Defenseman Kris Letang, who was out of the lineup for five games due to headaches stemming from a hit to the head Feb. 29, has been cleared to play against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Letang said he's a little surprised to be back so quickly.
"I was scared a little bit during that game," said Letang, who suffered the injury on a hit by Stars forward Eric Nystrom. "Looking back at it, the symptoms were not that bad. I was able to rehabilitate easier."
Letang was never diagnosed with a concussion this time around, but he missed nearly two months with a concussion suffered in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 26. In a strange coincidence, Letang also returned from that injury to face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19. In that contest, he had an assist and was plus-2 in 24:17.
Coach Dan Bylsma said he doesn't expect to give Letang a full workload, but he said the same thing before that Jan. 19 game as well. Letang hasn't had the same layoff this time around, and said the symptoms from the Nystrom hit weren't as severe as the ones he felt after the hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.
"The first time I got dizzy and I got sick," Letang said. "It was just a question of headaches (this time). It wasn't that bad."
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek said the importance of having Letang back can't be underestimated.
"It's huge," Michalek said. "He's been such a great player for us. He's having a good season and playing so many big minutes against other teams' top lines. He might be one of the top d-men in the League. He maybe doesn't get the credit he deserves in the League and it's great to have him back. I'm glad he's healthy again."
The Penguins have won nine straight games and have climbed to within six points of the Rangers in the chase for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have played most of the season without their big guns, and Thursday's game will be the fifth this season that the Penguins will have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the lineup.
The best may have yet to come for the now-healthy Penguins.
"Everybody looks at our lineup right and everyone's healthy, but you never know," Letang said. "The chemistry we had before…I think we have a pretty tight group and I think we can do a lot of great stuff. But we have to get everybody going at the same time."
"We are not worrying about who's in the lineup or who's not, we're just playing our game and we've done a pretty good job of it so far this season," Michalek said. "Obviously it's a great boost for our team to have some of the top players in the world back in our lineup. In the long run, it will definitely be a boost for our team. It's exciting, just the way we are playing right now. Having these guys back, we know we have the potential."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Zajac, who has been out of the lineup since Jan. 4 with an injured left Achilles tendon, will miss his 32nd straight game on Thursday when the Devils host the Colorado Avalanche. The fact he was on the ice with the team was certainly a positive step in the latter stages of his rehibilatation.
Zajac told The (Bergen) Record on Wednesday that he received medical clearance to "amp up" his skating.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello confirmed that statement, but said there is still no set date for his return to the lineup.
"We're not going to have any conversation (with the media) about when he's ready and when he's not ready," Lamoriello told The Record. "When that time comes, you'll know the day when he plays. The coach will say when he's playing. It is not going to happen immediately. It's going to take a while and there is no time frame, but he has been given the OK to practice and have contact."
Zajac has missed the last 32 games for the Devils and has played in just eight contests this season -- he has 1 goal and 3 points.
Devils captain Zach Parise was certainly glad to see his former centerman back in the lineup.
"He seems real excited," Parise told The Star-Ledger. "He looks like he's walking better. I think he feels more confident skating now."
Zajac would like to return before the end of the regular season.
"We’ll talk with the doctors every week and go from there," Zajac told reporters after the team's practice on Thursday. "There's no set date. We'll take it a day at a time here. The key for me is getting in good practices when the team does practice and trying to get in some game-like situations."
NEW YORK -- For the second straight game, the New York Rangers won't be anywhere near full-strength.
Goaltender and Vezina Trophy favorite Henrik Lundqvist said Thursday morning that the flu bug that sidelined him for Tuesday's game is gone, but he's still not recovered to the point where he's ready to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in an Eastern Conference showdown on Thursday night.
"I was hoping to play tonight, but being off the ice for three days, I had a feeling it might be tough to be game-ready right away," said Lundqvist, who took part in the team's morning practice but won't dress for the game. "There's no health issue. It's just sitting at home doing nothing. Just laying in bed for two days doesn't really help."
Backup Martin Biron will make his second consecutive start after making 27 saves in the Rangers' 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. For the year, the 34-year-old Biron is 12-4-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
Chad Johnson was again recalled from Connecticut of the AHL to serve as Biron's backup.
