The Penguins mustered only 17 players at practice Tuesday. The reasons for the absences were assorted.
Four forwards -- Sidney Crosby , Pascal Dupuis , James Neal and Arron Asham -- were given maintenance days for what coach Dan Bylsma called "bumps and bruises." Bylsma indicated they are expected to return to practice today.
Crosby favored his right knee and seemed to be in pain for several minutes after he collided with linemate Chris Kunitz in the 3-1 loss Monday night against Boston. He returned to the game and afterward said he was OK.
Defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek remain out because of concussions, and defenseman Deryk Engelland is day to day because of an unspecified injury.
Bylsma offered updates on four other players:
• Forward Richard Park , who missed the Boston game, is day to day. The Penguins have not specified his injury, but he favored his right leg after blocking a shot Saturday.
• Forward Dustin Jeffrey has had a setback with his surgically repaired right knee. He had stopped playing and skating to focus on rehabilitation, but Bylsma said swelling in the knee has prompted him to step back from rehab, too.
Jeffrey missed the first eight games of the season, played in six games, with no points, and has missed the past 14.
• Defensemen Ben Lovejoy (broken left wrist) and Brian Strait (hyperextended left elbow) have resumed skating and could be back in two to four weeks.
"They have progressed real well," Bylsma said, adding that pain tolerance is dictating how much they can do.
The Penguins held their annual kids open practice at Consol Energy Center, skating in front of about 8,000 raucous students.
Even though Crosby, perhaps the biggest fan favorite, did not practice, he made an appearance.
Dressed in a warmup suit, Crosby joined broadcasters Paul Steigerwald and Phil Bourque on the Penguins bench and took the microphone to speak to the children.
News of the NHL's realignment plan for 2012-13 broke Monday night just as the Penguins loss against Boston ended. The players had had some time to digest it by Tuesday.
Under a four-conference setup, the Penguins will remain with their Northeast Division foes, plus Washington and Carolina. Those teams will play each other six times a season.
All teams will play each non-conference team at home and on the road every season.
"I think there's more balance in the schedule," winger Steve Sullivan said. "Playing most of my career in the west, we found that the travel was extreme compared to the east. On a personal note, going to every city is important. Most guys want to see every city. We owe it to the fans to be able to see all the players across the league."
What the Penguins are not sure about is what the NHL should call its four conferences.
"I think probably the best thing would be simple names by region," center Joe Vitale said. "I think you shouldn't go too dramatic."
Sullivan is open to the idea of naming them after people.
"I think recognizing certain players that have made extreme contributions to the game is a great idea," he said.
"Now, who those players are would be [tough]. They would be a little bit biased here with [Penguins owner and Hall of Famer] Mario Lemieux . I'm sure Wayne Gretzky [would get support].
"There's a lot of them. Who are you going to snub by only naming four people?"
Winger Tyler Kennedy said he likes the new format under any name. But just for fun, he offered a twist on geographic titles. "Maybe Warm, Cold, Rainy ..."
Crosby has moved to second among forwards in All-Star Game fan balloting, with 320,865 votes. Phil Kessel of Toronto leads with 384,029.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is third among forwards, James Neal 13th and Jordan Staal 18th. Kris Letang is third among defensemen, Marc-Andre Fleury third among goaltenders.
The All-Star Game is Jan. 29 in Ottawa.
First Published December 7, 2011 5:00 AM