Kris Letang has been one of the many Penguins who have suffered recent injuries. (Gene Puskar/AP)
The Penguins rolled through the first month of the season largely unscathed. They were healthy, winning and watched as many of their Metropolitan Division rivals were hit with multiple injuries that altered the course of their collective seasons.
As of November 1, the Penguins had lost just 18 man games to injury and they came at the expense of Robert Bortuzzo and Beau Bennett, who were each injured during the preseason.
It has been a completely different story since then as they have watched impact player after impact player go on the shelf with everything from cancer to fractured bones, which pushed their man games lost total to 61 entering their matchup with the Flames on Friday night.
The Penguins have been forced to operate without Beau Bennett (lower body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Kris Letang (groin), Patric Hornqvist (undisclosed), Chris Kunitz (foot fracture), and Scott Wilson (leg) over the past few games, but they are finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Both Hornqvist and Letang were full participants in practice on Thursday and are officially listed as game time decisions for the game against Calgary.
“Both of those guys looked good today in practice,” coach Mike Johnston said. “Did full practice and took full contact so we expect that they’ll be a game time decision.”
Johnston was pressed further on their availability and said that there was a “good chance” of both players being in the lineup.
Hornqvist has missed two games after taking a big hit at center ice from Vancouver defenseman Ryan Stanton last Thursday and his return will be a big boost to the Penguins top six that is already missing Dupuis and Kunitz.
“I feel good,” Hornqvist said. “It’s probably a game time decision but progress going forward. It’s nice to be on the ice with the boys and getting close to getting ready for the game.”
He’ll likely slot right back on the team’s top line next to Sidney Crosby, who missed practice himself on Thursday due to an illness.
The session was Letang’s second since getting back on ice and he slotted right back on the team’s top defensive pairing with Paul Martin. He’ll also slide back into his slot on the team’s top power play unit.
Though he did skate hard in both practice sessions this week, he wouldn’t confirm that he would be back in the lineup.
“That’s going to be up to the coaches and doctors,” Letang said of his chances of playing on Friday.
It was important to Letang to be completely pain free before coming back. He talked earlier in the week about having setbacks in the past when he tried to return too quickly from various injuries over the course of his career.
“If I’m feeling well, have no pain and can push all the way through, that’s when you can judge if you’re ready or not,” Letang said.
The good didn’t end with Hornqvist and Letang, as Kunitz and Bennett also took the ice on Thursday, albeit before practice. Each still has a few hurdles to overcome before they’ll be able to rejoin the team.
“Chris Kunitz tried skating briefly, but still will not be skating with the team right now,” Johnston said. “He’s progressing slowly. Beau Bennett is in a similar situation.”