Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury returned to practice with their teammates yesterday afternoon at the CONSOL Energy Center as the team gears up for a game at Madison Square Garden tonight against the Rangers. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will not be in the lineup as both are still working their way back onto the ice.
“Sidney Crosby is cleared to do very light exercises as part of his functional rehab,” coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday after practice. “Until he progresses, we’re not going to the next level for that.”
Crosby will miss his 10th straight game tonight and the team is now able to take the long-term injury reserve exception on him retroactively. LTIR status will only affect the Penguins salary cap totals and Crosby is still eligible to return to the lineup whenever he’s ready. (Players on LTIR must miss at least 10 games AND 24 days, which Crosby has done)
Bylsma stressed that Malkin was being held out as a result of a sinus infection, and not the knee injury that has been nagging him most of the season. How Malkin looks upon his return will confirm whether the knee is fully healed or the team is just trying to divert attention away from his vulnerability on the ice.
Dustin Jeffrey has been recalled from Wilkes-Barre Scranton (AHL) and should make it back into the Penguins lineup tonight. He was demoted last Wednesday to keep him on the ice and as a way for the team to save salary cap money over the long All-Star break.
According to Tyler Kennedy‘s agent, there have been no talks between his camp and the Penguins with regards to an extension at this point. Kennedy will become a restricted free agent this offseason and is making $725k in the final year of his two-year deal.
UPDATE: Mark Letestu (lower-body) has returned to Pittsburgh for further medical evaluation and Eric Godard (broken orbital) has been activated from long-term injured reserve to take his spot for tonight.
Sidney Crosby was placed on injured reserve to open a spot for Godard on the 23-man roster and the Penguins will be able to take the LTIR exception on him retroactively tomorrow. Until Crosby returns from injury, it’s not possible to determine the financial implications of Crosby’s LTIR status. There should be a small benefit and we’ll update this info heading into the February 28 trade deadline.
Letang and Fleury seemed to enjoy the All-Star weekend and all the festivities surrounding the event.
Fleury got off to a rough start in Sunday’s game, allowing four goals in the first 5:41, and joked that he thought his night might be over at that point.
“I was looking to the bench to see if I was going to get pulled or something,” he said. “It was a little rough to start with, but it was fun. It was good that it was tied after the first and even [Tim] Thomas let four goals in too.”
Fleury was all smiles after the game and took every opportunity he could to rip his buddy Letang:
Letang relished the freedom to ignore all defensive responsibilities and flew around the offensive zone for most of the game. He finished the night with two goals and responded to Fleury’s joke about him being scared to shoot in the first period.
“Sometimes you want to pass because there’s guys in front and you don’t want to shoot and hurt someone…like I did! [laughs] But obviously it’s a game you want to be spectacular, you want to have a good show for the fans so maybe I just tried to get too cute.”
Letang nailed goalie Jonas Hiller of Anaheim in the face with a hard wrist shot midway through the game and seemed to pull back a little after that point. He said all things considered, his first All-Star appearance was a memorable one.
“It was great. It was an experience that I am always going to have [memories from]. I enjoyed it. To be honest it was a great weekend and everybody here was very professional and it was a really good environment.
The Penguins will face the New York Rangers and Marc Staal tonight, the All-Star defenseman Letang was paired up with for most of the weekend. It actually wasn’t the first time the two had been defense partners. “I used to play with him in the World Juniors [tournament], two years in a row, so I guess they wanted to bring back that chemistry.”
One observation from the weekend in Raleigh…
The All-Star game is a great opportunity to compare the different personalities of players from around the league all in one room. Boston’s Zdeno Chara sat in his stall for close to 25 minutes after the game on Sunday answering (and re-answering) every single reporter’s questions while the rest of the room emptied out. Other players mumbled and grumbled through a few canned responses before grabbing a towel and walking away.
