PITTSBURGH – The All-Star break was supposed to be a chance for the Pittsburgh Penguins to get healthy for the stretch run, but even the best-laid plans can go amiss.
Rookie center Mark Letestu suffered a lower-body injury at yesterday’s morning skate in New York and was seen on crutches prior to last night’s 4-3 shootout win over the New York Rangers. His status is unknown for tonight’s home matchup against the New York Islanders, but preliminary reports indicate he will miss some time.
Winger Arron Asham also sustained an upper-body injury last night and did not return to the game, also making his availability unknown. Asham has missed 13 games this season as a result of injuries, including an October shoulder injury that cost him nine games.
General Manager Ray Shero announced that Eric Tangradi has been recalled from Wilkes-Barre Scranton (AHL) and will likely make his first appearance in a Penguins uniform since an Oct. 23 demotion. After an impressive preseason and a confusing opening night, the 6-4 winger scored just one goal in nine NHL games and was sent down with the hope he could regain his confidence at the AHL level. Tangradi is currently tied for the Wilkes-Barre team lead in goals with 18 and sits fourth in points with 32 in 42 games.
To make room for Tangradi on the 23-man roster, the Penguins placed Evgeni Malkin (knee, sinus infection) on injured reserve. Malkin took part in an optional morning skate today with a few teammtes but will be unavailable for tonight’s game. Malkin’s IR status will be retroactive to his last game played on Jan. 18, allowing him to return to the lineup at any point (Injured reserve rules require a player to miss a minimum of 7 days).
Sidney Crosby (concussion) also remains on IR, and the team is now eligible to take the long-term injury exception on him, freeing up additional salary cap spending. As we reported yesterday, the ultimate financial benefit of Crosby’s LTIR status cannot be determined until he returns to the lineup.
If Asham and Letestu are unable to play in tonight’s game and Jordan Staal is suspended for his sucker punch that resulted in a match penalty last night, the Penguins may be forced to dress defenseman Deryk Engelland at forward to fill out their lineup.
UPDATE (1:10 p.m.): According to the Penguins’ website, “The NHL reviewed [Jordan Staal’s] match penalty from Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden and has determined there will be no further action taken.” He is expected to be in the lineup tonight.
Sam Kasan with the Penguins also reported that Malkin and Ben Lovejoy underwent an intense skate this morning with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. Lovejoy will likely be the healthy scratch tonight against the Islanders.
UPDATE (5:45 p.m.): Bylsma said that Letestu underwent an MRI today on his injured knee today and the team expects results by tomorrow.
Re: Arron Asham: “He has an upper-body injury and is day-to-day and won’t be in the lineup tonight.”
Re: Evgeni Malkin: “Had a good day today skating and appears to be progressing towards playing later this week.”
Re: Sidney Crosby: “Nothing new on Sidney today.”
Eric Tangradi also spoke with the media and said he expected to have a few days off to rest but couldn’t be more excited about getting the call-up to Pittsburgh. “Tonight feels like my first NHL game all over again, same energy, same excitement. I really feel like I’m playing the best hockey of my career right now. As far as confidence, I think that’s an issue in the past. I think I’m at a point right now where I’m where I need to be to be successful. I’m very satisfied with the way I’ve been playing of late and I’m going to continue that into tonight.”
Staal talked about his match penalty and said “stuff like that happens in hockey. The way it ended up, I just kinda reacted to a few plays that happened and it’s obviously not what I wanted to do. It’s one of those spur of the moments things where you don’t really know what happened and next thing you know you’re going to the box. I was a little surprised [at the match penalty] when the refs told me I had to get out of there and obviously I wasn’t happy about it, but they’re the refs and if I tried to argue they wouldn’t change their mind.”
Bylsma on Staal’s penalty: “I think what happened on the ice was reactionary. He went in to take exception to the hit on [Tyler Kennedy]. They both kind of engaged and knowing Jordan and knowing the situation he was reacting to, it’s certainly unfortunate. He does take a penalty for sure, but I don’t think there was intent [to injure] and I didn’t think there would be a suspension. But the league is looking at that and they have the rules in place and I certainly was relieved to see they interpreted it that way.”
We’ll update this throughout the day as more information becomes available.