Penguins notebook: Kunitz 'not at 100 percent'
Humbled by an attempt to rush back from a lower-body injury just days before the All-Star break, winger Chris Kunitz kept his optimism in check as he assessed his first practice with the Penguins in more than a week.
“Definitely not at 100 percent,” he said. “You've just got to wait to see 'til (Tuesday). I think every day that's gone by, I felt better and better doing more and more. Today was the first time being on the ice, doing the motions of shooting and getting your legs going one way, your body going the other, a whole bunch of twisting and things like that.”
Whether Kunitz, whose injury stemmed from when he crashed into the boards back-first in a Jan. 21 win over Philadelphia, lands in the lineup for Tuesday's 7 p.m. game against the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center is up to coach Mike Sullivan, who described his winger as a “game-time decision.”
At no point did Kunitz pull himself out of drills Monday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, despite the physical nature of the practice.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “I haven't skated for a little more than a week, so I think that's tough in itself. Hopefully the body responds well.”
His patience became more pronounced after he unsuccessfully tried to tough his way through the warm-up of the Penguins' Jan. 23 home game against the Vancouver Canucks. Initially described as in the lineup by Sullivan, Kunitz became a late scratch. He did not practice the next day, nor did he dress for the Penguins' final game before the break Jan. 26.
“I thought I was going to be all right,” he said of his Jan. 23 scratch. “And then I went out, and I was really limited in doing certain things. I didn't think that I was putting my team in a very good situation if I can only go to 50 percent or do certain things that I'm questioning myself out there about. You have to be professional enough to know that you don't want to cause any more injury, but you always want to be out there to help your team any time you can.”
Winger Beau Bennett, who suffered a shoulder injury 8 minutes into a Dec. 14 game against the Washington Capitals and aggravated the injury in his first game back Jan. 23, is on the injured reserve list and unlikely to come off it anytime soon.
“He's longer term,” said Sullivan, who offered little in the way of additional information. “As we get more details, and he gets closer, we'll let you know.”
Sullivan also lacked new information on center Nick Bonino, who injured his hand Jan. 12, but he said defenseman David Warsofsky, out since Jan. 17 with concussion symptoms, skated Monday morning.
“I think he took the next step, which is great from our standpoint and his standpoint,” Sullivan said. “That's certainly progress for him.”
With Kunitz, Bennett and Bonino out or questionable to return to the lineup, the Penguins recalled forwards Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson on Monday.
Sheary and Wilson, who were sent down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the NHL All-Star break, appeared in a pair of games with the Baby Pens. Sheary tallied three assists during the stint, and Wilson had a pair of goals.
Wilson's 22 goals lead the AHL, and Sheary's 29 assists are second in the league.
A day after John Scott became the darling of the NHL, the Penguins upgraded the contract of their organization's top enforcer, Tom Sestito, who inked a 1-year, two-way deal after joining the organization on a 25-game AHL tryout contract.
The contract will pay him a prorated share of $575,000 when and if he's in the NHL.
Sestito went on waivers Monday. If he's not claimed by Tuesday at noon, he will be returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's roster. He then will be available for a future call-up.
A 6-foot-5, 228-pound winger, he has two goals and six points in 19 games with the Baby Pens. He missed 16 games with a lower-body injury.
The 28-year-old led the NHL with 19 fighting majors for Vancouver in 2013-14. He has found fewer willing combatants in the AHL this season, fighting three times.
“He brings a different dynamic that other prospects don't have,” Penguins associate general manager Jason Botterill said. “With more divisional games here in February and March, you just never know when you're going to need that element.”
After a month in which he led all defensemen in points, Penguins blue-liner Kris Letang earned the NHL's Third Star honor for the month.
Letang, who had three goals and 11 assists in January, joined Washington forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford as the league's three stars.