Penguins notebook: Fehr, Bennett back at practice

Bill West
| Friday, March 4, 2016, 5:12 p.m.

A day after they defeated the New York Rangers for the first time in five tries, the Penguins proceeded through practice Friday with an air of joy and enthusiasm. They doled out stick taps for a save by goalie Matt Murray and cheered when Carl Hagelin blasted a slap shot by Marc-Andre Fleury.

To return to such an energized practice after extended periods away from the team only added to Eric Fehr and Beau Bennett's satisfaction.

Each of the forwards, absent from the lineup for more than a month, made the next step in the recovery process at Consol Energy Center, where the team prepared for a 3 p.m. Saturday home game against Calgary. Neither Fehr (lower-body injury) nor Bennett (upper-body injury) has a timetable for return. But they came away pleased from their first practice session largely because of the pleasure derived from the company of teammates.

“You're completely isolated when you're injured, and you've finished your work by the time the guys get to the rink,” Fehr said. “So that's one of the toughest parts of being injured. You want to be back in the mix, and you want to help your team win.

“I feel a lot better than I did a month ago. I'm excited to start this process. When you're around the guys a lot more, it's a lot easier.”

Both went through shooting and passing drills prior to the noon start of Friday's practice and remained on the ice when the rest of the team arrived. No contact drills were conducted, so Fehr and Bennett participated in all activities.

Fehr last played Feb. 2 against Ottawa, when he awkwardly went into a corner and struggled to leave the ice under his own power.

Bennett last played against Vancouver on Jan. 23, when he re-aggravated an upper-body ailment that caused him to miss the previous 17 games.

“I was so upset that I'd worked for six weeks so hard to come back, and literally the first hit, back (another) six weeks,” Bennett said. “It's just tough on you mentally when stuff like that happens, but you get over it pretty quick. Once it stops hurting, you're like, ‘OK, this is what I love to do.' I couldn't even imagine not being able to do it every day.”

The latest setback in an injury-riddled career caused Bennett to, at least for a moment, question whether hockey fit into his future plans, he said.

“That's your initial thought, is if you keep getting injured, you don't want to say, ‘Why me?' but I've had some tough luck,” he continued. “I've just got to work hard and hopefully put this behind me. The good thing is I'm only 24.”

Porter out long term

Forward Kevin Porter, called up to the Penguins from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton just as the team's injuries began to mount in mid-December, became the latest player to suffer a long-term ailment.

Coach Mike Sullivan said Porter likely will miss the next 12 weeks after undergoing surgery Friday to repair his right ankle, which he injured after slamming into the corner boards while absorbing a check in Thursday's win.

“It's a tough setback for him and for us,” said Sullivan, who did not yet know who might replace Porter in the lineup Saturday.

Porter, one of the team's penalty killers, appeared in 41 games this season and averaged 11 minutes and 19 seconds of ice time.

On the agenda

Sullivan confirmed Fleury will start in net Saturday against Calgary, which means Murray likely gets the nod Sunday in New Jersey.

Pranksters

Teammates welcomed Justin Schultz, the defenseman acquired from Edmonton in a trade last weekend, to his first practice with the team by hanging his suit from a rope that hung down from Consol Energy Center's catwalk. Written on the back of the jacket in tape was “New Guy.”

“When (Bryan Rust) saw it, too, he said, ‘It happened to me.' Made me feel a little better,” Schultz said. “Maybe I'll ask him (how to get it down).”

Sullivan tolerated the silliness as an exercise in team bonding.

“It's all in good fun,” he said. “I think they enjoy the lighter side of the game, and that's hockey.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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