PITTSBURGH -- A Game 7 will be played at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are preparing as if they are on the road.
The Penguins are 1-7 in their past eight home elimination games entering Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Their record is nearly reversed in road elimination games, with six wins in their past seven.
Although Pittsburgh will play in front of a home crowd Tuesday, its pregame preparations have mirrored how it would treat a road trip. The Penguins stayed at a Pittsburgh-area hotel Monday night and traveled to the arena on a bus for their Tuesday morning skate.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Penguins attempted to build camaraderie.
"We're all in this together, so let's hang out together before the biggest game of the season," Niskanen said. "Hopefully, we do bring that road mentality. Sometimes there's extra pressure to win at home or something. I don't think that's the case tonight.
"It's a Game 7. It is at home, so we should use that to our advantage. … I think everyone will pull together and try to play our best game for each other."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins would have rather avoided a Game 7 in their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Rangers. But after allowing a 3-1 series lead to evaporate, they want to embrace the moment.
Pittsburgh seemed to be playing its best hockey in several weeks after winning three straight games to take a 3-1 series lead. They regressed in the following two games, losing them by the combined score of 8-2, with the Rangers evening the series 3-3 entering Game 7 on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"I think a little bit, you can look at Games 3 and 4, and 5 and 6 as mirror opposites of each other," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That was a team after Game 4 that was a little bit frustrated and a little bit disappointed with how they played and vowed to be better in Game 5 and were. … We can't live in Games 3 and 4. We certainly can't live in Games 5 and 6.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi has been criticized for his underwhelming performance during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Coach, Dan Bylsma said he thinks that perception is unfair.
Scuderi is a minus-3 through 11 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which ranks last among Pittsburgh defensemen. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has struggled since returning in December from a broken leg that sidelined him for two months.
That continued Friday, when Scuderi made a miscue that led to one of the New York Rangers' two power-play goals during Pittsburgh's 5-1 loss in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series.
Game 6 of the best-of-7 series, which Pittsburgh leads 3-2, is Sunday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Bylsma said Scuderi does not receive the credit he deserves because he is not a high-octane offensive performer.
"He's a fairly unassuming defenseman in how he plays," Bylsma said of Scuderi. "He's a guy who defends and is always thinking defense. The PK is a big part of that. We had some unforced errors and that was one of them. You don't get it cleared, it's in the back of the net a few seconds later.
"That's not the only mistake in the game. But I think Rob's played some of his best hockey for us in these playoffs."
After losing 3-2 in overtime in Game 1, Pittsburgh has won the next three games by the combined score of 9-2. The Penguins have shut out the Rangers twice and shut down New York’s power play, which has failed to score on its last 36 opportunities.
But despite controlling the momentum, Bylsma will not be satisfied until the Penguins earn a series-clinching win, which could come in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"We had that mentality going into the last game," Bylsma said. "It was a situation where the Rangers had played, I think, a really good Game 3 and we were able to get a second wind. Last night was either, 2-2 or 3-1 and we didn't want to wait to see how that game would turn out and make it best-of-5.
"Now, we're almost in the same situation. We don't want to give them any life. We don't want to let them any opportunity and we have that ability coming back here at Consol with our fans, in our building, to get that fourth win."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will have the same lineup, but expect to be a different team when they face the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series Sunday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
That means defenseman Brooks Orpik will most likely miss his fourth consecutive game with an undisclosed injury after taking part in the Penguins' optional practice on Saturday.
Pittsburgh did not make any line adjustments during its morning skate on Sunday. Orpik did not return to the ice after skating on his own about an hour before the skate and forward Brian Gibbons (undisclosed) did not work on a line.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik skated Saturday for the first time since sustaining an undisclosed injury, but his status remains unknown for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Rangers.
Orpik participated in Pittsburgh's optional practice Saturday morning along with several Penguins. The group consisted mostly of players who aren't expected to play in Game 2 on Sunday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Orpik has not officially rejoined the team and left the ice several minutes before any other player.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who does not offer injury updates during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, did not discuss Orpik's injury.
Sutter and Vitale each left Pittsburgh's Game 6 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets early with apparent injuries. Sutter returned to the bench late in the third period but did not step back on the ice. Vitale did not return after a knee-to-knee hit that left him lying on the ice for several minutes before being helped to the locker room.
Sutter said he expects to play in Game 1 at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"I think everyone feels good," Sutter said. "We had a couple days to rest and had a good few practices and hopefully we're all feeling fresh by tonight. [The Rangers] definitely had a good second half. They played well and managed to get home ice in the first round. It's going to be a tight series and we expect tight, tight games."
