Penguins defenseman Paul Martin will be out 4-6 weeks.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins are coming out of the NHL’s Olympic break the same way they entered it — with a long list of injured players.
And they not only have added a new name — defenseman Paul Martin, who played for Team USA in Sochi, Russia, is expected to be out four to six weeks because of a broken hand — but also got some discouraging news about a player who has been injured for much of the season.
Winger Beau Bennett, who is recovering from wrist surgery, has suffered what coach Dan Bylsma characterized as “a setback … more of a bump in the road than a wall” and likely will need another three or four weeks before playing.
What’s more, defenseman Kris Letang, diagnosed with a stroke shortly before the break, has not returned to practice and apparently does not have a timetable for doing so.
General manager Ray Shero was noncommittal about whether he expects Letang to play again this season — “I’m not operating under any premise right now regarding Kris Letang, whether he’s coming back or not,” he said — but seemed to downplay the possibility of adding a veteran defenseman before the March 5 trade deadline.
“I’m comfortable with what we have here in terms of on the roster and internally, down on the farm, but we’ll see what the next week brings us,” he said.
In other injury news, Bylsma said:
• There is no timetable for goalie Tomas Vokoun, who has not played this season because of blood clots, to get back in the lineup. Vokoun has been practicing with his teammates.
• Right winger Pascal Dupuis, who had surgery Feb. 12 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, faces a six- to eight-month recovery period, with mid-October being on the outer range. Dupuis already has begun rehabilitation at Consol Energy Center.
• Right winger Chris Conner (wrist) will go about another week before being allowed to practice.
• Forwards Joe Vitale and Taylor Pyatt, who returned to practice this week, have been cleared to resume playing Thursday, when Montreal visits Consol Energy Center.
Patching, filling on defense
With Martin out of the mix for most of the stretch drive and no indication of when Letang might be able to play again, the Penguins will again have to patch together their defense corps.
Bylsma said he expects the Olli Maatta-Matt Niskanen and Rob Scuderi-Robert Bortuzzo pairings to remain intact.
The other three healthy defensemen are Brooks Orpik, Simon Despres and Deryk Engelland, the latter of whom has played right wing at times this season but who Bylsma said is now penciled in for work on the blue line.
Maatta, who had a strong showing for Finland at the Olympics and has played his way into the rookie of the year conversation, said he is prepared to take an even larger role, if that is asked of him.
“There are always guys who step up,” Maatta said. “If it comes to me, yeah, I’m ready for it.
“But we have a lot of good [defensemen] in this organization. It doesn’t matter who’s on the ice. You know they’re going to do their job.”
Different way of looking at it
Although the Olympics in Sochi were contested on international-sized sheets of ice, which are about 15 feet wider than those in the NHL, there were fewer goals scored in the tournament this year than four years ago in Vancouver, where an NHL-sized rink was used.
While that might sound counterintuitive, Bylsma offered a simple explanation for such a decline.
“There’s more room, there’s more space, but the middle of the ice is defended a lot harder,” he said.
“The scoring area is contested very vigorously by pretty much every team.”
Malkin takes part in practice
Center Evgeni Malkin, who played for Russia in Sochi, went on the ice for the Penguins’ workout Tuesday at Consol Energy Center, making him the first of their seven Olympians to resume practicing.
Malkin did not speak with reporters, but is expected to do so today.
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