Penguins Notebook: Defensemen Letang, Niskanen don't make 2-game road trip
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Defenseman Kris Letang did not accompany the Penguins on their road trip for games tonight on Long Island and Friday in Buffalo, so he is out at least until an afternoon home game Sunday against Philadelphia.
Letang has missed one game because of an undisclosed injury that apparently stemmed from going feet-first into the boards against the New Jersey Devils. He did not skate Wednesday but was seen in the Consol Energy Center locker room after practice with nothing wrapped, iced or booted.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen, who has an undisclosed injury, also didn't make the trip and continues to skate separately from practice.
Two others are getting close to a return.
Goaltender Brent Johnson, who has been out more than a month because of an unspecified injury, participated in his first full non-game-day practice and could dress for a game as soon as tonight.
"It was good to see different kinds of shots and different types of plays -- three-on-ones, two-on-ones, in-zone play, follow the puck around," Johnson said. "A lot of it is timing. I noticed that I was off because I was overplaying everything. But that will come with practicing a little more."
With three goaltenders in practice, Johnson took turns in net ahead of rookie Brad Thiessen. In the minor leagues, goaltender Patrick Killeen was sent from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to Wheeling, meaning Thiessen could be headed back to Wilkes-Barre. Coach Dan Bylsma has said that when Johnson is healthy, he will resume his duties as backup to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Center Joe Vitale, who has missed six games because of what is believed to be a shoulder injury, practiced for the first time.
He is on the road trip but said, "I haven't heard anything about this weekend yet, whether I'm in or out."
Bylsma said Vitale "is not ready to get back into games just yet."
The one player who clearly won't be back before the playoffs is defenseman Ben Lovejoy. He tweeted that he felt good after having arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday.
Fleury not only gave up five goals on 18 shots through two periods in the 5-3 loss Tuesday to the Islanders, but also took a few good knocks. He took a shot off the jaw, ended up inside the net with three other players and got bowled over with his helmet knocked off by teammate Paul Martin.
Fleury practiced and, as he did after the game Tuesday, insisted he was fine.
"A couple good hits," he said, shrugging. "We're lucky. We play with good helmets compared to back in the day."
Center and captain Sidney Crosby played 21 minutes, 9 seconds Tuesday, the most in the eight games in his latest comeback from concussion and neck issues. That's also the minute mark Bylsma said last week he was aiming for when Crosby was ready for a full workload.
"I think it works out well to kind of progress into it," said Crosby, who has two goals, 13 points in the eight games. "That way, you don't get really tired or have it hit you all at once. Then you're trying to play catch-up a bit the next game. I think it was a good progression."
He sees no reason to manage his ice time anymore.
"It's up to [Bylsma] and up to the situation of the game and all that stuff, but, yeah, I'm ready to play however long I need to," he said.
This comeback now matches the eight games he played in late November and early December before he had recurring symptoms. That all seems to be a thing of the past.
"I feel good," Crosby said. "There's no issue with anything."
Niskanen, during his workout, had a little contact in a drill that involved trading passes with conditioning coach Mike Kadar and throwing himself against the glass. In an empty arena, it made a thundering noise. Coincidentally, a storm was rolling past, and real thunder also was audible. It made for quite a symphony.
First Published March 29, 2012 12:00 am