PITTSBURGH -- Despite a schedule that has the New York Rangers playing six games in nine days, they do not think they are at a disadvantage entering Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Rangers will play their third game in four days Friday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Pittsburgh has had three days to rest and practice since their last game, but New York doesn't think that will affect the series' outcome.
"You can't look at the big picture," Rangers forward Martin St. Louis said. "You just have to focus on the game, and then once that game's over, regroup and focus on Game 2. You can't focus on six in nine. They're in the same boat that we are, so we aren't going to overthink it. Just get ready for the next game."
The Penguins separated the two centers at the morning skate after using Crosby and Malkin on the same line throughout Game 5 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Malkin returned to the second line between forwards Jussi Jokinen and James Neal, while forward Lee Stempniak rejoined Crosby and forward Chris Kunitz.
But Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he expects to put Crosby and Malkin together through at least a portion of Game 6 Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, ROOT, FS-O) at Nationwide Arena. Crosby, who has five assists but no goals in the series, said he thinks he is playing well even if it isn't apparent on the score sheet.
Throughout the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series, led 3-2 by Pittsburgh, each team has responded to adversity. A trend has formed that involves one team taking an early lead before losing one game, then falling behind early before coming from behind to win the next.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the Penguins joked following their 3-1 win in Game 5 on Saturday that they would consider handing Columbus a 1-0 lead to start Game 6 at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET; CBC, RDS2, ROOT, FS-O).
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma did not provide an update on Orpik's condition.
Orpik, one of Pittsburgh's more physical defenseman, left Penguins practice Friday for undisclosed reasons.
"He's a big loss. Physically, he's our No. 1 leader as far as hits, the way he can change momentum with one of them," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "He kills a lot of penalties. He plays against top lines. So if he's not able to go it's going to be a big loss for us.
"Unfortunately, it's something we've had to deal with all season. Hopefully whatever the coaches decide to do with the pairings, [we] can step up and play the right way."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets could each have their lineups bolstered by returning players when they meet in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference First Round series Saturday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT).
Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin confirmed he will play Saturday after missing two games with a lower-body injury, and defenseman Ryan Murray (lower body) said he is a game-time decision. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he expects each to return to the lineup.
Penguins forward Marcel Goc, who has been sidelined for 13 games with a foot injury, will be a game-time decision.
Tyutin was paired with defenseman Nikita Nikitin and Murray skated with defenseman James Wisniewski during Columbus' skate Saturday morning. With the best-of-7 series tied 2-2, Murray expects each team to play with desperation.
"They've been a pretty intense four games," Murray said. "It's been a strange series. Each team has come back every game and has come back from deficits. We stole one in one another's barns and just know that no team is going to quit out there no matter what the score is.
Leading 3-2 with less than 30 seconds remaining in Game 4 on Wednesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Fleury left the net with a puck careening around the end boards. The puck hopped over Fleury's stick, which led to him scrambling to stop a shot from Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky that tied the game 3-3. Nick Foligno scored a long-distance goal 2:45 into overtime to give Columbus the win and tie the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series 2-2.
Dubinsky's late goal left Fleury face down in his crease.
Looking back on the play, Fleury said he should have remained in net, an opinion shared by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. But at the time he thought he could make a play that would help clear the puck from Pittsburgh's zone and seal a victory.
"I think it's easy after, when you watch the video in slow motion. It's the wrong play when the puck goes in the net," Fleury said. "But as it happened, the puck was coming slow. I read I could stop it and it might be good to pick it up and get the puck out of the zone pretty quick. So that's why I went. The puck took a bad bounce and that's it."
Instead, their best-of-7 series is tied 2-2, which has left Penguins coach Dan Bylsma critical of Pittsburgh's effort after surrendering a three-goal lead in its 4-3 overtime loss in Game 4 on Wednesday.
"I think the work and compete and battle level has probably been the most troubling thing from our team," Bylsma said at his Thursday press conference. "In Game 3, after getting down two goals for 50, 55 minutes of that game, it wasn't perfect, but we were the desperate team. We took the game to them. Last night, we get up three goals in the game and they were the team that worked and competed and outbattled us for most of the duration of the game."
With less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and the Penguins up 3-2 Wednesday, Fleury left his crease in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He attempted to retrieve a puck riding the boards behind the net, but it hopped over his stick and was passed to Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky.
Dubinsky hit the open net. Then 2:49 into overtime, forward Nick Foligno wristed a shot directly at Fleury. That one got through as well.
