May 3, 2014, PITTSBURGH (ISN) – Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik skated Saturday for the first time since sustaining an undisclosed injury, but his status remains unknown for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Rangers.
Orpik participated in Pittsburgh’s optional practice Saturday morning along with several Penguins. The group consisted mostly of players who aren’t expected to play in Game 2 on Sunday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Orpik has not officially rejoined the team and left the ice several minutes before any other player.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who does not offer injury updates during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, did not discuss Orpik’s injury.
Forward Lee Stempniak, who was acquired from the Calgary Flames at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline, described how he viewed Orpik as an opposing player.
“He’s physical. He’s a really good defender,” Stempniak said. “He skates well, he moves well and he’s hard to play against. I think that’s one thing from playing against him for years, he’s hard to play against. He makes you earn every inch of ice and he’s really strong.
“He’s good in the corners, but he’s also good skating and you have to keep your head up because he’s a good hitter.”
After being sidelined for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers in Game 1 on Friday, the 33-year-old defenseman has missed three consecutive games. He has been out of the lineup since leaving midway through practice April 25.
Pittsburgh has its healthiest lineup in several months, but the loss of Orpik has been felt. The Penguins have surrendered three goals in two of the three games he has missed. Pittsburgh coaches and players have called Orpik their defensive leader during the past week, but defenseman Robert Bortuzzo has earned praise for his ability to bring a similar physical presence.
“It’s a big loss. He brings a different dimension to our team, but I think Robert Bortuzzo has done a really good job,” Stempniak said. “He brings a lot of that too. He’s physical and he skates. He’s kind of a gritty player out there that gets under the players’ skin. He does a really good job too.”
Bortuzzo has played well in the first three postseason games of his NHL career, but has not received the minutes Orpik customarily plays. Orpik skated more than 21 minutes in each of his four games this postseason; Bortuzzo has not surpassed 16.
“It’s great [to see Orpik on the ice],” Bortuzzo said. “We know what he means to our team on and off the ice. In our room, he’s a big leader and a big part of what we’re doing here. On the ice, his presence is a big part of what we’re doing here. He’s physical and he moves the puck fantastically and just to have him out there right now and just know he’s moving forward is big for us.
“I’m just taking it game by game here. I do feel like I’m gaining a little more confidence moving forward … I feel like I’m gaining some of the coaching staff’s trust.”
GENE J. PUSKAR — AP Photo