With the Penguins on a nine-game winning streak and now six points back of the Rangers for the top spot in the East, Biron has been thrust into his team's biggest game of the season. He sees it more as big opportunity for the club, not just himself.
"It's big for everybody here to keep going and building our game," Biron said. "I think the last few games have been good games for us in the team game and some individual games too. It's a big stage and a big opportunity for this club to keep going."
The news was equally discouraging on captain Ryan Callahan (foot) and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (hip). Callahan will miss his third straight game and sixth game in the last nine with his injury, while Del Zotto will sit for the fourth consecutive game.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Ovechkin collided with Mike Knuble, and Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington wrote the two-time MVP was on the ice for about two minutes before sitting on the bench for three more minutes holding his head. He then left the bench and went to the dressing room.
“I can just speak from my situation and I’m worried, too,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who hasn't played since Jan. 3 because of a concussion, told Gormley. “We’ll see what happens.”
The Capitals begin a critical four-game road trip Friday in Winnipeg. Gormley wrote the team's chartered flight is expected to leave Thursday at 1 p.m.
Washington is currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, three points in front of Buffalo and four clear of the Jets. Ovechkin leads the Capitals with 29 goals and 53 points.
UPDATE: Washington coach Dale Hunter said Ovechkin is "fine." Hunter said Ovechkin just had the wind knocked out of him, and he will travel with the team to Winnipeg.
Duchene, who suffered a right ankle injury on March 6 against the Minnesota Wild, was originally thought to be sidelined three to four weeks. The third-year forward, who has missed four games, skated on his own Tuesday and felt good.
The Avalanche, winners of three straight, enter their showdown with the Devils in eighth place in the Western Conference with 80 points through 72 games. They lead San Jose, which has played three fewer games, by only two points.
The Avalanche didn't skate Thursday in Newark after scoring a 5-4 shootout decision over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Wednesday.
"His ankle was feeling better, so he skated (Tuesday) for about 40 minutes on his own," Avs coach Joe Sacco told Adrian Dater of The Denver Post. "The plan is to play him (Thursday) if all goes accordingly."
Sacco didn't reveal his starter in goal against the Devils following Wednesday's victory over Buffalo. There's a good chance Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the nod, however, after Semyon Varlamov stopped 20 of 24 shots through regulation and overtime in the victory over the Sabres. The shootout win over the Sabres gives the Avalanche a 12-4-0 record against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
Colorado wing Chuck Kobasew did skate Wednesday morning in Buffalo, but remains out with a back injury.
Here are the probable line combinations for the Avalanche:
NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.
In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.
The skinny: On the marquis Thursday night in New York City, the Pittsburgh Penguins invade Gotham with Sidney Crosby in tow and their sights set on the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have a game in hand on the Rangers and play them one more time this season.
A win tonight against New York and Pittsburgh can continue their quest for first. A loss and it almost certainly becomes a scramble for home ice with the Flyers and Devils.
Colorado, after a last-second goal Wednesday to force overtime in a shootout win at Buffalo, faces the New Jersey Devils in Newark. The Avalanche are in a playoff spot entering play Thursday, but have played more games than their counterparts in the Western Conference. After this game, Colorado will have nine remaining and while they play Calgary two more times and Phoenix once, a win gives them a little breathing room -- but not enough to feel safe.
Speaking of the Flames and Coyotes, they match up in Calgary for a pivotal game. Phoenix won Wednesday in Vancouver, and the Coyotes are chasing the Dallas Stars for first in the Pacific while trying to hold down a playoff position.
It is incredible to think the Coyotes are chasing first (and a top-three seed, while still trying to hold on to a playoff spot. That is the definition of tight right there.
The Flames continue to roll with four straight victories. Their downfall last season was not winning against teams competing for one of the final spots (like the Coyotes) down the stretch. They want to build on the momentum of their win Tuesday against the Sharks and climb back into a playoff spot.
Down in the Sunshine State, there has been plenty to shine about in South Florida this season for the Panthers. The Boston Bruins make a visit there Thursday, and they are only four points ahead of the Panthers. Florida can think about second in the conference with a win.
