Center and captain Sidney Crosby most likely won't be the only player making a comeback from injury for the Penguins tonight.
Defenseman Kris Letang, who has missed the past five games, is expected to be in the lineup against the Rangers in New York.
"He's heading toward being in," coach Dan Bylsma said of the team's top defenseman.
After getting full clearance and going through a rigorous practice Tuesday, Letang spent a half-hour before practice Wednesday working on the ice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar, then participated in practice.
"Everything went well," Letang said. "We'll see how I feel after the morning skate [today]."
Letang missed 21 games earlier this season because of a concussion. This time, he had milder symptoms but was not diagnosed with a concussion after taking a hit to the chin from Dallas winger Eric Nystrom.
Crosby's comeback from a concussion in late November lasted just eight games and was followed by more than three months off. He doesn't know whether a neck injury diagnosed in January or something concussion-related led to his recurrence of symptoms.
He just knows that he is symptom-free now, ready to play and has no trepidation about getting hit.
"I can't control if someone's going to put a shoulder into my head and how I'm going to react to that," he said. "That's something that we'll see, but I don't have any less confidence in taking a hit."
That won't stop others from being a bit nervous on Crosby's behalf, including Bylsma.
"I guess I would be not totally honest [if I said] I don't feel that way," the coach said, "but I've felt that way about just about every player on our bench [returning from injury] at some point in time."
Penguins winger James Neal was amused about a month into the season when it was pointed out that he was leading the NHL in shots and on pace to reach 300.
Now, he and linemate Evgeni Malkin both are within fairly easy reach of that mark, and it looks like a two-man race to finish first. Malkin leads the league with 277, and Neal is second at 274. New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk is third, 265.
"We want to be on the offense," said Neal, second on the team with 31 goals going into Wednesday and second in the NHL with 14 power-play goals.
"We want to be shooting the puck as much as possible. You've got to shoot the puck to score goals. That's something I tried to bring to my game a little more this year -- try to get the puck off fast and quick and get it to the net as much as possible. Try not to pick your spots. Just get the puck off.
"From Day One, I've done that. You get rewarded when you put the puck on the net."
Neal averages four shots a game and needs less than two a game in the final 14 to reach 300. Malkiaverages 4.5 shots a game.
Shirley Schinkel, wife of original Penguins player and former coach Ken Schinkel, died Tuesday. Ken Schinkel played for the Penguins from 1967-73 and was their leading scorer in their second season. He coached the club in 1973-74 and 1976-77. ... Eleven players participated in an optional practice at Southpointe -- defensemen Letang, Matt Niskanen, Ben Lovejoy, and Paul Martin; forwards Crosby, Richard Park, Dustin Jeffrey, Eric Tangradi, Joe Vitale and Tyler Kennedy; and goaltender Brad Thiessen. ...The game tonight was picked up by NBC Sports Network but will be shown locally by Root Sports. ... The Penguins home game April 1 against Philadelphia has been picked up by NBC and will start at 12:38 p.m. It originally was a night game. ... The Penguins will mix up their travel on this road trip. They flew to New York Wednesday, will bus to New Jersey Friday and play there Saturday afternoon, and take a train to Philadelphia for a Sunday afternoon game. Finally, they will fly home.
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: email@example.com , 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly First Published March 15, 2012 4:00 AM