By Brian Metzer
February 9, 2015
Blake Comeau celebrates the first of his three goals for the Penguins in front of Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier in the first period of a November 2014 game in Pittsburgh.(Gene Puskar/AP)
The Penguins have been getting healthier over the past two weeks and they will be even more so as soon as Wednesday, when forward Blake Comeau may make his return to the lineup.
Comeau, who has been out with an upper-body injury since Dec. 22, was back on the ice with the Penguins during their practice session Monday afternoon. He was a full participant in all drills and showed no residual effects of his injury.
“It felt good,” Comeau said. “That was a good test for me today to do all the battle drills, the one-on-one stuff, stuff where I had to hold onto the stick. Everything went well, no problem. Just go day-to-day here and get some flow skates, keep skating with the team and see how it goes.”
The Penguins' record stood at 22-6-5 when Comeau was knocked out of the lineup, but they have gone just 8-9-3 without him. That is only due in part to his absence, but there is no question about Comeau’s value this season.
Even after missing 20 games, he still ranks eighth on the team in scoring with 19 points. His 11 goals are tied for fifth and his ability to play anywhere in the lineup, including on the second line next to Evgeni Malkin, has forced others into roles that may not have seen them thrive.
Head coach Mike Johnston didn’t seem completely sure about where he would use Comeau but was quick to mention the visible chemistry between Comeau and Malkin when the duo skated together earlier this season. He placed Comeau back on a line with Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on Monday during line rushes.
The coach didn’t officially confirm whether Comeau would be able to participate in the game on Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings, but he didn’t rule it out either.
“It’s not out of the question, but it’s not definite, for sure,” said Johnston. “I’ll wait and see and if he doesn’t play Wednesday, I don’t know if he’ll play Thursday (at Ottawa). So it’s probably a Wednesday-Thursday combination. If he is available, will he play a back-to-back after being out that long? That’s something we’ll have to decide, if we can manage his minutes or not.”
The good news for Comeau is that he has been skating for awhile now on his own, so conditioning isn’t going to be as big a problem for him as it might have been for someone like Hornqvist, who was dealing with a lower-body injury.
“There was a period where I wasn’t allowed to skate, which kind of sucked. But once I did come back, it was just skating with no pucks,” Comeau said. “A lot of bag skates, but that’s part of it. Do the work while I was out so that when I do come back, my legs are feeling good.”
Comeau, who joked about being sick of team strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar, is pretty excited about his imminent return. He wasn’t happy about not being able to help the team through the tough times that they went through in recent weeks.
It was also hard to be away from the team so much. He and his teammates were what could be described as “ships passing in the night.”
“It sucks being away from the guys. It almost seems like you’re at the rink and doing rehab early in the morning and they’re doing their own thing, which is the part that sucks,” Comeau said. "It is just nice to be back with the guys and just be a part of the group. Hopefully, I’ll get back as soon as possible.”
His main focus on Monday and over the next few days of practice is to get his timing back. That is probably the toughest part of any return from the injured list. Being in peak condition is one thing, but a player must shake the rust and again get a feel for the puck.
That is why he focused so much on conditioning over the past couple of weeks, so that his legs would be fresh and he could focus on his play.
“I think when you miss that amount of time, it’s just about getting your timing back, which I think is going to come practicing with the team doing those fast-paced drills, the two-on-ones and things in tight. I felt pretty good doing that. Anytime you miss that amount of time, especially at this time of the year, everyone is playing at a really high pace, so it was important to keep my legs in the best shape that I could. Now it’s just a matter of getting my timing back.”
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