MAPLE LEAFS (13-15-7) at PENGUINS (17-15-3)
TV: SN, ROOT
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will return to the lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday.
Letang practiced Tuesday and was on the ice for the morning skate Wednesday. He sat out the 1-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday because of precautionary reasons. He had played 28 shifts totaling 21:42 of ice time in a 3-1 defeat of the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, his first game back after missing six because of an upper-body injury.
During the morning skate, Letang skated alongside defenseman Olli Maatta and manned the point on the top power-play unit with forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist.
Because of various injuries Letang has missed nine of Pittsburgh’s past 11 games. He was placed in the concussion protocol after taking a hit to the head from Wild forward Jarret Stoll on Saturday, but coach Mike Sullivan said the results came back negative.
Letang, who has a history of head injuries, said he was concerned he sustained another concussion immediately after the hit.
"I got dinged pretty hard there," Letang said. "It took me a little bit of a moment to get back to my senses and I was fine after that … I just had hard headaches as soon as I got hit and then it went away."
Following a resurgent 2014-15 with 11 goals and 54 points in 69 games, Letang has struggled through the first half of this season; he has one goal and a minus-13 rating in 26 games.
Letang will play his second game under Sullivan, who replaced Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, but said he doesn't think he will struggle to adapt to Sullivan's systems. Sullivan has attempted to make the transition for Letang, and other injured Penguins, smoother by having them join team meetings.
"We're a better team when he's in our lineup," Sullivan said. "He's an impact player. I think from our standpoint it's been a little bit of a challenge just because of the injuries we've been trying to endure here, and at the same time try to implement some changes into how we're playing.
"The one thing that we have done since I've been here is we have all the injured guys sit in on meetings. We haven't had a lot of practice time so we've been trying to do things through the use of video a lot."
The Maple Leafs did not skate Wednesday after losing 6-3 to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. Goalie Jonathan Bernier will start and Antoine Bibeau was recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis to serve as his backup. James Reimer made six saves in relief of Bernier on Tuesday and experienced tightness after the game; it was Reimer's first game since sustaining a lower-body injury Dec. 3. He had originally been expected to start Wednesday.
Pittsburgh will start Matthew Murray in goal. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who is out because of a concussion, took shots from defenseman Adam Clendening before morning skate and remained on the ice for practice, but Murray was the first goalie off the ice Wednesday.
Murray is 2-1-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in his first three NHL games. He said he realizes he could be reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League when Fleury is healthy but said he isn’t allowing that to concern him.
"It hasn't really been spelled out for me but it's not something I can worry about," Murray said. "It's out of my control. Obviously things will change when he comes back and what happens is not my decision. So whatever it is I just have to kind of roll with it."
Here are the projected lineups:
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Daniel Winnik - Peter Holland - Joffrey Lupul
Shawn Matthias - Mark Arcobello - Brad Boyes
Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf
Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly
Martin Marincin - Roman Polak
Injured: Stephane Robidas (lower body), Garret Sparks (lower body), Nick Spaling (upper body), Byron Froese (lower body)
Scratched: Frank Corrado, James Reimer
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Conor Sheary
David Perron - Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Scott Wilson - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel
Kevin Porter - Matt Cullen - Eric Fehr
Kris Letang - Olli Maatta
Ian Cole - Trevor Daley
Brian Dumoulin - Ben Lovejoy
Injured: Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion), Beau Bennett (upper body)
Scratched: Sergei Plotnikov, Adam Clendening, David Warsofsky
Status report: Cullen participated in the morning skate after missing practice Tuesday. … Arcobello was recalled from Toronto of the AHL on Wednesday and will take the place of Froese, who sustained his injury in the Tuesday game. Arcobello had 12 shots on goal in seven games in October. … Corrado will be scratched for the third straight game after playing three of five games before the holiday break.
Who's hot: Malkin has 11 goals in his past 10 home games. He leads the Penguins with 30 points and 17 goals. … Van Riemsdyk has points in four straight games and in seven of his past eight. He has six goals and four assists in that span.