Penguins notebook: Bennett practices, but status up in air

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WASHINGTON -- Penguins right winger Beau Bennett, who has missed 40 games with a wrist injury that had to be surgically repaired, believes it is "realistic" that he will return to the lineup within 10 days.

Coach Dan Bylsma doesn't have any plans to pencil him in the lineup just yet, however.

"In a week from now, he will see a doctor," Bylsma said after a 45-minute practice Sunday at the Verizon Center. "Until that time, there's not a [target date] for a return to play. ... We'll go from there, once he's been evaluated by the doctor."

Bennett said his recovery was impeded by "a little mishap" during the Olympic break, but added, "I don't know how much I can tell you about that."

The practice Sunday was Bennett's first with a full squad, and Bylsma said he has been cleared for contact, although Bennett said the contact he's getting is being "moderated."

Just as his return date isn't certain, there's no indications of where Bennett, who was the first-line right winger when he was hurt, will fit in once he gets medical clearance to resume playing.

"He hasn't played hockey, so it's tough to say he's going to be a top-line winger," Bylsma said. "He has to get back and play. He has to get back and get in the mix.

"He's played very little hockey this year, at all. So it's kind of tough to say, 'Beau is going to be on the first power play, or Beau is going to be on the top line.' He has to get back and be involved in hockey."

Tables turned

The Penguins have looked down on the rest of the Eastern Conference for most of the season.

Their view today is a bit different.

Boston's 5-2 win Sunday at Florida lifted the Bruins one point ahead of the Penguins in the conference.

Most of the Penguins seem to be aware of how the standings look, but few seem troubled that Boston has nudged past them. Which does not mean they're prepared to concede the top spot.

"Guys are definitely aware of where everybody is in the standings," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "You always set different team goals and that's one of them, to win the Eastern Conference.

"That being said, you're ultimately judged by how you do in the postseason. ... You have to be aware of where everybody is in the standings, but you have to keep your focus on what you need to improve on, not what Boston's doing."

Powerful power plays

The game between the Penguins and Washington tonight will match the NHL's top two power plays.

The Penguins are scoring on 25.5 percent of their chances with the extra man, while the Capitals are converting 23.2 percent.

The Penguins, though, are 18 points ahead of Washington in the standings, in part because they've been significantly more effective than the Capitals while playing five-on-five.

The Penguins have outscored their opponents, 124-119, when both teams are at full strength, while Washington has scored 113 goals and allowed 123 in those situations.

"You don't want guys coming to the rink thinking that, 'I'm just going to get my points on the power play,' " Oates said. "That's not a good formula. But it's nice to know we have a good one."

Welcome to the club

Goalie Jaroslav Halak, the key to Montreal's upset of the Penguins in the 2010 playoffs, made his Capitals debut Saturday, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 victory against Phoenix.

Capitals coach Adam Oates said Halak was "maybe a little nervous," especially early in the game, and Halak didn't argue.

"The first half of the game, I was really nervous," he said. "I just wanted to [make] a good impression on the fans, and on my teammates."

He apparently did, although Halak, acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline, probably is still learning his new teammates' names, let alone the nuances of their games.

"I'm still getting used to them," he said.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG


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