After skating separately with conditioning coach Mike Kadar previously, Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen advanced Sunday to participating in an optional morning skate at Consol Energy Center.
"It feels good to be out with the team again," said Niskanen, smiling. "Mike Kadar does a good job, but that gets old pretty quickly."
Niskanen marked two weeks since he got a right ankle injury in a game at Ottawa. The game against New Jersey Sunday night at Consol Energy Center was the eighth he missed.
"It is feeling better," he said. "I'm able to do more and more things on the ice every day. I'd like to think I'm close, but we'll just have to wait and see how I progress. I've got a few more steps to take."
Coach Dan Bylsma, noting that the original prognosis was for Niskanen to be out two to four weeks, said that he is "progressing."
Niskanen had been paired with Kris Letang, who missed a third game in a row because of an unspecified injury.
Because of those injuries and a trade that sent Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim, Niskanen has had a chance to watch three less-experienced defensemen play.
"They've done a great job," Niskanen said. "Simon Despres has been awesome. Robert Bortuzzo has been really solid. Dylan Reese has done really well in the short time that he's been here.
"It's fun to watch young guys come in and have success."
Niskanen didn't express any concern that his injury will cost him a spot on the lineup, but neither is he going to allow himself any measure of complacency.
"That's the challenging but good thing about having a lot of depth on your team, in your organization," he said. "Guys can step in and play. Guys who are regulars have got to stay on their toes and stay sharp all the time because people are pushing to make the team. They want to be a part of this as much as we do. That's a healthy thing for a team. It pushes everyone."
Morrow brought up
The Penguins put Letang on injured reserve retroactively -- he remains "day to day," Bylsma said, and is eligible to be activated as soon as Wednesday for a home game against Ottawa -- and recalled defenseman Joe Morrow.
Bylsma called summoning Morrow from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League an "insurance" move because the team has some "bumps and bruises." He did not dress for the game against the Devils but took the pregame warm-up.
Morrow, 20, is a first-year pro who was a first-round draft pick in 2011. With Wilkes-Barre this season, Morrow has two goals, 10 points in 39 games.
"He can skate. He's big. He's a strong guy," Bylsma said of the 6-foot-1, 204-pound rookie. "He's highlighted for his shot, his offensive ability, his skating ability, which is very high-end. But he's also a big body, a farmer-strong kind of player down low."
There was some confusion for viewers Saturday over what Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik did to receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 16:58 of the third period in the first of back-to-back games against the Devils.
Turns out, Orpik shared that confusion.
"I got hit by [David] Clarkson late behind the play," Orpik said. "I said something to Clarkson and got a penalty for saying something to Clarkson. That was a first for me.
"But they were calling a lot [Saturday], so I guess they shouldn't be so surprised."
The Penguins were short-handed 10 times in the game.
Sixteen Penguins participated in the optional morning skate. ... The Penguins wore their blue alternate uniforms for the first time this season. The team has not released a schedule for the uniform. ... In addition to Morrow, the Penguins scratched forwards Joe Vitale and Eric Tangradi. Forward Dustin Jeffrey dressed for the first time since Jan. 31. ... Connor McDavid, the 16-year-old star who plays for Erie of the Ontario Hockey League, watched the game from the suite of Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter: @pgshelly. First Published February 11, 2013 5:00 AM