PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' depth is one of the organization's strengths. That depth will be severely tested Monday night against the streaking Boston Bruins in an Eastern Conference matchup of division-leading teams.
The Penguins (16-7-4), who are 5-1-1 since star Sidney Crosby returned, lead the Atlantic Division and the conference with 36 points. The Bruins (16-7-1) top the Northeast Division after going 13-0-1 in their previous 14.
"They've been at a high level, an elite level," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "The best in the League."
Three of the six Penguins defensemen expected to be in uniform were with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) only days ago: Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo and Alexandre Picard. Picard returned to the Penguins Monday after Kris Letang -- off to a fast start with 3 goals and 16 assists in 22 games -- was placed on the injured reserve list, backdated to Nov. 26.
Letang and Zbynek Michalek, who have concussions, did not take part in the morning skate. The Penguins also are without defenseman Deryk Engelland (lower body injury), who is listed as day-to-day. Forward Richard Park (lower body injury) also missed practice.
While their forwards are healthy -- Jordan Staal (cut below left eye) will play -- the Penguins will rely on a realigned defensive corps during their only home game in a two-week period. They went 3-1 on a just-concluded road trip, and will head off to play the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders later this week.
"Situations like we've been in, you can expect to see a lot of different pairings," Bylsma said. "Paul Martin with a lot of guys. Brooks Orpik with a lot of guys. Matt Niskanen with a lot of guys. If someone is playing well, you might play him more minutes."
The Penguins' expected lineup for the first of their four games against Boston this season:
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Matt Niskanen - Paul Martin
Brooks Orpik - Simon Despres
Robert Bortuzzo - Alexandre Picard
Marc-Andre Fleury, tied for the NHL lead with 14 victories and 11-2-2 in his last 15 starts, will be in net. Backup goalie Brent Johnson won at Carolina 3-2 on Saturday, holding on even as the Hurricanes ended the game with a three-man advantage after pulling their goalie.