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Letang practices, could return for Penguins against Flames

Defenseman who missed past eight with lower-body injury has 12 points in 15 games

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Kris Letang will be a game-time decision for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they play the Calgary Flames at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, ATTSN-PT, SNW, NHL.TV).

The 32-year-old defenseman took full contact during practice Sunday after missing the past eight games with a lower-body injury. It was his first practice since being injured in a 6-4 loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 4. 

"I'm feeling good," Letang said. "It's fun to be back on the ice with all the guys. I was getting lonely out there. It's fun just to be part of practice and get some motion, get back in the rhythm."

Video: DAL@PIT: Letang fakes defenders, pots go-ahead goal

Letang's recovery timeframe was originally listed as week-to-week. He started to skate on his own before practices for about an hour at a time more than a week ago, Letang said. 

"Still did not discuss [playing Monday] with the medical staff or the coaches," Letang said. "I just felt great in practice. That's the only thing I can tell you. ... [The recovery] was quicker than what we thought. So, I guess it went smoothly."

The Penguins (12-7-4) are 4-1-3 without Letang, who returned to the top defense pair with Brian Dumoulin during line rushes Sunday. He was also part of the top power-play unit with forwards Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist.

"He's a guy that we've missed so far in these last few games," Dumoulin said about Letang, who leads Penguins defensemen with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 15 games. "He can come right in and not miss a step. We've seen it before. It's good to have him back."

Video: CBJ@PIT: Letang nets PPG on sizzling blast

Pittsburgh is also without defenseman Justin Schultz, who is out longer term with a lower-body injury sustained in practice Wednesday, and centers Sidney Crosby and Nick Bjugstad, who are each recovering from core muscle surgery. Crosby is expected to be out until at least the final week of December; Bjugstad will miss at least eight weeks.

In 762 games, Letang has the most goals (116), assists (389) and points (505) by a defenseman in Penguins history. He won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, 2016 and 2017.

"What can I say about what he brings to the team?" coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's an elite defenseman. He plays in all the key situations for us. When he's in our lineup, we're a better hockey team."

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