On the heels of getting swept by rival Philadelphia in two weekend games, the Penguins got some encouraging news Sunday.
Defenseman Kris Letang and winger Beau Bennett have been cleared for full participation in practice and are expected to be on the ice for the team's workout today, coach Dan Bylsma announced after the 4-3 loss to the Flyers.
Letang had a stroke and has been out since late January. He was allowed to discontinue taking blood-thinners after the prescribed six weeks, Bylsma said, leading to his inclusion at practice.
"We had an idea that at this point in time, he could possibly be cleared to practice," Bylsma said. "He still has some other things to go through.
"He's been working out. He's been skating on his own. He's been doing quite a bit on his own. It's not a complete surprise."
Bylsma said there is no timetable for Letang to return to the lineup. It's not clear whether he will be able to play again this season.
Letang, 26, fell ill Jan. 29 and was diagnosed in the ensuing days. He has 10 goals, eight of them on the power play, and 18 points in 34 games.
A Norris Trophy (top NHL defenseman) finalist last season, Letang missed games earlier this season because of knee and elbow injuries.
Bennett has played only 12 games, with a goal and two assists, and has been out since Nov. 22 because of a hand/wrist injury that required surgery. He had an unspecified setback last month that extended his time out of the lineup.
He has skated with the team at times, but hasn't participated in contact drills.
The Penguins have been rocked by injuries. They surpassed 400 man-games lost Saturday, with wingers James Neal (concussion) and Chris Kunitz (undisclosed) the latest to miss games.
For Bylsma, the seemingly never-ending list of injuries tempered the news of two players on the mend.
"It's better than thinking about subtracting guys from our lineup," he said.
The Penguins weren't the only ones dealing with an injury Sunday.
Referee Mike Hasenfratz took a spill and did not work the third period. NBC reported that Hasenfratz had concussion symptoms.
That left Mike Leggo to work the final period as the lone referee, along with linesmen Tim Nowak and Derek Arnell. Leggo called one penalty in the third period, a holding minor on Philadelphia's Matt Read.
Penguins winger Jayson Megna, who had an abrasion on his chin from a Flyers elbow, said being down to one referee did not alter the game, even between rival clubs when emotion and physical play sometimes erupt.
"It's a physical game any time you play those guys, no matter what," Megna said. "Maybe someone would have caught something here or there, but you can't blame anything on the refs."
Penguins forward Joe Vitale was even more convinced there was no difference with one ref.
"I didn't even really notice it until halfway through the third [period], so I don't think so," he said.
With Philadelphia clinging to its one-goal lead, Penguins center Sidney Crosby nearly forced overtime but his shot hit the left goal post.
"I think that's all I gave him, though," Flyers goaltender Steve Mason joked. "It's part of the equipment."
The Penguins got goals from Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, giving them 36 goals from defensemen. ... Even with injuries at forward, with the addition of forwards Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc at the trade deadline, defenseman Deryk Engelland's days as a swingman on the fourth line seem to be over. "We have more depth at the forward position. I'm not going to say [playing Engelland at forward] is not going to happen, but it's unlikely," Bylsma said. ... The Penguins made one lineup switch, dressing defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who had one assist, and scratching defenseman Simon Despres. ... The Flyers won 54 percent of the faceoffs (27 of 50). Adam Hall (5 of 5) and Michael Raffl (4 of 4) were perfect. ... Philadelphia winger Claude Giroux, who had two assists, played his 400th NHL game, and teammate Andrew MacDonald appeared in his 300th.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.