly promising for Guentzel and Bryan Rust, who practiced again with a no-contract jersey himself.
Guentzel confirmed what many thought, he broke a bone in his hand when it was struck by a puck from an opponent’s shot in Seattle on December 6th:
Guentzel had 15 goals in 24 games before going down. "Obviously was playing well... Just got to make sure you're doing everything you can so that when you get back, you're ready to go and keeping it going."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) December 28, 2021
All things considered, it’s probably a lucky break (no pun intended...OK, maybe a little bit of pun intended) that having any type of fracture only cost Guentzel about three weeks of availability, seems like that one could have been worse or a longer timeline.
Guentzel, who was a full participant in practice, on his injury: "You've just got to deal with it and take it in stride and make sure you're doing everything you can so that when you get back, you're ready to go and keeping it going."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 28, 2021
More from practice: https://t.co/Bp8Tp4TtZ8 pic.twitter.com/zRrMmrC1DS
Otherwise, it’s going to be a few days of practice for the Pens, who will gear back up to get their season off the ground at some point, with a lineup you probably can’t predict right now at the moment.
Sullivan says he doesn't know if the #Pens will ever get a fully healthy lineup: "We'd like to get close. We'd take that."— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) December 28, 2021
Don’t we all, Sully, don’t we all.