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Letang, Niskanen activated by Penguins

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are close to adding more than 46 minutes of ice time back to their blue line.

Defensemen Matt Niskanen (eight games) and Kris Letang (three games) were activated off injured reserve Wednesday. They have missed time in recent weeks due to lower-body injuries. Both practiced with the team Tuesday and took part in the morning skate Wednesday, and were termed "game-time decisions" for the Wednesday night game against the Ottawa Senators.

"[Letang and Niskanen] are moving close to being able and ready to play," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said earlier Wednesday. "We'll see both what the doctor says and (make) a game-time decision on the lineup."

Dylan Reese was returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. The Penguins already had one roster spot open.

Immediately after the Wednesday skate, Letang said, "I felt pretty good," and Niskanen said, "I'm feeling better and better every day." Each said his status is a coach's decision.

Letang was more outwardly optimistic he could play. Of the two, his injury was less serious -- he played in a win Feb. 5 at the New York Islanders two days after sustaining the ailment in a victory at the Washington Capitals. Letang also has been seen around the team moving with no visible limp over the past week. Niskanen (ankle) had a walking boot on at one point.

"I've been in touch with the doctor and trainers throughout this whole process," said Niskanen, who had a goal and two assists in five games. "It's coming along nice and feeling good in practice, but I know playing in a game is a whole other story.

"It's the kind of decision we'll talk about, and that'll start this afternoon and continue, I'm sure, in the days coming up."

Niskanen said the biggest issue was that initial burst pushing off from a stationary position.

"It's coming along, getting better every day, along with being more and more pain-free," he said.

Niskanen, who was averaging 21:13 of ice time before his injury, began the season partnered with Letang (25:07 average time on ice) on the Penguins' top pairing. Despite missing three games, Letang remains among the top 10 in defensemen scoring in the NHL with nine points in 10 games.

"Obviously, the reason why I didn't play for three games was because I wanted to get to 100 percent, and I feel pretty good so I'm ready to go," Letang said, adding that he gave an affirmative answer to Bylsma when asked how he felt.

If Letang and Niskanen both play, it is likely Robert Bortuzzo will be scratched.

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