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Penguins' defense gets lift with Orpik return

Thursday, 10.20.2011 / 2:17 PM / NHL Insider

By Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

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Penguins' defense gets lift with Orpik return
With Kris Letang serving the final game of his suspension and call-up Brian Strait hurt, Brooks Orpik will be back for the Penguins against Montreal.
PITTSBURGH -- Finally, some good injury news for the black-and-blue Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins, playing with a badly depleted lineup, will welcome back defenseman Brooks Orpik tonight when they meet the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center. Orpik, the Penguins' most physical defenseman and a proven shutdown specialist, missed all of the preseason and the first eight regular-season games after having abdominal surgery during the offseason.

"It's been a long time waiting, that's for sure," Orpik said.

The rest of the Penguins' lineup, however, remains thinned. Center Evgeni Malkin will sit out a fourth consecutive game due to right knee soreness, and forward Tyler Kennedy (concussion) will miss his third in a row. He won't return until he is symptom-free.

Defenseman Brian Strait, recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) when Kris Letang drew a two-game suspension for a boarding violation, hyperextended an elbow in Minnesota on Tuesday and is out indefinitely. Letang will serve the second game of his suspension tonight meaning that, even with Orpik in uniform, the Penguins are down to six defensemen.

It hasn't helped that the Penguins will have played 10 games by Saturday night, part of a busy October that finds them playing 13 games in 26 days.

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The Canadiens, off to a 1-3-1 start that has their passionately loyal fan base more than a little concerned, also get an injured player back as left wing Mike Cammalleri returns to the top line. He was expected to miss further time with a leg laceration that occurred Oct. 9 in Winnipeg, but he told coach Jacques Martin he was ready following the morning skate.

"It was a little bit uncomfortable, but it's healed up quickly and I feel it's good enough to go," Cammalleri said. "So we're going to give it a whirl."

Of course, playing Pittsburgh might factor into the decision. Cammalleri has 10 goals in his last 10 games against the Penguins, counting Montreal's seven-game playoff ouster of Pittsburgh two seasons ago.

Canadiens forward Aaron Palushaj will be a healthy scratch.

As for the Penguins, coach Dan Bylsma said their crowded schedule is part of the reason Malkin is sitting out. Malkin, who tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee on Feb. 4, hasn't played since having 2 assists during a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Oct. 13.

"It needs to calm down, it needs to get better," Bylsma said. "By playing every day it's not going to get better, and unfortunately we play every day. If we'd been a team that had played four games right now, it probably wouldn't be an issue. We're giving him appropriate rest, so he's getting better."

Malkin skated in advance of the Penguins' pre-game practice.

Orpik remained behind in Pittsburgh when the Penguins played Monday at Winnipeg and Tuesday at Minnesota in an effort to ramp up his contact work and conditioning.

"He got more structured practice than we can get on the road, and he had some of that the last three days," Bylsma said. "It takes a veteran, a mentally strong veteran, (to play) given the fact he hasn't had a preseason and hasn't played in a game yet."

Orpik, out since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Tampa Bay, said the biggest challenge is getting back to game speed without experiencing anything close to it since April.

"I'm just going to try to get my feet wet as quickly as possible and hopefully it's not too big an adjustment," Orpik said. "You've got to do it eventually, so …"

Asked if he might do further damage by playing, Orpik said, "It's still a little achy here and there, but it's as good as it's going to get. It's one of those things you have to work through, just manage it so it doesn't go backwards."

Orpik, normally paired with Letang, will open up with Deryk Engelland but also might play with Matt Niskanen.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby (concussion) also stayed behind during the brief road trip, but said his practice routine didn't change -- and that meant virtually no full-speed hitting. Not because he didn't want it, but simply because it wasn't available.

"I'm anxious for that, for sure, but that being said, there needs to be times and situations and we haven't gotten a lot of those lately with our schedule," Crosby said. "As things go on, we'll get more and more (practice) time and hopefully get a better feel for where I'm at as far as contact is concerned."

Both Crosby and Bylsma emphasized again there is no timetable for Crosby's long-awaited return.
Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals