Martin, Neal likely to return soon; no timetable for Crosby

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There is a chance defenseman Paul Martin will return to the Penguins lineup before the regular season ends, coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday before the game against Buffalo at Consol Energy Center.

Martin, who has missed 11 games with a broken bone in his hand, rejoined practice Tuesday when he participated in an optional game-day skate, giving his coach reason to believe a return is coming Saturday at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"He's continuing to progress," said Bylsma. "He returned to full team practice. ... Hopefully, he'll be able to do that a few more times remaining this week, and it's a potential he could return to play in one of these games."

Bylsma said winger James Neal is on the verge of returning to practice full time with the team in a "short time period" but there is no timeline for center Sidney Crosby, who has missed 10 games with a broken jaw. Neal, who missed his seventh game because of a concussion, practiced briefly with the team Sunday.

"Sidney, while he's skating and continues to skate, [we] don't have a timeline, or time frame on him yet," said Bylsma.

Crosby and Neal skated early Tuesday before an optional team skate that included Martin, Steve MacIntyre, , Kris Letang, Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Depres, Evgeni Malkin, Beau Bennett and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Kunitz adjusts to new role

Penguins winger Chris Kunitz has played in all 46 games and entered the Penguins game against Buffalo tied for sixth in the NHL with 49 points.

That doesn't mean the 33-year-old isn't able to take on new assignments. He has also been killing penalties for the past week or so.

"It's a new challenge," said Kunitz. "It's something I've done growing up on different teams."

Bylsma said having Kunitz play short-handed is not necessarily a product of injuries that have plagued the Penguins and that the assignment will continue into the playoffs.

"It's something that takes a little bit to get comfortable, especially when you're usually on the other side of the puck," said Kunitz, a regular on the power play.

Sabres rookie returns to town

It only had been about a week and a half since Buffalo defenseman Chad Ruhwedel played at Consol Energy Center, but a lot had changed.

He played in a Massachusetts Lowell loss April 11 in the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, then turned pro, signed with the Sabres and played in a day game less than 48 hours after his final college appearance.

"It was a pretty crazy experience," Ruhwedel said. "That's really the only way to describe it."

He played in his sixth game last night with the Sabres. He had no points and was even in plus-minus in his first five games.

Returning so soon to Pittsburgh brought mixed feelings, he said, because his college team didn't make it to the NCAA final.

"I had some good and bad memories, but coming out of that [Fort Pitt] tunnel [Monday] night and seeing Pittsburgh again was cool," he said.

So far, Ruhwedel has been "running on adrenaline," but he hasn't forsaken college.

He's corresponding with his teachers, doing homework in his spare time.

"It's a little tough, but my teachers have been pretty understanding," he said. "I'll have plenty of time to go back and finish finals."

Buffalo already has been eliminated from playing contention.

New teammate, old respect

MacIntyre had not been in the NHL for a little more than a year, and he was floored when he was recalled from the American Hockey League last week and took a look at the collection of talent the Penguins have, including four players acquired near the NHL trade deadline.

"It's something special," he said.

MacIntyre previously played for Edmonton, which has a strong rivalry with Calgary. Winger Jarome Iginla, one of the additions to the Penguins lineup, was the longtime Flames captain.

"We were talking about a couple of instances where Jarome grabbed me and told me to settle down, and I was, like, 'OK. Yes, sir,' " MacIntyre recalled. "It's a respect thing."

Awards time

The Penguins gave out their annual team awards. Defenseman Matt Niskanen got the Baz Bastien Memorial Good Guy Award, Crosby was the NHL Masterton nominee and MVP. defenseman Brooks Orpik won the Player's Player Award, Crosby and Fleury split the A.T. Caggiano Memorial Booster Club Cup, Despres was the Rookie of the Year, Matt Cooke won the Edward J. DeBartolo Community Service Award and Martin was named the defensive player of the year.

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Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez


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