Penguins Notebook: Letestu returns to lineup after knee surgery
Penguins forward Mark Letestu shoots during warmups before Saturday's game against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
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TORONTO -- Jordan Staal was back between James Neal and Alex Kovalev on the Penguins' No. 1 line when they faced Toronto Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre. That doesn't necessarily mean he'll remain there indefinitely.
With Mark Letestu -- who played against the Maple Leafs after being out since Feb. 1 because of a knee injury that had to be surgically repaired -- back in the personnel mix, along with Dustin Jeffrey, who returned Friday after missing six games because of an unspecified injury, coach Dan Bylsma will have options for that role.
Staal has done his best work the past couple of years while playing on a blue-collar line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. He does a lot of things quite well, but playmaking is not prominent on that list.
Letestu might be a particularly attractive candidate for Staal's spot on the top line because he is a right-handed shot, which should make it easier for him to get the puck to Neal. Kovalev, conversely, manages to gain control of the puck quite often, whether a linemate feeds it to him or not.
Bylsma acknowledged last evening that he had considered, at least briefly, playing Letestu with Neal and Kovalev, but said he dismissed the idea because of the possibility that Letestu could be "tentative" in his first game back and because he did not want to give him an excessive workload.
"Will I think about it again as Mark gets his feet under him?" Bylsma said. "Yes."
The Penguins are convinced that Neal will be a difference-maker for them, that he will be a productive power forward for a lot of years.
And Neal, acquired Monday from Dallas, seems pretty enthused about the club he has joined. Enough that he appears to be willing to overlook the way the Penguins' offense has been hamstrung lately by significant injuries to top-six forwards such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz.
"It's exciting to come to a team with the firepower it has," he said.
Neal did not have a point in either of his first two games with the Penguins, but said he is "starting to feel comfortable" in his new surroundings, even though it is unlikely he will get completely settled in for a while.
"It's going to be a matter of time," he said. "That's the way it is. You feel so comfortable with one system, in one organization."
With Letestu back, the Penguins returned forward Brett Sterling to their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre.
Sterling had a point -- three of them goals -- in each of his first five games with the Penguins, but then was blanked for two in a row before being a healthy scratch for their 4-1 loss Friday at Carolina. Still, the move was a bit of a surprise, given the Penguins' problems generating goals lately.
"It's a good question [as to why he was demoted], in terms of he had some points and did produce for us," Bylsma said. "His position, when James Neal comes to our team ... his spot on our roster goes down a little bit.
"He's not a penalty-kill guy. He's certainly not the power-play point guy who was the answer. And, unfortunately for him, it wasn't a great position for me to put him in. He hasn't played a ton there in his career, but he was the best solution for us, in that regard. Joe Vitale is a better fourth-line, more situational player. He's a centerman, faceoff guy, penalty-kill guy, where Sterling, that's not where he excels."
Toronto coach Ron Wilson, on facing the injury-ravaged Penguins lineup: "You don't have to talk about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, obviously, but we talk about what we have to do. That's a very hard-working team with good speed, no matter who's in the lineup." ... Former Maple Leafs forward Paul Henderson, who scored the series-clinching goal for Canada in the epic Series at the Summit with the Soviet Union in 1972, presided over a ceremonial faceoff before the game.
First Published February 27, 2011 12:00 am