PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins held an optional morning practice – coach Dan Bylsma called it a “get what you need skate” – before they matched up against the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
This was the fourth time this season that the Penguins did not hold a full team skate on a game day that followed an off day, but the players met to review video and the scouting report.
The Penguins often are held up as the standard by which opposing clubs measure themselves – several coaches have mentioned that during visits to Pittsburgh – but this time they will be looking up, at least in the overall standings.
Chicago goes into the game with an NHL-leading 46 points, while the Penguins – winners of only two of their last six – have dropped into fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 40 points.
“They’ve got a lot of skill up front, world-class skill,” forward Craig Adams said of the Blackhawks, who have won five straight and seven of eight, collecting points in all eight. “They’ve got a couple of the best defensemen in the League back there and they’ve been getting good goaltending lately (from Ray Emery). Their power play is very good. Offensively, they present problems for sure.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was at Consol, but was not one of the 16 players who skated. The Penguins have not updated his status since he last practiced Dec. 7; he remains out and day-to-day with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby will miss his 26th game this season and his 67th over the last two seasons.
The players skating were goalies Marc-Andre Fleury, who will start, and Brent Johnson; forwards Tyler Kennedy, Jason Williams, Steve MacIntyre, Jordan Staal, Eric Tangradi, Craig Adams and Joe Vitale; and defensemen Deryk Engelland, Brooks Orpik, Alexandre Picard, Ben Lovejoy, Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres and Zbynek Michalek.
The Penguins are expected to welcome back Staal, who has been held out of three of their last four games with a lower-body injury. Among the players who are game-time decisions are defensemen Zbynek Michalek (concussion) and Ben Lovejoy, who has been out with a broken wrist since Nov. 3 but is lobbying to play. Defenseman Paul Martin (lower-body injury) is not expected to play and could be out for a while.
“Today was a really good day. Everything felt really good. I should be in tonight if coach wants it,” Stall said before pausing for a smile. “We’ll see if I get in.”
Here’s how the Penguins might line up in their only meeting against Chicago this season, but the lineup could change depending on how many of the injured players return:
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Matt Cooke – Jordan Staal – Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan – Joe Vitale – Arron Asham
Jason Williams – Eric Tangradi – Craig Adams
Brooks Orpik – Matt Niskanen
Zbynek Michalek – Deryk Engelland
Simon Despres – Ben Lovejoy