Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek make up one of the Penguins' top two defense pairings. On paper, anyway.
In reality, at least one of them has been injured for 24 of the first 38 games -- including every one since Nov. 26 in Montreal -- so they have not been together all that often in the first half of 2011-12.
That means it might take a while for them to get their games in sync when Martin, who sat out the past six games because of an unspecified injury, rejoins the lineup for a game against the New York Rangers tonight at Consol Energy Center.
"I'm sure some of [the potential problems] will be just communication," Martin said. "[Michalek] and I haven't played together too many games this year. Either he's been out, or I have.
"Maybe some stuff in the [defensive] zone, as far as breaking the puck out or just playing [defensive] coverage. I imagine it won't take too long. Or maybe we'll get right back into it, hopefully."
Martin is not the only Penguins player with a chance to return tonight.
Forwards Pascal Dupuis, who got an unspecified injury in the Penguins' 3-1 loss Saturday in New Jersey, and Richard Park, who has missed the past 11 games because of a broken foot, apparently will be available.
Although coach Dan Bylsma did not commit to using Dupuis tonight -- "We'll see how he is [this] morning," he said -- he seems pretty certain to play unless he has a setback today.
Injured forwards Arron Asham (unspecified) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee) worked out on the ice before practice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar, but there appears to be no target date for either to return to the lineup.
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who has missed the past nine games, participated in practice for the first time since being diagnosed with a concussion and said he has been free of concussion symptoms for about a week.
The Penguins did not have anyone voted into the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 29 in Ottawa.
The six players who locked up spots in the game via fan balloting were Boston goalie Tim Thomas, defensemen Erik Karlsson (Ottawa) and Dion Phaneuf (Toronto) and forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, all of Ottawa.
Penguins in contention for automatic berths in the game and their final place in the voting by fans were forwards Sidney Crosby (sixth), Evgeni Malkin (10th), James Neal (13th) and Jordan Staal (20th), defensemen Kris Letang (sixth) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (third).
Senators fans clearly were aggressive in trying to get their team's players into the game, and Michalek was one of the beneficiaries of that. Regardless, his brother Zbynek clearly was pleased about Milan claiming a place in the game.
"I'm really happy for him and excited," Zbynek said. "He totally deserves it. He's having a great season, with so many goals. I hope he enjoys the game and has fun with it."
Winger Steve Sullivan missed practice Thursday because of illness, according to Bylsma, but should be able to play tonight. If he does, that would keep Sullivan's streak of not missing a game this season intact, and that's no small accomplishment for him.
Sullivan has had several major injuries in recent years and has dressed for all 82 games once in the past six seasons.
"Am I surprised he hasn't missed a game?" Bylsma said. "I guess if we were talking about guys who would play all 38 games to this point from the start of the season, maybe we would have given him a day off one of those games.
"But I'm not really entirely surprised. I'm pleasantly surprised, I guess, that he's been a guy who's an ironman for us."
First Published January 6, 2012 5:00 AM