"He was our best player in the game last night and unfortunately a mistake with the bouncing puck there behind the net cost us in the last 30 seconds of the game," Bylsma said Thursday. "Typically, the rule of thumb is pucks on the glass, you stay in net. Pucks on the dasher, you have a truer read on the play. Given the time of the game, the puck gets rimmed in, the play is to stay in the net and not go out and attempt a play on the puck."
PITTSBURGH -- What was once the Pittsburgh Penguins' primary strength has turned into a weakness.
After coming back from a two-goal deficit to win Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Penguins surrendered a two-goal lead in their 4-3 double-overtime loss in Game 2 on Saturday. Special teams were a catalyst for Columbus in building a lead early Game 1 and evaporating Pittsburgh's lead in Game 2.
Five of the Blue Jackets' seven goals in the series have been scored via their special teams, including one shorthanded goal in each game. Columbus has cracked Pittsburgh's once-stellar power-play and penalty-killing units, which simultaneously topped the NHL rankings at one point during the regular season.
The Blue Jackets have been aggressive when down a man, leading to several shorthanded scoring opportunities. After Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert's shorthanded goal in the second period of Game 2, the Penguins allowed two more shorthanded chances during the same power play, including one off a 2-on-1.
"We need to take advantage of their aggressiveness," Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. "We have to come in and possess the puck. If they're over-pursuing, somebody can make one play and put pucks to the net and score goals. When they do that, they second-guess themselves and get in between, and it really opens up the ice.
"So, puck possession, but also making that first play where they're being overaggressive and get caught in between, and we're going to have a lot of time to be able to shoot it."
After missing five games due to an upper-body injury, Umberger will play against his hometown team in Game 2 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series against Pittsburgh on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT). Umberger said he is excited to return in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center.
The feeling wasn't mutual in the Penguins locker room. They expect Umberger to attempt to own the crease in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and have prepared for his addition to bolster the Blue Jackets' performance.
"He's a big guy who brings physical play to their lineup," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "He's good in front of the net. He can score goals. He's a veteran guy who has a lot of experience, so I would expect [Columbus] to get a boost from that."
Umberger will play in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT).
Umberger missed the past five games, including the opener of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with an upper-body injury.
"It's definitely hard to watch, especially a playoff game in my hometown," Umberger said. "You want to be out there as much as you can, helping your guys and your team. It was hard, but I'm excited to be back tonight."
Game 2 will take place at Consol Energy Center on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT).
Pittsburgh made several line adjustments during its 4-3 win in Game 1 Wednesday, primarily to the wings on three of its lines. The Penguins swapped forwards Tanner Glass, who began the game as the third-line left wing, and Brian Gibbons under certain circumstances.
PITTSBURGH -- All indications point toward the Pittsburgh Penguins having their healthiest lineup in several months entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Forwards Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Joe Vitale (mid body) skated for the second consecutive day Wednesday morning. Neither has been officially announced as part of Pittsburgh's lineup for Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC), but their returns are likely.
Malkin worked in his normal spot as the second-line center, while Vitale centered the fourth line between forwards Brian Gibbons and Craig Adams.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins reassigned three players to the American Hockey League Tuesday to seemingly make room for players returning from injury.
Defenseman Simon Despres and forwards Chuck Kobasew and Harry Zolnierczyk were reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League prior to Game 1 of Pittsburgh’s first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, FS-O, ROOT).
“Obviously, it’s been a long year with a lot of different guys,” Vitale said. “But it’s a good feeling, obviously to see [Malkin] out there and [defenseman Paul Martin] and just see those faces and Kris [Letang]. Just to see those faces and the energy they bring, the energy on the ice is kind of contagious throughout the whole locker room, so it’s something special and we’re obviously thankful to have those guys back.”
Malkin, Vitale and Conner will not play in Pittsburgh's regular-season finale and Bylsma could not confirm if they would be healthy to play in Game 1 of the Penguins' first round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"I don't have an expectation, nor do I have a definitive answer on what players will be available for Game 1," Bylsma said.
Kunitz and Orpik will sit for the second time in the past three games. They are listed as day-to-day and their ailments are not expected to be long-term issues, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Penguins forward Harry Zolnierczyk will play against his former team after being recalled Friday from the American Hockey League.
The Flyers would clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division and a date with the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a regulation or overtime victory. If they win in a shootout or lose, they will have to await the results of the final games for the Columbus Blue Jackets (Saturday night) and potentially the Detroit Red Wings (Sunday) before learning their playoff opponent.
Kunitz, who serves as the net-front presence on the Penguins' top-ranked power play, has scored a career-high 67 points and 35 goals in 77 games this season. His contributions could be missed against the Flyers, whose special teams were dominant in a weekend series against the Penguins on March 15 and 16.
