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Penguins notebook: Winger Carter Rowney progressing, still doesn't play

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, 1:21 p.m.
The Penguins' Carter Rowney checks the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh during the first period Oct. 17, 2017, in New York.
Getty Images
The Penguins' Carter Rowney checks the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh during the first period Oct. 17, 2017, in New York.
The Penguins' Bryan Rust is tripped by the Blackhawks' Jan Rutta in the first period Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Bryan Rust is tripped by the Blackhawks' Jan Rutta in the first period Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

Penguins winger Carter Rowney did not play Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, but he practiced with his teammates Saturday morning — an indication of progress in his recovery from a wrist injury.

He said he first must meet with Penguins medical personnel and get “my legs under me,” but he felt good after the nearly 30-minute workout.

“(The grip on the stick) was feeling good out there,” he said. “(Saturday) was a good step in the right direction.”

Rowney was injured Oct. 21 in Tampa — a day after scoring his first goal of the season in a game at the Florida Panthers — and has been on injured reserve since Oct. 23.

He's been able to maintain his conditioning throughout the rehab process — he only took two days off after the injury — and Saturday was time to get on the ice for further testing, he said. Even while refraining from contact.

“The next step was to try to get out there with the guys, have a little bit of pace and be able to receive their passes,” he said.

Rowney appeared upbeat, but there is no timetable for his return.

“I'll talk it over with the medical staff and see what the next step is,” he said. “I'm just trying to get the pace of the game back and try to get inserted back with the team and get my legs under me.

“It's day-by-day. (Saturday) was a good step. We'll see how it reacts.”

Personnel updates

Defenseman Olli Maatta did not practice Saturday morning, but he played at night.

“Olli wasn't feeling well this morning,” coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the decision to play Maatta was “a game-time decision.”

Defenseman Matt Hunwick played for the first time since suffering a concussion Oct. 17.

Little room for error

Prior to Saturday's games, only seven points separated the three co-leaders in the Metropolitan Division — the Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets (25) — and the last-place Carolina Hurricanes (18).

“It's very similar to last year,” said Sidney Crosby, referring to four teams finishing the regular season with 102 or more points, including the runner-up Penguins (111).

“We're expecting it to be close all the way through,” he said. “We just have to continue to find ways to get points and make sure you try to string some (victories) together, if you can. But it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to gain much ground.”

Third-line center Riley Sheahan said relaxing for a spell can have disastrous results.

“If you're out (of contention) by Christmas or even Thanksgiving, it's definitely hard to climb back,” he said. “You can't let yourself get in a lull and get in a losing streak.”

Time to reflect

The game against the Blackhawks was the Penguins' 22nd, tied with Arizona for the most in the NHL. The team is off until Wednesday — only their second three-day break of the season — and winger Bryan Rust said it will be a good time for some introspection.

“We haven't had a whole lot of practice time and haven't had a whole lot of time to try to make our team better,” he said. “We've been in and out of games.”

The team has a scheduled day off Sunday, but will practice Monday and Tuesday before meeting the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena.

Fights, with a purpose

Noted pugilist Ryan Reaves has been in four fights in his first season with the Penguins, only four fewer than he had all of last season with the St. Louis Blues.

But he said random fighting is down throughout the NHL.

“I guess the type of fights that are fading are the ones that you go out and you line up and say, ‘Hey, let's go,' for no reason,” he said. “Those ones are done.”

He also noted there are fewer “heavyweights” in the league. But fighting isn't dead.

“You still see a lot of somebody had a big hit, and teammates are sticking up for (each other),” Reaves said. “Or, a team is getting run out of the building and needs some energy.”

Saad's homecoming

The Blackhawks' Brandon Saad, another in a long line of Pine-Richland athletes finding success on a national stage, recorded a hat trick in Chicago's 10-1 victory against the Penguins earlier this season. But before Saturday night, he had only two goals in nine games in Pittsburgh.

He said it's not a matter of trying to please the hometown fans.

“I enjoy (playing in Pittsburgh),” said Saad, who left Pine-Richland after his sophomore season but graduated from high school in Michigan while pursuing junior hockey. “It's nice to come back and see family and friends.”

He was able to have dinner with many of them Friday, including cousin Jimmy Fadoul, a defensive tackle at Pine-Richland playing in the WPIAL championship game Saturday.

“I don't follow too much, but just from talking to him, it's pretty exciting.”

He said he doesn't know his fellow Pine-Richland alums who are making names for themselves — Neil Walker (MLB), Meghan Klingenberg (U.S. national soccer team) and Phil Jurkovec (Notre Dame quarterback recruit) — but their success doesn't surprise him. “Pittsburgh is a sports town, and Pine-Richland has a big group of kids and a big selection,” Saad said. “Kids love to play the game of whatever sport. They look up to some pretty good teams to watch.

“But it's pretty crazy how we all came from the same place.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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