Penguins Notebook: Niskanen, Letang eye return
Kris Letang, as well as fellow defenseman Matt Niskanen, appears close to returning to action for the Penguins.
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Depending on how they feel when they report for the morning skate today, injured Penguins defensemen Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen could be elevated to the status of being game-time decisions for a game tonight against the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center.
Both players participated in a practice Tuesday after skating on their own Monday while the rest of the team was off. Niskanen took part in a less intense morning skate Sunday.
Niskanen (right ankle), said he was "taking the next step" by participating in a non-game day practice that featured some puck battles and bumping. He said he "felt really good. [It] was the best I've felt since the injury happened" Jan. 27 in a game at Ottawa. "There's a few spots where I have a little bit of an issue ... but it's coming along good. I'm feeling better and better every day."
Letang was hurt Feb. 3 at Washington. He played the following game but has missed the past three. His injury has not been disclosed but apparently involves a leg, perhaps a groin.
Letang remained on the ice long after the official end of practice, his first with his teammates.
"I felt pretty good," Letang said. "We'll talk with the doc and go from there."
Bylsma on Olympics
There has been some contact, but nothing formal, between Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and USA Hockey, which has not named a coaching staff for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"It would be a great honor," to coach a United States team, Bylsma said. "I've always wanted to participate in USA Hockey."
To be involved in the American hockey team at the Olympics "has been on my radar for a long, long time," said Bylsma, who is from Grand Haven, Mich.
"Sochi's coming around the corner, and that's going to be, hopefully, an Olympics that the NHL players are a part of."
Crosby winning faceoffs
Penguins center Sidney Crosby leads the team with 17 points despite having gone the past two games with no points.
In a 3-1 loss Sunday against New Jersey, Crosby had one statistic that stood way out. He won 19 of his 24 faceoffs, or a whopping 79 percent.
Finding a reason for that success was harder than winning all those draws.
"Whether you get some help from your wingers on a couple that are usually 50-50 or sometimes you get against a guy and you win a few early and he tries to change things a little bit ..." Crosby said. "There's no real explanation.
"If I could do that every game, I'd try, but it's not as easy as that."
The closest he could come to offering an explanation is the way most of them lined up for him.
"I probably ended up taking 70 percent on my backhand, whereas some games you take 70 percent on your weak side and you don't have a great night if you get matched up against a guy who's on his strong side," he said.
Crosby famously made faceoffs a point of focus one offseason early in his career to boost his wins to over 50 percent. He is at 55.9 percent this season.
The Penguins have lost two games in a row and have not had a three-game losing streak this season. ... Tonight will be Penguins center Brandon Sutter's 300th NHL game, one day before his 24th birthday. His first 286 games came while playing for Carolina. ... The Senators will be without prolific center Jason Spezza, who was hurt in the Penguins' 2-1 shootout win Jan. 27 at Ottawa. He has since had back surgery. ... Penguins prospect Kenny Agostino is a finalist for the Walter Brown Award, for the best American-born player in New England. Agostino led Yale with 12 goals, 27 points in 22 games going into a game Tuesday against Brown.
First Published February 13, 2013 12:00 am