Carolina cancelled its morning skate Tuesday, so the look of their lineup, including the status of the injured players, won't be known until closer to game time.
Pittsburgh forward Jussi Jokinen, who spent parts of five seasons with Carolina, said he still has relationships with Hurricanes players and doesn't enjoy seeing his former team struggle.
"I follow them and I think this is the fifth year they've missed the playoffs in a row," Jokinen said. "It's tough on their organization. There's big expectations. Obviously they made it to the conference finals in '09 and after that it's been tough.
"There are a lot of good players there but I don't think there's one reason. I think there's many reasons they haven't been able to get back to the playoffs."
Maatta, a 19-year-old rookie, did not play against the Columbus Blue Jackets after playing in 72 of Pittsburgh's first 73 games of the season. His production has decreased in recent weeks and he has been a minus in six of his past 12 games.
"Obviously, you want to play every game. You don't want to take games off," Maatta said. "But I feel like it was good for me. It's been a long season. It's been a lot of games. It's been a really new situation for me.
"I've never played this many games in my life."
Maatta has 28 points and nine goals in 72 games this season.
Zatkoff, who was drafted in the third round (No. 74) by the Kings in 2006, has gone 12-2-1 since beginning the season 0-2-0. The Penguins have lost eight of their past 11 games in which No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has started. He'll go Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"We started the season with [Zatkoff] and you can look at his first game, and people wondered if he could play," Bylsma said. "He played a second game, I think it was a loss to the [New York] Islanders and you still have those questions. Right now, you look at the wins he's got this year, it's pretty impressive.
"He's played well for us. He's played strong for us. He's won hockey games for us."
Malkin was injured while in front of the net in his first shift against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. Malkin did not practice Monday, which was said to be due to a day off for the Penguins' Olympians except forward Chris Kunitz.
Fleury is still searching for his 35th win of the season as the Penguins have not won in his past three starts. He has allowed three or more goals in each of his three starts since shutting out the Washington Capitals on March 11.
Goalie Jeff Zatkoff will start for Pittsburgh in the first of back-to-back games this weekend. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will most likely start for the Penguins against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma did not provide any other lineup updates.
Zatkoff will get his second start in Pittsburgh's past three games after starting two of its previous 13. He has gone 11-2-1 since beginning the season with two losses and has a 2.52 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Despite goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has not played this season because of a blood clot, continuing to progress while participating in practices, Bylsma said the Penguins do not have a three-goalie system. He said Vokoun playing prior to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a "mere possibility."
Forwards Chris Kunitz (lower body) and James Neal (concussion), who missed Pittsburgh's past two games, returned to their normal positions during the Penguins' morning skate Tuesday and will return. Kunitz skated at left wing alongside forwards Sidney Crosby and Lee Stempniak while Neal returned to second-line right wing next to forwards Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen.
Neal and Kunitz also resumed their usual roles on the top power-play unit with Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Kunitz rotated with Jokinen in front of the net on the power play.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz will miss his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury Sunday afternoon when the Penguins host the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN2) in the back end of a home-and-home series.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Kunitz, who normally plays left wing on the top line, is "feeling well, but not well enough to be in today's lineup" at Consol Energy Center. Kunitz seemed to injure his leg during a game against the Washington Capitals on March 11 after colliding with a goal post in the third period.
Kunitz struggled to skate to the bench, but finished the game on the top line after taking one shift on the fourth line.
Washington, which did not run line drills during its optional morning skate Tuesday, will start goalie Jaroslav Halak for the second consecutive game (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2). Halak allowed three goals on 33 shots Monday.
The Capitals won't have forward Brooks Laich in the lineup. Laich has been bothered by a groin injury and didn't make the trip. They recalled forward Casey Wellman and defenseman Patrick Wey from the American Hockey League on Tuesday. Wellman, who has two goals and three points in 10 NHL games this season, will play Tuesday. Wey's status for the game is unknown.
Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov most likely will play after making his NHL debut Monday. Kuznetsov had two shots on goal in 10:22 of ice time and Capitals coach Adam Oates said he will try to ease him in after the game.
"I think we have to be patient and realistic about expectations because it's a foreign league for him," Oates said. "It's a foreign system. He's never played this way."
Forwards Joe Vitale (upper body) and Taylor Pyatt (lower body) will return after missing 12 and two games respectively. Their presence will strengthen Pittsburgh's bottom-six, which had featured defenseman Deryk Engelland at right wing on the fourth line in recent games.
