Penguins Notebook: Letestu step closer to returning to lineup


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Mark Letestu not only joined his teammates at their game-day skate Wednesday, but also felt so good that he skated over to assistant trainer Scott Adams and gushed.

"You know, I could probably play today," Letestu told Adams.

Letestu is 19 days out from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair torn cartilage. He did not play against San Jose, but his recovery has gone so well that his return could be imminent.

The skate was his first time practicing with his teammates, and he hopes to practice again today in what would be a more full-contact session.

"It's kind of on me, how I feel," Letestu said. "If I feel the knee can hold up to it, playing sooner rather than later is not out of the question.

"I think the training staff deserves most of the credit. They didn't really stick to a time line; they just asked me how I felt and worked on me accordingly."

The rookie center has 10 goals, 20 points in 50 games, and his return could be a boost to a position hit hard by injury.

Letestu was injured during a routine breakout drill in game-day skate Feb. 1 at Madison Square Garden.

"I don't know whether I hit a rut or my skate slipped, but it twisted funny and when it came back together, it tore something," he said. "Not much I could do about it. Right away my knee was stuck bent and I had to do a circle on one leg. I just told [trainer Chris Stewart] there was something wrong."

Center Dustin Jeffrey (leg injury) also participated in the morning skate and appears to be close to returning.

Defenseman Paul Martin and left winger Chris Kunitz (both undisclosed injuries) skated in full gear before the morning skate along with forward Mike Comrie (hip), who was in warm-ups.

Breakout lessons

Of the two newly acquired players from the trade Monday with Dallas, defenseman Matt Niskanen might face the tougher task learning the Penguins' even-strength system.

At least, that's what coach Dan Bylsma figures, based on veteran Brooks Orpik's reaction when the staff explained the new transition and breakout scheme that was designed over the summer, with the intent of creating more offensive zone time for the Penguins.

"I'll paraphrase what Brooks said: 'When I first heard what you said, I thought you were crazy. I thought you were nuts about how we would go back for pucks and come out of the [defensive zone]. Now I know that helps us out in the way we play and limiting our time there,' " Bylsma said.

"It's not going to be an easy assimilation."

Because of that, Orpik and others were asked to speak to Niskanen Wednesday after team meetings.

Travel delays

Niskanen and winger James Neal had plenty of time to talk about what they might expect in joining the Penguins because their trip from Dallas took a circuitous route.

"A couple long days," Neal said.

The two boarded a flight Monday night bound for Pittsburgh, which was snowbound.

"We were flying around waiting, hoping they would open up the airport, but we had to divert to Newark, and we spent the night there," said Niskanen. "They still delayed the plane [Tuesday from Newark], so we didn't get to be here for practice.

"We talked a lot about the players here. There were a lot of questions. We were wondering what it was going to be like and trying to figure out what to expect -- what we're going to do for places [to live] and what restaurants to eat at. There's a million things going through our heads."

Tip-ins

Bylsma said that when Martin returns, he will step in for the traded Alex Goligoski on one point on the top power-play unit opposite Kris Letang. Forward Brett Sterling has been manning that spot .... Bylsma, with a good-natured jab when asked about the two newcomers assimilating: "I told James Neal, he's from Ontario, so I don't expect him to pick up 50 percent." ... San Jose, even though it won at Detroit the night before, had all but four players on the ice for an optional game-day skate.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721


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