Letang, Rust Practice, May Be Nearing Return

Crosby, veterans helping Penguins surge despite absences

Josh Rowntree
March 15, 2019 - 1:57 pm
Penguins forward Bryan Rust at practice in 2019

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

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The Penguins could be getting two massive pieces back to their lineup very soon.

Defenseman Kris Letang and forward Bryan Rust were able to practice, fully, with contact, on Friday as the Penguins prepare for a pair of games this weekend. 

“It’s always good to be back with the guys, just being around everyone, going out there and having fun with everyone and knowing that you’re close is night,” said Rust, who has been out since February 26 with a lower-body injury. 

“I feel strong, I feel good and I don’t feel like I’m favoring anything, so that’s definitely a good sign.”

Letang, meanwhile, has been out with an upper-body injury since a scrap in the February 23 outdoor game against Philadelphia. His return has not been delayed by an illness, but it has been something that he’s had to deal with as he works his way back.

“I got sick during the time I was injured, so I wasn’t able to skate,” he said. “It wasn’t anything crazy. It didn’t effect the injury. Today I had a chance to be more of a part of it, get a little contact with the guys and be out there and get the motion.”

Before the injury, Letang was in the midst of a possible Norris trophy caliber season, with 15 goals and 38 assists. His absence could have been a killer to the Penguins’ blue line but, instead, Pittsburgh has gone 7-1-1 without him and currently sits in third place in the Metropolitan Division.

“There’s a bunch of guys that elevate their games,” Letang said. “Especially our leaders, you kind of see it in their game and everybody has kind of followed. We know we’re in a difficult position and we have to fight for points. It brought the best out of us and we’ve played really well.”

“It’s obviously very nice to be on the sidelines and watching the guys win,” said Rust, who thought his injury might have been more serious, at first, than it turned out to be. “If you’re out and the guys are losing, it makes things a little bit tougher and you try to rush things maybe. But, when the team is winning, you can take your time and make sure you’re ready.”

Veteran leadership, like that from Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who has 15 points in eight games without Rust and Letang, has been key during the rash of injuries. Crosby is just one of several veteran players who has Pittsburgh surge of late.

“It helps a lot,” Crosby said. {Guys don’t have to learn to find their game or try to understand what that is. They just have to focus on what they have to do, and I think experience allows you to do that.”

“They’ve been through so much, the ups and the downs that, inevitably, this League presents to teams and players,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan added. “So they have the benefit of that experience and that perspective. 

“This group of veterans that we have are an accomplished group and they tend to elevate their own respective games when the stakes get high. And they’ve certainly done that the last couple of weeks.”

Sullivan has not ruled out either player for Saturday afternoon’s game against St. Louis, or Sunday night’s contest with rival Philadelphia, both at home. 

“(Practicing fully is) obviously the last step,” Sullivan said. “They were both full contact today. We’ll see how they respond. Right now their status is the same, it’s day-to-day.”

Hear all of what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had to say below.