Three Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins missed Thursday’s practice at the Toyota Sportsplex, and head coach John Hynes was fine with it.
Ultimately, after a week where Hynes saw two more of his players get called up to Pittsburgh, he was just happy to get three back.
Pittsburgh sent down forwards Nick Drazenovic and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and defenseman Simon Despres on Thursday morning. The trio didn’t make it back in time for the Penguins late morning practice, but Hynes said they will join the team later in the day in Providence, where Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will take on the Bruins tonight.
“Anytime you can add those three to your lineup, it’s nice,” Hynes said. “With so many guys injured and others coming back from injury, you know there’s going to be some lineup fluctuation. We’re used to that.”
The moves allow Hynes to reform his top line with Drazenovic centering Harry Zolnierczyk and Tom Kostopoulos. He also regains a valuable fourth line winger in Leblond, whose toughness will be needed when the team takes on a Bruins lineup that has noted enforcer Bobby Robins.
Hynes also gains a skilled, experienced defenseman in Despres, who has been up in Pittsburgh since being recalled on Nov. 27.
“It will be nice for him to get back to playing regular minutes and against other teams top lines,” Hynes said. “Those are things he thrived in when he was here before.”
Aside from the new faces, tonight’s game kicks off a three-game set this weekend that leads off against the Bruins, takes the Penguins to Portland on Saturday to face the Pirates before returning to Providence on Sunday to close out the trip.
The Penguins haven’t seen Providence since they eliminated them in the second round of last season’s playoffs in a grueling seven-game series.
Despite the lack of head-to-head meetings, the Penguins are well aware of what to expect from the Bruins.
“After last year’s playoff series, we know they’re a good team and we know the style they play,” said winger Bobby Farnham. “I think that playoff series in in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s a pretty good rivalry.”
Farnham and Zolnierczyk will be making a homecoming of sorts this weekend as well. Both players went to school at Brown University, which is in Providence, and Farnham grew up nearby and said the game gives his family and friends and chance to come watch him play.
“It’s always fun to go on the road, but this one I especially like,” Farnham said. “It’s great to go back to Providence and play and I really love playing in their rink.”
- This weekend’s road trip will take the Penguins to two places they haven’t been this season - Providence and Portland. Next weekend they’ll hit the road for another new destination in Norfolk. Hynes likes the fact that his team is seeing some new venues, and new opponents, as the season nears the midway point.
“Different cities, difference arenas, it’s nice,” he said. “I like that we’re getting some different environments at this time of year because it keeps things fresh.”
- Injured center Adam Payerl shot the puck off the ice while his teammates practiced on Thursday. Hynes said Payerl is making progress but is still a few weeks away from returning to the lineup.