PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The headaches and dizziness that made it difficult for him to even get out of bed now gone, Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang returned to practice on Tuesday for the first time in nearly two months following a concussion sustained against Montreal in late November.
Letang was greeted by a chorus of sticks clacking on the ice when he joined his teammates on the Consol Energy Center surface on Tuesday morning. The 24-year-old Letang hasn't played since taking an elbow to the head on Nov. 26.
"It's been a rough time, honestly sitting at home," Letang said. "Watching my teammates play is kind of boring."
Letang has been cleared to play by team doctors and is optimistic he can suit up sometime before the NHL all-star game on Jan. 29. He is not expected to play on Tuesday night when the Penguins host Carolina.
"(Tuesday) might be too soon, but we'll see how the week goes," Letang said. "I want to play as quick as I can play. Obviously, sooner is better."
Letang was playing arguably the best hockey of his career before taking a shot from Montreal's Max Pacioretty a 4-3 win over the Canadiens on Nov. 26. He returned to the game and scored the overtime winner but woke up the next morning with a headache.
The Penguins, ravaged by injury, have struggled during Letang's absence, going 9-11-0 over the last 20 games to drop into eighth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Letang is one of several Pittsburgh players struggling recovering from a concussion.
Captain Sidney Crosby remains sidelined indefinitely following a recurrence of concussionlike symptoms. Letang says he and Crosby spoke about the condition during Letang's lengthy rehabilitation.
"We spent a lot of time together, we watched the games together," Letang said. "We talked about it, but like every concussion for everybody is different. ... It was a small chat, there's nothing you can do about it."
The team announced Monday that Crosby will spend time in Atlanta this week with chiropractic neurologist Dr. Ted Carrick, who treated Crosby last summer. Letang, who deals with frequent migraines, consulted with a specialist in his native Canada during his rehab.
He's not worried about getting hit in his return. And the Penguins could certainly use his skill at the point, particularly on the power play. Letang had three goals and 16 assists in 22 games and his 10 points on the power play still rank third on the team even though he hasn't played in eight weeks.
"His skill level is obviously very high and he has the ability to make passes whatever position he's in," Pittsburgh forward James Neal said. "He'd be a huge boost for us."