Left winger Chris Kunitz returned to the Penguins' lineup Tuesday night after a 13-game absence due to an unspecified injury, but he wasn't a shoo-in most of the day.
Although coach Dan Bylsma a day earlier had labeled Kunitz "probable" for the game against Buffalo at Consol Energy Center, his prospects didn't look great during and just after the morning skate.
Bylsma did not employ Kunitz on a regular line or in any special teams drills. Afterward, Kunitz said he felt "good enough" to play, but reiterated how frustrating the injury has been and deferred to Bylsma, who called Kunitz "a game-time decision," adding that it was a matter of Kunitz not being put in a position for further injury.
Bylsma noted that all along, Kunitz's injury had been fickle.
"The first time he sat out a game, I thought he was coming in to play, and a situation arose where it wasn't the right thing to get on the ice," the coach said.
At the pregame warmup Tuesday, Kunitz not only skated but also sported an alternate captain's "A" on his jersey.
Kunitz had five goals, three assists in the 10 games before he left the lineup and entered the game against the Sabres with 18 goals, 36 points.
After a cluster of eight games in 14 days through Saturday, the last five of those games on the road, the Penguins are in a relative lull, with four games in 14 days. The Buffalo game began a three-game homestand.
While there's something to be said for being in a rhythm with a heavy schedule of games, the break is welcome.
"I think it's good to get some rest. I think we need it," said winger Tyler Kennedy, who missed one game in that recent eight-game stretch because of injury but had three goals, five points in the seven games he played.
The Penguins are expected to have at least a few days off, with no practice or games, during this stretch. Kennedy said he doubts players will have a long list of plans for those days.
"We've played so many games, you just rest," he said. "The beginning of the year, you might work out, but, right now, I think it's the rest that's key."
One player who was thankful for the recent busy schedule is winger James Neal, acquired from Dallas in a Feb. 21 trade.
"I think it worked out well to come here and start playing right away," he said. "That's what you want to do, and you want to get acquainted with your new team."
Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold, a former Penguin, called it "somewhat a coincidence" that, going into the game Tuesday night, the Sabres were 5-0-2 since Terry Pegula was introduced as the team's new owner.
Pegula is a businessman with Pennsylvania ties but also is a former Sabres season-ticket holder who has spoken passionately about helping his team win its first Stanley Cup.
"Of course, we look at the standings," Leopold said. "It's either make a push right now or find ourselves on the outside looking in.
"But Terry coming over, it's changed the mentality a little bit. It's been a good change for us, a little bit of fresh air, and we're playing a little better as a result of that. And it's that time of the season."
Coach Lindy Ruff said if nothing else, Pegula has offered a sense of stability.
"I think the good part is just with all the rumors swirling around for months about whether the ownership was going to change, then we got a person who stepped in and is going to be a great owner," he said. "I think we've seen an immediate impact. You can see the excitement, the passion the man has for the team. I think that gave us a little boost."
The Penguins' healthy scratches were forward Chris Conner and winger Eric Godard, who was eligible to return after serving a 10-game suspension. ... Buffalo played without leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who was ill. ... Injured Penguins Brooks Orpik (broken finger), Arron Asham (concussion) and Mike Comrie (hip surgery) continued to skate with conditioning coach Mike Kadar.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. First Published March 9, 2011 5:00 AM