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Penguins’ Kapanen practices, nears return from foot injury

Darren Dreger says Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews could return next season, and gives an update on Vegas Golden Knights' Robin Lehner's concerns regarding COVID-19 protocols.

PITTSBURGH -- Kasperi Kapanen’s left foot is on the mend. The Pittsburgh forward practiced with his teammates without restrictions Wednesday for the first time since being placed on injured reserve last month.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said there is still no timetable for Kapanen’s return, pointing to a lack of practice time due to the team’s compressed schedule. The Penguins host New Jersey on Thursday night and are in the midst of a particularly busy stretch in which they will play 10 games in 17 days to end the regular season.

That doesn’t leave much time for Kapanen to get back up to speed. It’s more likely at some point he’ll just be thrown into the lineup and see what happens.

“Once I come back, I want to start where I left off,” Kapanen said. “I feel like I was playing my game and I was good.”

Kapanen, reacquired by the Penguins in the offseason from Toronto, has seven goals and 14 assists in 30 games. After some issues early in the season, he flourished when moved next to Evgeni Malkin on the second line. Malkin has been out since getting hurt on March 16, with Kapanen joining him on the sideline a week later.

“That’s hockey,” Kapanen said. “Unfortunately I feel like me and (Malkin) were really meshing together and playing well and we were hot. So whenever you feel that way you want to be able to play. Just bad luck on our part.”

Pittsburgh is 9-3-1 during Kapanen’s absence to pull within a point of Washington and the New York Islanders for first place in the East Division.

“We’ve got a lot of guys out,” Kapanen said. “A lot of guys have been stepping up and being major and being key for the team. That’s always a good thing to see. You see guys with confidence out there. So it’s fun to see.

The surge includes a bizarre 7-6 victory over the Devils on Tuesday in which the Penguins nearly let a six-goal lead slip away in the third period.

Sullivan spent 10 minutes at practice on Thursday going over one of the uglier periods of hockey in the franchise’s history. He’s not worried about there being a carryover effect.

“We’ve had a lot of success playing a game a certain way and it’s a matter of making sure we get back to the discipline of the details and a certain competitiveness that gives us an opportunity to have success,” Sullivan said. “And for me that’s how you obtain consistent results in this league, is a compete level. And then it boils down to attention to detail and that’s the team game we need to respond with. “