Penguins notebook: Letang out tonight, nears return

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A couple of injured Penguins took steps Wednesday toward a return to the lineup, but not as soon as tonight when the team plays in Philadelphia.

Defenseman Kris Letang participated in a full practice for the first time after joining his teammates previously for part of practice or game-day skates, which are not as long or rigorous as other practices.

"Kris is a guy who wanted to play last week," coach Dan Bylsma cracked, but added that, "He needs to see some pretty good practice time before getting back."

Also on the ice with the team at Consol Energy Center was winger Matt D'Agostini, who had been skating separately from practice.

"It feels good to do line rushes and stuff like that to try to get back in game mode as quickly as possible," D'Agostini said. "I'm assuming I'll have a lot more time with the team before I get into some games. It's a step. As long as I feel good and healthy, I'll be out there with the guys, and then we'll go from there."

Both players went out in the late stages of training camp, Letang with what is believed to be a knee injury and D'Agostini because of an unspecified injury.

Letang is considered the team's top defenseman and was a finalist last season for the Norris Trophy. He is eligible to be activated from injured reserve at any time, as long as the Penguins clear a roster spot. D'Agostini signed as a free agent in the summer and was getting a long look on the third line before he got hurt. He is on long-term injured reserve and ineligible to be activated until next week.

It is believed that injured wingers Beau Bennett and James Neal were the only players who did not travel to Philadelphia. Neither practiced.

Jokinen settles in

Left winger Jussi Jokinen is now the stable one among Evgeni Malkin's linemates.

Before this season, the only unsettled spot among the Penguins' top six forwards was on the left wing of Malkin's line. Neal was set on the right side of that second line, and the top line was set with Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis.

The Crosby line is not only intact but thriving. Those three players have accounted for nine of the team's 23 goals (39.1 percent).

With the Malkin line, things have changed. Neal has not played since the season opener. Bennett replaced him but is expected to miss his second game in a row tonight. Chuck Kobasew is manning the right side of that line.

Jokinen had a strong preseason to settle on Malkin's line. He can't do anything about the turnover at right wing.

"There can be injuries throughout the year," he said. "It would be nice to play with the same lines all year, but that rarely happens nowadays. Hopefully, we can stay as healthy as possible throughout the year and find the chemistry."

Jokinen, acquired late last season in a trade with Carolina, knew for some time he wanted to make a push for the spot he's in.

"Even after last year, I had a meeting with Ray [Shero, the general manager] and with Dan [Bylsma]," Jokinen said. "We talked a little bit that there could be one open spot in the top six. I told them -- and they knew already -- that I'm most comfortable playing in that top six."

Jokinen didn't go so far as to butter up Malkin in the offseason with texts or other communication and laughed at the suggestion. But Jokinen, who is Finnish, and Malkin, who is Russian, have had a chance to find some common interests.

"It's cool to get to know [Malkin] a little bit more and the other guys and get more comfortable with them off the ice," Jokinen said. "We are both interested in some of the things happening with European hockey and the [Kontinental Hockey League], stuff like that."

Tip-ins

Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta left practice with a trainer but returned after about 10 minutes. He said he was fine, and Bylsma said, "It was just to get checked. I don't think it was anything significant." ... Malkin's winning power-play goal Tuesday against Edmonton gave him at least one goal against each of the other 29 NHL teams.

penguins

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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