As I waited to talk with Letang after the game, I noticed Frank Buonomo (Penguins Senior Director of Team Operations) holding off a few non-Pittsburgh reporters giving Letang a chance to untie his skates and get settled. Once Letang was ready to talk, Buonomo moved the media swarm out into the middle of the room so that everyone would have space to breathe.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s Paul Stastny stood in the stall next to Letang getting picked off by reporters and overwhelmed with no team officials in the area (as far as I could tell). What do you think was going through Stastny’s mind as he was left to fend for himself while Letang was being shielded from the crowd and given space to get undressed first?
This type of story never gets reported, but you can be sure that players pick up on how their colleagues from other cities are treated at events like this. Word spreads about the above-and-beyond treatment from the Penguins’ staff and it’s an important reason why GM Ray Shero is able to lure free agents to town.
When the team was courting prized free agent Paul Martin this summer, a call and a huge plug from Jordan Leopold was a big factor in Martin’s ultimate decision to come to Pittsburgh long-term. Leopold played just 20 regular season games and 8 playoff games for the Penguins last year and gave the plug as he was on his way out the door to Buffalo. That speaks volumes.
An interesting observation from Larry Brooks of the New York Post this weekend in the aftermath of Marc Savard‘s most recent concussion:
Apparently, our little corner of the hockey world is the only one that reacted with stunned disbelief to the Bruins’ failure to respond two weeks ago when Pittsburgh’s Deryk Engelland smashed Marc Savard into the boards with a forearm to the mouth that left the Boston center “woozy.”
How is it possible that an organization of such heritage, one that lists Cam Neely on the letterhead as club president, could simply watch again — again! — while Savard was hammered again — again! — by the same team — again! — without a response? It was no accident the Bruins were so psychologically weak they were beaten by the Flyers after taking a 3-0 lead in games and then a 3-0 lead at home in Game 7 of the conference semis last spring.
It’s not going to be an accident when this team of imposing ability and strength on the ice underachieves again.
One of the things I hate about the NHL right now is after any big hit, even clean ones, teammates will run after the deliverer and try to start a fight. Matt Cooke‘s viscious elbow on Savard last year? Sure, Boston should have responded and stuck up for their teammate in that situation. But just because Savard was woozy after a clean hit from Engelland doesn’t mean his teammates should have ran in to fight.
Wilkes-Barre Penguins goaltender John Curry has been knocking on the door of the NHL since 2007 but can’t seem to catch a break. He represented the Penguins at the AHL All-Star Game and says in this feature that he’s still hoping to make it to Pittsburgh some day:
“Pittsburgh as an organization, they’ll tell you in every meeting, ‘You’re part of our organization but you’re doing this for yourself.’ Coach (Dan) Bylsma used to tell us at the beginning of the season, ‘Your shot in the NHL might not come here.’ I hope it does. You can look at the situation and say it doesn’t look great, but you’ve seen crazier things happen. I really do hope it comes in Pittsburgh. It’s a great team, a great organization, a great city to play for.”
The NHLPA and Hockey Night in Canada conducted a player’s poll that yielded some interesting results:
- Sidney Crosby (69%) was selected as the most desirable player to build a franchise around. (Alex Ovechkin somehow only got 2%)
- Crosby also ranked 1st as the toughest forward to play against. With Pavel Datsyuk at #2, players obviously didn’t interpret this question as brute physical strength.
- More Crosby recognition: Top role model, smartest player, 2nd best skater, 2nd toughest player to stop (goalie opinion), and 2nd hardest player to take the puck off.
- Despite a lot of early season complaints, the CONSOL Energy Center managed to avoid the ‘Worst ice’ list. That distinction went to the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, FLA.
- Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato was ranked 3rd on ‘Which current assistant coach should be the next head coach?’ list. Granato coached the Colorado Avalanche from 2002-04 as well as the 2008-09 season.
- Dan Bylsma was the #1 coach that players would want to play for. He ranked 5th on the list of coaches that demand the most from their players, and (surprisingly) also ranked 3rd on the easiest coach to play for list. Demanding and easy to play for isn’t a common combination. Being portrayed in such a positive light in the HBO 24/7 series probably did wonders for his reputation around the league.