Penguins notebook: Ovechkin lauds Crosby, Malkin



The Penguins went into their game Wednesday night against Washington at Consol Energy Center not only in first place in the Metropolitan Division, but also with a 16-point lead over the visiting Capitals and the New York Rangers.

Which was no surprise to Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin.

In fact, Ovechkin apparently figured something akin to the 33-12-2 record the Penguins took into the game is what might be expected.

"If you have the kind of players that Pittsburgh has, you have to play well," Ovechkin said before the game.

"It's a situation where you have the two best players out there. They control the game well. They have two lines that have played together a long time. They have chemistry. It's working."

Ovechkin, of course, referred to Penguins centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby went into the game leading the league with 67 points. Malkin was vying for the assist title before an injury took him off the pace. They are both past winners of the NHL scoring title and league MVP.

Ovechkin left out the part where he also has won those awards and entered Wednesday with a league-leading 33 goals. If Crosby and Malkin are the top two players, Ovechkin was asked, where does he rank?

"Top 15 maybe? Sixteen?" he said with a grin.

Another new face

A day after the Penguins called up forward Nick Drazenovic because of persistent injuries, they promoted rough-and-tumble forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.

Letourneau-Leblond -- widely known as "PL3" -- had one goal, one assist and 137 penalty minutes in 31 games.

That led to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma being asked whether his club lacked physical play.

"It was not a decision to bring up Pierre because we thought we were missing that element in our lineup," Bylsma said. "To the contrary, we feel pretty gritty with the group that we have.

"Pierre's a guy who adds that element, though. He adds that physical element. But he's been a factor down there with Wilkes-Barre with how he's played. Part of that is protecting his teammates; part of that is his physical play."

Letourneau-Leblond described his game as to "be on the forecheck, bring pucks to the net, try to bring momentum."

He also relished the idea of being able to stand up for teammates the caliber of Crosby and Malkin.

"It's amazing," he said. "There's only a few guys who have that talent in the league, and there are two of them in this locker room."

Letourneau-Leblond, 28, was in Penguins training camp and then was playing in Wilkes-Barre on an AHL contract before the team signed him Nov. 6 to a two-year, two-way contract. Before Wednesday, he had played in 40 NHL games with New Jersey and Calgary, but not since November 2011. In those 40 games, had he three assists and 101 penalty minutes.

The Penguins placed injured winger Brian Gibbons on injured reserve to make room on the roster for Letourneau-Leblond.

Injury updates

The same crew of five injured players that has been skating together was on the ice again before the Penguins game-day skate: defenseman Paul Martin (leg) and forwards Jayson Megna (leg), Beau Bennett (wrist), Chuck Kobasew (undisclosed), and Andrew Ebbett (ankle). None of the five returned to join the team for the skate or played.

Right winger James Neal, who had not practiced the previous two days, took part in the game-day skate, but did not play.

He is listed as day-to-day because of an undisclosed injury. He sounded after the morning skate as if he would play, indicating that taking "a couple of maintenance days" helped.

"I felt good [at the game-day skate]," he said, but added that how he felt later in the day would determine whether he played.

In addition to those players, the Penguins scratched defenseman Simon Despres.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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