PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby
's comeback might not be the only one worth watching for the Pittsburgh Penguins
Defenseman Kris Letang
, the puck-moving defenseman who is a key to the Penguins' power play, practiced for a second consecutive day Wednesday – a sign that he could join Crosby in the lineup against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
Just like Crosby, this is Letang's second layoff this season with concussion-related issues. But while Letang was out for six weeks after getting hurt in Montreal on Nov. 26, he has been out five games this time.
"He's heading towards being in," coach Dan Bylsma
said. "He had a good day (Tuesday) with the team, he had another good day today and we're expecting him to come to the rink (Thursday) having a good day and being ready to play."
Getting Letang back would put the Penguins at close to full strength, something that hasn't happened nearly all season on a team that has had 14 players miss at least seven games with injuries.
"I had a good practice. I stepped on (the ice) earlier and everything went well, so we will go from there," Letang said following an optional practice attended by 11 players. "We will see how I feel after the morning skate (Thursday)."
The Penguins weren't certain how long Letang would be out after a hit by the Stars' Eric Nystrom
on Feb. 29 forced him from the lineup. It was a worrisome sign after he developed the symptoms; Crosby has been out more than three months with concussion symptoms.
Letang reports he is now symptom-free, just as Crosby is.
"Obviously I had a few symptoms after the hit. (But) compared to the first one, it's not like I waited after three days and I had bad symptoms and I was sick," Letang said. "So we were just being really careful. We were waiting for those symptoms to go away."
Letang's ability to move the puck, find the open man and keep the Penguins' power play rotation going is one of the reasons why the unit ranks sixth in the League, compared to 25th last season. However, the power play failed to convert on its first 14 opportunities without Letang and is 1 for 18 since he left the lineup.
That unit is expected to have a different look as soon as Letang returns, with Crosby and Letang on the points. In the past, Crosby has operated along the half-wall, where Evgeni Malkin
has been playing this season.
Bylsma also experimented with five forwards on the power play in practice Tuesday, with Crosby and Steve Sullivan
on the points and Malkin, James Neal
and Chris Kunitz
Bylsma said Crosby's expert passing adds a previously unseen element to the Penguins' special teams – especially if Letang is at the other point.
"I've talked to our power play and Sid that when we go with five forwards, we're not going to go out there with the idea that one mistake is going to hurt us," Bylsma said. "We don't want to give up a chance against, we don't want to give up a puck, but we also think that those five forwards can be very effective on the power play and that's the mindset they should be going over the boards with."
Letang doesn't feel the urgency to rush back to a team riding a nine-game winning streak. But with three key games against the Rangers, Devils and Flyers this weekend, he sees no reason not to play if he is symptom-free.
When Letang returned Jan. 19 after being out since Nov. 26, it also was against the Rangers; he had an assist. He had a goal and two assists in his first two games back.
"Geno (Malkin) went down and we were playing well. Sid went down and we were playing well," Letang said. "I went down and guys were still playing really well. The guys are doing an unbelievable job right now so there's no need to rush it."