George McPhee, general manager of the Washington Capitals said he can't watch his team on TV because it is too hard for him. Does he watch other teams, and how do those games feel? If he doesn't watch, he'll be logging on to NHL.com to follow all the action and get updates on the games in progress. You should too.
One of the top North American prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, Sarnia Sting center Alex Galchenyuk, returned to the lineup for the first time in 66 games on Wednesday to the delight of the hometown faithful at RBC Centre in Sarnia.
Galchenyuk, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Sept. 16 preseason game and underwent surgery in October, said he felt no pain following the game. The only pain felt was the postgame sting that accompanied a 7-1 loss to the Saginaw Spirit.
Ho totaled approximately 10 minutes of ice time and played on a line with Brett Thompson and Charles Sarault.
Despite the long absence, there's a strong possibility Galchenyuk still could be drafted among the top 10 players in the first round of this year's draft. He's ranked as a "limited viewing" player on NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, but was No. 2 among OHL skaters in Central Scouting's preliminary rankings.
Playing alongside top North American draft prospect, Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, Galchenyuk produced 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games last season. It was enough to make believers out of any scout who had the opportunity to watch him play. Yakupov is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury.
On Wednesday, NHL.com caught up with Central Scouting's Al Jensen, who provided immediate reaction to Galchenyuk's anticipated debut this season.
At 18:41 of the second period in the Coyotes/Canucks game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Gilbert Brule's body and entered the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Phoenix.
According to rule 78.4 "If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate or body , in any manner, the goal shall be allowed."
At 18:56 of the second period in the Blue Jackets/Oilers game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Columbus' net became dislodged before the puck crossed the goal line. No goal Edmonton.
Alex Galchenyuk is a forward for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. The 6-foot, 198-pound forward was born in Milwaukee but is of Russian decent -- his father, Alexander, spent five of his 22 professional seasons playing in the U.S. Alex was the first pick of the 2010 OHL draft, and last season had 31 goals and 52 assists in 68 games. He had 2 goals and an assist in five games for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, and returned to take part in the 2011 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in August. Despite suffering a major knee injury that nearly ended his season before it really began, Galchenyuk has maintained a monthly blog for NHL.com that will chronicle his season leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Today was a pretty good day. It's been five long months, but I was finally able to play in a game tonight.
Usually I don't sleep the day before a game, but yesterday I slept good. We went to the rink this morning, did some skating, rode the bike. That's when I got really excited. Then I went home, had a pre-game nap, and then my buddy picked me up and we went to the game.
I got to the arena a little earlier than usual. Getting dressed I was obviously nervous -- and excited. I didn't know what to think. It's my first game, so my focus wasn't to go out and score three goals. I just wanted to get into the game, and try not to get embarrassed.
I got to start the game, along with my linemates, Brett Thompson and Charles Sarault. It was strange being on the ice for the anthems. Last year I played all 68 games and didn't even miss a single practice. Most of this season, I was in the press box listening to the anthem. Now I'm standing in skates on the ice. It was a pretty cool experience. Just thinking about trying to get here, waiting for this moment -- it was pretty special.
I got a real nice reaction from the fans when my name was announced for the starting lineup. It was pretty loud and I really appreciated that.
I didn't play as much as I usually would, but tonight was about getting back into game shape, getting my timing back. I talked to the coach before the game and he said how much I played would depend on how I felt. One moment I would feel tired and then the next moment I'd feel fine. Late in the game I got tired and didn't play the last six minutes.
I got hit pretty hard today once and I felt OK. I was pretty happy I got hit. It got me back to some physical play. Because of the schedule I haven't had a lot of practice time and obviously no one on my team is out to hit me hard, so getting that hit early was good.
We lost 7-1 tonight, so it was tough mentally and physically. I know I can play a little bit better. I didn't expect much, I haven't played in five months. But I think I'll be better for the next game.
I'm sore, but you're usually sore after practice or a game. My knee is OK, so that's good.
It was good to get the first game back out of the way. We play London on Friday and that game will be on national television. The focus will be different. For this game, I was just getting used to playing again because I haven't played in five months. On Friday, the focus will be to play like I want to play, be skillful. It's like getting your first goal out of the way. I got it and I don't have to worry about it anymore. I'm excited for London.