Forward Pascal Dupuis spoke for the first time since tearing his ACL on Dec. 23. Brian Gibbons will continue to fill Dupuis' role as the top-line right wing for the time being. Dupuis is expected to fully recover in 6-8 months, but said he is attempting to recover in closer to six.
"I'm feeling good, surgery went well," Dupuis said. "I know my season is over this year. It definitely looks and sounds long, but I guess you can't rush anything."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division, will play for the final time in the regular season Friday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) at Consol Energy Center.
Pittsburgh used the same forward lines and defense pairings during its morning skate Friday as it used during its game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday. Forward Harry Zolnierczyk is expected to remain on the left wing on the Penguins' fourth line in his second game since being recalled from the American Hockey League.
Zolnierczyk has two goals in 10 games with the Penguins. He said his experience with Pittsburgh this season has made it easy to transition from his role with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL.
"I remember my first call-up to [the Philadelphia Flyers]," Zolnierczyk said. "It was pretty nerve-wracking to get your first NHL game. You play half a season there and now to have a good chunk of games here, it makes it that much easier and that much more comfortable to get in the lineup and be comfortable with the guys and to have chemistry with whoever you're playing with."
After missing two games with an undisclosed illness, Letang continues to not feel well and will undergo further evaluations. It is uncertain if Letang's ailment could be long-term, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
The 2013 Norris Trophy finalist has missed 21 games entering Monday due to various injuries.
Pittsburgh is 16-5-0 without Letang this season, but defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Penguins will need to increase their quality of play if they are to compete with Ottawa after losing 3-1 against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday.
After missing five games with a lower-body injury, forward Brian Gibbons was activated off injured reserve Saturday and skated alongside Crosby and Chris Kunitz during Pittsburgh's Monday morning skate. Gibbons has two goals, four assists in 13 games with the Penguins.
Before his injury Gibbons was one of several players to see time at right wing on Pittsburgh's top line after Pascal Dupuis sustained a season-ending ACL injury.
"We were playing pretty well together when we left off there a couple of weeks ago," Gibbons said. "Hopefully we pick up where we left off."
"It's a little special when [you compete] against your buddies and there are bragging rights on the line," said Murray, who will be paired with Francis Bouillon. "I don't think you have to warn anybody in this locker room about [Pittsburgh]. They've been a top team for a long time and they're up in the standings again."
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said three injured Penguins will return against Florida but did not specify which three. He said the returning players will give the Penguins eight healthy defensemen, indicating Paul Martin, who has missed 23 games with a broken tibia, will return.
Although Martin was paired with Brooks Orpik at the morning skate, Bylsma said Martin will be eased into the lineup.
"He's been out for a long time, an extended period of time. He wasn't able to walk for a good portion of that time period," Bylsma said. "When he gets back in the lineup, it's going to be a progression of what he brings.
"He's not going to jump back in and play a shutdown role."
After missing the first nine games of the season with a lower-body injury, Letang was sidelined for an additional 10 games after sustaining an upper-body injury against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 13.
"I told him [coach Dan Bylsma] I felt good," Letang said after Pittsburgh's Saturday practice. "It's the coach's decision. Every time you practice, you become more confident out there and more comfortable.
Despite participating in Pittsburgh's Friday morning skate, Letang was ruled out for its game against the New York Rangers. He returned to his pairing with Rob Scuderi and his position on the top power-play unit during practice on Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
After being considered a game-time decision earlier in the day, star center Evgeni Malkin will also return to the lineup Sunday afternoon after missing nine games with an injury. Malkin has been out since hurting his left leg Dec. 14 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Malkin collected a goal and two assists against Detroit before falling awkwardly into the boards and appeared to favor his leg after the collision. Despite missing three weeks, Malkin still ranks fifth in the NHL with 32 assists and 16th with 41 points.
Callahan was expected to miss 4-6 weeks after spraining his left knee against the Nashville Predators on Dec. 10, but he said he does not feel any lingering effects from the injury and is prepared to play Friday.
"I think it's hard to tell [how long it will take to recover] when it's that far out, but rehab went how it's supposed to. I don't think it's too far ahead of schedule," Callahan said. "It's hard to sit out and watch your team, and I say this every time, you're working to get back out there with the guys and it doesn't matter how many times or how many games you've played, when you've been hurt, you've been rehabbing and you get a chance to come back you're happy to get back out there."
With Callahan back in the lineup, the Rangers are fully healthy. The same cannot be said for Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins will attempt to win their 10th consecutive home game Saturday afternoon before emarking on an extended road trip when they face the Calgary Flames at Consol Energy Center.
