Derick Brassard practices with Penguins, hopeful to return Saturday
Imagine Derick Brassard and Sidney Crosby, two 31-year-old hockey players who have devoted their life to the game, being part of a team and injured, sitting together in a room and watching the Pittsburgh Penguins lose another one.
“There were a couple guys watching the game (Thursday night), and you just want to be out there,” Brassard said. “The toughest part is just to watch and feel you can’t really help out.”
For Crosby, the 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was the first game he has missed since suffering an upper-body injury Tuesday night in New Jersey. He skated on his own Friday for the second consecutive day.
Brassard’s situation is different.
He returned to full practice Friday, an encouraging sign for his chances to play Saturday in Ottawa, but he’s been out with a lower-body injury since collecting three assists Oct. 25 in a 9-1 victory against the Calgary Flames.
“There’s a good chance (of playing Saturday), but I have to talk to everyone,” he said.
Brassard sat out nine games and hated every missed shift — and not just because the Penguins are 2-7 in that stretch.
“It took a long time,” he said. “I was getting frustrated a little bit. Some days, you’re feeling fine and the next day you wake up and it’s not coming back, but you feel a little sore.”
Losing Crosby for perhaps a week is bad enough, but the Penguins have weathered that storm in the past, compiling a 97-53-19 all-time record when their star center is out.
But now Crosby isn’t playing at a time when the Penguins (7-7-3) have fallen into a tie for last place in the Eastern Conference with the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils.
“I feel like I should be out there with the guys,” Brassard said.
His availability will be determined Saturday when he wakes up in Ottawa. The morning after the first practice is never easy, but he said he’s “pretty close” to being cleared to play by the doctors. Of course, with no guarantees.
“His status is day-to-day,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ll see how he responds. I thought he looked good in practice. We’ll re-evaluate (Saturday). We’ll take each day as it comes.
“He’s certainly a guy who is going to make our team better when he’s in our lineup. The fact that he’s as close as he is is encouraging for us.”
If Brassard returns, he could line up among the top six forwards.
“It could be good for Brass, for sure,” Sullivan said. “I do think it would be something that he’s comfortable with because he’s done it his whole career. It’s not anything he hasn’t handled in the past, and (he’s) done a very good job at it.
“One of the things that we talked about when we acquired Brass (in a trade with Ottawa in February) was this very scenario. To be able to have a guy who’s as talented as he is, who has a track record of being a proven top-six center ice man in this league, is encouraging from our standpoint.
“He’s making progress. We’re certainly excited he joined the team (Friday).”
That’s an emotion Brassard, who has one goal and four assists this season, is starting to feel now that his long wait may be over.
“I love playing the game,” he said. “I want to play, I want to practice with the guys, I want to travel with the guys. I want to be around the team, and the last three weeks I wasn’t able to do that.
“I like the way I started the season. I had a stretch of a period of time that I was producing offense, but nothing was going in. When I got hurt, I had a good game in Calgary. Now I have to start from scratch and go out there with an open mind and be free and have fun.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.