Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Pens late Friday practice…
1. Stars aligned
On Wednesday, the NHL selected the rosters for its annual All-Star weekend festivities, and two Penguins made the list.
Center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang will represent the Metro Division as part of the All-Star Skills Competition and All-Star Game held in Tampa Bay on Jan. 27 and 28.
"It's always an honor to go," captain Sidney Crosby said on Friday. "There are a lot of guys who are deserving and I feel fortunate."
It was the seventh time in his career that Crosby was selected for the All-Star Game. Only Mario Lemieux (13) and Jaromir Jagr (9) have represented the Pens more than Crosby. And it will be only Crosby's third time participating due to previous injuries that held him out of past games.
While Crosby seemed to have an outside shot of making the team, Letang's fourth career selection was less obvious. Even to the Pens defenseman himself.
"I was pretty surprised," he admitted.
"It's always an honor to represent your team at a big event for the NHL," Letang continued. "It's a show for skill guys with the 3-on-3. It's a hard game to play, but it's fun. You learn so many things being around those guys and around different coaches. It's a cool experience."
But perhaps the coolest experience will be the sunny temperatures in Tampa Bay during a usually cold January month.
"It's not that bad. It's going to be good weather hopefully," Letang said with a smile. "It's good experience."
2. Snub City
Having two players from the Pens represent the club at the All-Star Game isn't a surprise. But what is surprising, is that neither of those players is Phil Kessel.
Kessel currently leads the club in every offensive category with 18 goals, 29 assists and 47 points. He's also a dynamic player in the 3-on-3 setting. Kessel leads the NHL with five overtime points (2G-3A), and would have put on a good show.
"I didn't expect to be there," Crosby confessed. "I thought Phil would be the guy selected."
"He's leading our team in points. He's been consistent all year. He's played really well in the first half. I thought he was deserving of it. But I don't select the team."
That sentiment was shared throughout the entire locker room. Every player asked had the same reaction. And that belief even tricked up to the coaching staff.
"Do I think Phil is deserving? Yes," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "Phil's had a terrific year for us. I think he's very deserving."
Sullivan believes the change in All-Star format from East vs. West into the divisional tournament has caused some uneven selections throughout the league. Kessel being one of the victims.
"The format of the All-Star Game is such that some good players are going to be left out. Phil's one of them," Sullivan said.
That being said, inside the Pens locker room the team knows how important Kessel has been to the club's success this season.
"It doesn't diminish our appreciation of what he's done for our team this year," Sullivan said. "Those of us close to our team understand how important his game has been for us. Phil has quietly had a really, really solid year for us."
The Pens held practice at 4 p.m. at UPMC Lemieux Complex on Friday evening, the club's first since a four-day NHL mandated bye week.
The Pens used the following workflow…
The Pens announced that goaltender Matt Murray returned home to Ontario due to a personal family matter. Casey DeSmith, recalled Thursday from WBS, filled in.
Murray will not be available to the team for Saturday afternoon's contest against Detroit. Beyond that is still unknown.
"He went home for personal reasons and his status will be day-to-day at this point," Sullivan said. "Matt's going to get as much time as he needs. He will not play (Saturday) and we will go from there."