Pittsburgh, which is on a season-high nine-game home win streak, has won six straight overall and leads the NHL in wins (14) and points (29) since Nov. 18. Its record is 14-2-1 during that stretch.
"There's no secret. We're just trying to compete every night with guys out," Sidney Crosby said on Friday. "I think everyone is just trying to find a way to contribute and make sure we're picking up our game as best we can."
The Penguins played well despite facing a rash of injuries and suspensions that have sidelined five of their top seven defenseman and five forwards, including Evgeni Malkin. None of their injured players will return Saturday in their last home game until Jan. 3, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Bylsma said it is possible Malkin, who has missed three games with a lower-body injury, could return against the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
Harding, who was placed on IR Wednesday in order to make an adjustment to his medication for multiple sclerosis, leads the NHL with a 1.51 goals-against average and is second with a .939 save percentage. He is tied for second with 18 wins, two behind Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said Minnesota was aware of Harding's condition for a "couple days."
"We've known that this was coming and we didn't feel any need to talk about it, we didn't want any distraction before our Vancouver game," Yeo said. "It's something that is a minor adjustment that we have to make. He feels great, he wants to make sure that everyone understands that.
"This is just a minor thing that he'll be ready to rejoin us right after Christmas."
The Wild recalled Johan Gustafsson and will start Niklas Backstrom against Pittsburgh at Consol Energy Center. Backstrom is 2-5-2 with a 2.93 GAA and .900 save percentage in 12 starts.
PITTSBURGH -- The largest set of injuries the Pittsburgh Penguins have faced this season will lead to a nearly unrecognizable Pittsburgh lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
Forward Evgeni Malkin, who sustained a lower-body injury against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, is day-to-day and will not play Monday, according to coach Dan Bylsma. He also said defenseman Kris Letang has been placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.
Sidney Crosby said his team will need to play at its best to compensate for the injuries.
"I think you want to make sure you're at your best," Crosby said. "I think that's always the case but I think it's pretty natural when guys are missing for everyone to want to pick it up a little bit more and find ways when guys are out."
PITTSBURGH -- The New Jersey Devils will attempt to rebound from surrendering a two-goal lead in their previous game when they face the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.
New Jersey lost 5-4 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday after holding a 3-1 lead in the second period. Columbus leapfrogged New Jersey, which is in seventh place in the division with 30 points.
After a 1-4-0 start to December, New Jersey looks at this game against the Penguins as a chance to right the ship.
"I don't think we played a poor, poor game [against Columbus]," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think there were some things we needed to clean up, but we're in a situation where we can't afford to let one loss turn into two.
"I think we'll be good tonight and it's going to be a tough test."
Brooks Orpik was placed on injured reserve Monday with a concussion sustained against the Boston Bruins on Saturday, while James Neal has been suspended for five games following a phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Monday Orpik is "doing quite well."
Orpik was injured in the first period Saturday during an altercation with Bruins forward Shawn Thornton, who faces an in-person disciplinary hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety. The date for the hearing has yet to be determined.
"We saw him leave the ice [on a stretcher] so it was pretty scary in that regard," Bylsma said. "He’s up and moving around just fine. I don't have [knowledge of] any type of other symptoms that he’s having at this time."
Malkin left midway through Pittsburgh's morning skate and is listed as day-to-day. He is one point behind Sidney Crosby in the NHL scoring race with 37 points and on a season-high nine-game point streak (four goals, 15 assists).
"[Malkin's] month of November, at least from the media's aspect, was maybe the least spectacular month of anyone's career," Bylsma said. "There was a lot of heat, pressure and question marks for the first 20 games of that month.
"He quietly put up multi-point games and assist games during that month and played maybe his best games against Anaheim, where he didn't get a point. He certainly caught fire near the end of the month."
Forwards Beau Bennett (wrist) and Tanner Glass (hand) and defenseman Paul Martin (leg) sustained injuries during the Penguins' recent two-game road trip. Bennett had surgery on his wrist and will be out 8-10 weeks, Martin will miss 4-6 weeks, and Glass will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks.
Martin played with a fractured tibia for some time during the third period of Pittsburgh's 4-3 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday, according to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.
"It is a condensed schedule. Practice time is more like recovery time than it is in most seasons because of the break in the middle of the year," Bylsma said. "For us, if you break a bone, you kind of break a bone. I don't think that’s a factor of being tired or not."
The Islanders entered November in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 11 points. But they now sit last in the division as they open their game Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With 19 points following losses in six of their past eight games, Vanek could provide a spark.
