Interim Penguins coach Dan Bylsma inherited seven healthy defensemen, with rookie Alex Goligoski biding his time in the minor leagues.
For his first home game, a 5-4 win Thursday against Montreal, Bylsma made a somewhat surprising move by scratching Kris Letang.
"We thought Kris didn't play particularly well in Long Island," Bylsma said yesterday of his first game behind the bench, a 3-2 shootout loss Monday against the New York Islanders in which Letang had a plus-minus rating of minus-2.
"I talked to Kris about it. Really, this is about playing the way we need to play and practicing the way we need to practice. You've got to bring that every day."
Letang, a skilled second-year NHL defenseman who has five goals, 19 points this season, acknowledged the conversation with Bylsma but didn't elaborate.
Bylsma was an assistant the past two seasons with the club's minor league team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where Letang spent a limited amount of time, but Bylsma said there are no residual problems between the two.
He did not say whether Letang would be in the lineup today at Philadelphia or tomorrow at Washington.
He wants to see more from Letang in practice.
"Kris is a very, very talented individual," Bylsma said. "He's very much on the high end of skill -- his skating, his puck-handling. You can go on about how good he is.
"But he needs to continue to work at it and get better every day. That's a practice thing, and that's a game thing."
The flu-like symptoms that sapped Penguins center Sidney Crosby over the past week-plus have subsided.
"I feel way better than I did. I'm not where I want to be, but I'm better," said Crosby.
He went three games without a point to fall behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin into third place in league scoring before getting an assist in each of the past two games to reach 74 points and pull within one of Ovechkin before last night.
It's the second time this season Crosby has gone through such an illness. He also has dealt with a hip injury that forced him to leave a 4-1 loss Oct. 30 at Phoenix and a knee injury that kept him out of a Jan. 16 game plus the All-Star Game.
Asked to put an overall percent on how he feels, Crosby said, "Ninety."
This time of the season, most players would be happy with that.
"Exactly," Crosby said.
Bylsma had not determined how he will handle the goaltending duties with back-to-back games.
No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has started the past eight games and 14 of the past 15, with Mathieu Garon getting just one start, a 5-4 loss Jan. 31 in Toronto, since being acquired Jan. 17 from Edmonton.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's road game against the Albany River Rats was postponed from tomorrow to March 16 in the aftermath of a bus accident involving the River Rats.
Former Penguins prospect Joe Jensen was among those seriously injured. Albany is coached by former Penguin Jeff Daniels.
Matt Cooke retrieved the game puck for Byslma after his first NHL win, prompting the Bylsma to jokingly offer a reward for further good deeds. "I told him he's 10 favors to the coach from getting in front of the net on the power play."