BRUINS (19-15-6) at PENGUINS (24-10-5)
TV: NBCSN, TVA
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin will return to the lineup Wednesday against the Boston Bruins at Consol Energy Center after missing eight games with an undisclosed injury.
Martin is the latest Penguins player to return from a significant absence.
Pittsburgh has been without forwards Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist, Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Marcel Goc, Zach Sill, Craig Adams and Scott Wilson over the past month. Defensemen Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Christian Ehrhoff and Martin have also been sidelined at various points.
Hornqvist, Comeau, Maatta, Wilson and Dupuis (who is out for the remainder of the season with a potentially career-ending blood clot in his lung) remain out, and Goc is likely to miss the game against Boston with an illness, but Pittsburgh has slowly added healthy bodies back to its lineup over the past two weeks.
Kunitz, who returned Dec. 20 after missing nearly a month with a foot injury, said Martin's presence is instrumental to Pittsburgh.
"Anytime you get a guy of Paul's caliber back in the lineup, he's got the skills, the speed, he can move the puck, he's got patience to play out there and he can play heavy minutes that we need to hang onto that puck," Kunitz said.
Downie was the latest to return, against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday, and the Penguins' acquisition of forward David Perron from the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 2 has filled out their still relatively depleted lines. The defense has not had the same fortune lately, but with Martin returning and Maatta (upper body) skating on his own before practices, the defensive corps could be stable soon.
Martin's return could reunite Pittsburgh's top defensive pairing with him playing alongside Letang, who said the Penguins want to "take [Boston's] will away."
"We expect a tough game," Letang said. "Obviously, they have guys back in the lineup. [David] Krejci wasn't playing when we played them in Boston. [Zdeno] Chara wasn't playing. We expect a strong game on their part."
Boston, which has fallen to ninth in the Eastern Conference, will try to avoid a fourth consecutive loss and create a spark by defeating a rival it has battled with at the top of the conference for several seasons.
"I'd call it a healthy rivalry," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I think there's two proud teams there that have always been some of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and have taken pride in that, and whenever we play each other it's an opportunity to showcase what each other's team has, and I think that's what hockey's all about and what this sport's all about.
"It's what fans want to see."
Here are the projected lineups:
Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Seth Griffith
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly – Carl Soderberg – Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille – Gregory Campbell – Craig Cunningham
Zdeno Chara – Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg – Adam McQuaid
Torey Krug – Kevan Miller
Scratched: Simon Gagne, David Pastrnak, Matt Bartkowski, Jordan Caron
David Perron – Sidney Crosby – Steve Downie
Nick Spaling – Evgeni Malkin – Beau Bennett
Chris Kunitz – Brandon Sutter – Bryan Rust
Zach Sill – Andrew Ebbett – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Christian Ehrhoff – Robert Bortuzzo
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Scratched: Andrew Ebbett, Derrick Pouliot, Bobby Farnham
Injured: Marcel Goc (illness), Patric Hornqvist (upper body), Blake Comeau (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Olli Maatta (upper body), Scott Wilson (leg)
Status report: The Penguins reassigned defenseman Scott Harrington to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, a sign that Martin's return was imminent. ... Sill, who normally plays on the Penguins fourth line, will make his return against Boston after missing 11 games because of an upper-body injury. … Gagne is away from the Bruins on a personal leave of absence.
Who's hot: Crosby has five assists in his past two games, including four against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His 43 points ties him with Malkin for the Penguins lead. … Marchand has one goal and one assist in his past two games. He leads the Bruins with 11 goals, two more than Smith and Eriksson.