"I'm really anxious," Vanek said. "I didn't get to play many games with my new team here so it's tough to watch. But at the same time it's a long season. It's important to be healthy and be 100 percent out there."
"There will be a little mix and matching. Try to get a little spark somewhere," said Dupuis, who has scored three points in his past 12 games. "They [Crosby and Malkin] are both so talented and you have to read off them a little bit. At the same time, I've been playing with Sid for a little while, so I need to make a little bit of an adjustment with Geno [Malkin]."
After averaging 3.13 non-shootout goals per game through its first 15 games, Pittsburgh's offense has slowed considerably, scoring one goal in each of its past three games. The Penguins haven't scored an even-strength goal in their past three games and will attempt to avoid extending that drought against the NHL's 25th-ranked defense.
"We have to stay to our game plan and stay to our systems and stick to the little things and keep working," Penguins forward James Neal said. "That's the only way to get through it."
PITTSBURGH -- Coming off consecutive road losses, the Pittsburgh Penguins will attempt to regain their consistency when they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2, RDS).
After 11 days away from Pittsburgh, the Penguins expect to feed off of their home crowd.
"It's always nice playing in front of our fans," forward Pascal Dupuis said. "It's something we value. We play our best on this ice and we expect the best out of each other, especially playing an opponent like Philly.
The Blue Jackets are fourth in the Metropolitan Division with 10 points, eight behind the first-place Penguins. Columbus will have a chance to cut into that lead during the home-and-home set.
Forward Brandon Dubinsky said the Blue Jackets will need to come out strong Friday to set themselves up for the rematch Saturday in Columbus.
"You have to make it a hard game," Dubinsky said. "You have to come out, be ready to compete right from the get-go. We know these guys come hard at home. They play with speed. They generate a lot of speed through the neutral zone and they got some top-end guys.
"We have to find a way to stay disciplined, stay out of the box and be ready to play a physical and hard game."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will face the Boston Bruins on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, RDS2) at Consol Energy Center for the first time since being swept by Boston in last season's Eastern Conference Final.
Pittsburgh remembers how last season ended and considers this matchup a true rivalry. While it might not be the most natural rivalry for the Penguins, captain Sidney Crosby sees the games growing in intensity.
"It might now [be a rivalry]," Crosby said. "Just because the games the last couple of years have been pretty close, pretty exciting games. Other than that, you know what to expect when you're playing them.
"It's probably not the first that comes to mind, like Philadelphia or Washington. But I think it's developed into that.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins enter the weekend owners of the NHL's sixth-best defense, allowing 2.22 goals per game. Pittsburgh will look to improve its defense further by adding All-Star defenseman Kris Letang to its lineup Friday.
Letang will make his season debut Friday against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center after missing the Penguins' first nine games with a lower-body injury. He will skate on Pittsburgh's top defensive pairing with Rob Scuderi and its top power-play unit.
"Rob is a stay-at-home defenseman. He has a good first pass," Letang said. "He reads the play really well, defends against the best player every year and has done a pretty good job at it, so it's going to be fun for me to play with him."
Each team enters with a 7-1-0 record. The Avalanche are one point behind the San Jose Sharks at the top of the Western Conference standings, while the Penguins stand alone atop the Eastern Conference.
Forward Matt Duchene, who leads Colorado with nine points (three goals, six assists), said the game will be about more than Crosby vs. MacKinnon.
"This [Pittsburgh] has been one of the premier teams in the NHL," Duchene said. "They get a lot of media attention and a lot of attention from fans. We're a team that hasn't been good for the past few years and has previously been forgotten about until recently. We're starting to hopefully bring the glory days back to the Avalanche and we want to be one of those teams.
"I think if we can come out and have a win, everyone's going to sit back and say, 'Whoa, the Avs are for real.'"
The Penguins have built a 6-1-0 record while facing five sub-.500 teams -- four who have won one game or fewer -- but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said teams' records this early in the season are not indicative of their skill level.
"Early in the season I don't give a lot of credit to the record and where they're at in the standings," Bylsma said after Pittsburgh's Friday practice. "The Flyers were a win away from being six points behind us in the standings, which isn't that far and a lot can be said for their start or lack of their start. But that game [Thursday] would've put them within four or six points.
"It's tough to give those records credence. We're playing a Vancouver team that is good in a lot of areas, good with their top skill and are a good team and that's what we're looking at, at a John Tortorella team."
Kobasew was effective on Pittsburgh's third line and Jokinen said he expects Kobasew to fit in well next to him and Malkin.
"I think it's still pretty normal," Jokinen said. "How it is in the NHL, there are so many injuries and the coaches like to mix up the lines, so I think everybody's used to it, that there are going to be different line combinations.
"Especially now with Chuck Kobasew playing with us, he's a really good two-way player who is a hard-nosed player that goes to the net and does all of those little things and can score goals and can make plays too."
Neal sustained an upper-body injury on opening night and left the game after logging less than four minutes of ice time Oct. 3 against the New Jersey Devils. In the 12 days prior to Neal going on IR, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has said Neal would have to participate in a full practice before returning to action.
Bylsma said Neal's placement on IR is retroactive, so he would be eligible to come off at any time since it has been more than 10 days since he was injured.
To replace Neal on the roster, the Penguins recalled forward Harry Zolnierczyk from Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Zolnierczyk will play on Pittsburgh's third line with Brandon Sutter and Dustin Jeffrey on Tuesday.
Pittsburgh traded Staal to Carolina in June 2012 for Sutter, the eighth pick of the 2012 NHL Draft (which the Penguins used to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot) and defenseman Brian Dumoulin.
Staal spent his first six seasons in Pittsburgh, scoring 248 points in 431 games and staking claim to the Penguins' third-line center role behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The trio of Crosby, Malkin and Staal gave Pittsburgh one of the NHL's deepest rosters down the middle.
PITTSBURGH -- Injuries will require both the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins to make changes to their respective lineups when they meet Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
Pittsburgh will be without forward James Neal for the first time this season, as he will sit with an upper-body injury. Neal played in the Penguins' 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils Thursday night, but left after 3:49 of ice time.
Bennett didn't want Neal's injury to be the reason for his promotion from the third line, but he said he welcomes the opportunity to play next to Malkin.
"It's exciting," Bennett said. "I know we're going to be switching up the lines quite a bit. So, it will be awesome to start the game with [Malkin] and try to develop some chemistry and just hopefully everything goes well."
Mark Johnson and Joe Mullen have spent one day with their players prior to the 2013 All-American Prospects Game, but the coaches were impressed with the prospects' skill level during practice at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.
Johnson, head coach of the University of Wisconsin women's ice hockey team, said he was amazed with the prospects' development compared to the level of his peers' progress when they were 17 years old. The players' size impressed Johnson the most, as he said they towered over him, even before stepping into their skates.
"I'm used to looking at my players on the level that I'm looking at you right now," Johnson said. "All of a sudden, you're looking up at them. The size and the speed [stood out]. Obviously, when I was playing we had some big players in the League, but they didn't move quite as well as these players do.
"So, it's very impressive to even watch them in a 30-minute workout, and certainly tonight behind the bench it's going to be exciting to see them compete against each other."
PITTSBURGH --Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off another disappointing postseason performance, but his teammates' confidence in their starting goaltender has not been shaken.
After an impressive regular season, Fleury struggled in the postseason, a theme that has become too familiar for the 28-year-old since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. Fleury posted a 2.39 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 33 regular-season games in 2012-13, but then had a 3.52 GAA and .883 save percentage in five Stanley Cup Playoff games, leading to Tomas Vokoun moving into the starting role during Pittsburgh's run to the Eastern Conference Final.
PITTSBURGH -- With a few noteworthy names lost during the offseason, at least three of the Pittsburgh Penguins' six forward spots on the team's bottom two lines are up for grabs, which should create heated competition during training camp.
Scuderi was known as a calming presence within Pittsburgh's defensive unit throughout its march toward the 2009 Stanley Cup. He served that role again in 2012 with Los Angeles, helping the Kings win their first Cup. Now he is expected to bring that quality back to the Penguins while paired with Kris Letang.
"I think guys look to you and hopefully you can be a good example, but I've always been the same person even before I won the Stanley Cups," Scuderi said. "I know it gives you credibility in the locker room and that's great, but there's a lot of guys that haven't won it that have it inside them and hopefully we're trying to find that."
PITTSBURGH --Beau Bennett, entering his second NHL season, is facing the possibility of playing alongside Evgeni Malkin, a Hart Trophy winner, and James Neal, a 40-goal scorer. But the young forward is content filling any role asked of him, as long as it means he makes the team.
"Sunshine," as he is referred to in the Pittsburgh Penguins' locker room, showed flashes of offensive brilliance during his rookie season, and had three goals and 11 assists in 26 games.
Entering training camp this season, Bennett could serve a prominent role on the Penguins' top two lines. He will compete with Jussi Jokinen for the open spot next to Malkin and Neal, but after multiple stints in the American Hockey League last season, he said he is focused on making the opening-day roster.
What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.
— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp