Coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that All-Star defenseman Kris Letang will play tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The defenseman has been day-to-day with a hand injury suffered Jan. 15 against Tampa Bay. He missed the following game on Jan. 17 vs. Carolina, but returned to the lineup on Jan. 18 at St. Louis and assisted on both goals in the 5-2 defeat.
Letang said he will try and rest as much as he can in the days leading up to the All-Star break, taking maintenance days wherever he can – like he did for Wednesday’s practice.
“It helps,” Letang said of missing the skate. “Not going to lie, I needed that day. I was not in a situation where I could have gained much out of (practicing). I would have been restrained in a lot of things, so I think the best way is to rest and try to get better.”
Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby were all absent from Thursday’s morning skate. Letang and Beau Bennett, who has missed the last 16 games with an upper-body injury, both participated. This was the winger’s second-straight day skating with the team.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Flyers. While they’ve been playing decent hockey as of late, overall they’ve had uncharacteristic struggles when it comes to scoring.
They’re normally a team that has no trouble putting the puck in the back of the net, but right now their offense ranks 28th in the NHL while their power play is 27th. However, those issues mean nothing when it comes to this matchup.
“What I’ve heard is that Philly usually plays their best games of the year against Pittsburgh,” said Carl Hagelin, who will experience the rivalry for the first time tonight. “I think it’s important to come out and do everything we can to play our best hockey.”
As Sullivan put it, these are fun games to play. And after many years of being a part of the Pens-Caps rivalry on Washington’s side, Eric Fehr is looking forward to experiencing this one as a member of the black and gold.
“I keep hearing about it, so I’m excited to be a part of it,” Fehr said. “You want to be in these games where the crowd is really into it and it’s really intense, so I’m looking forward to my first match with the Flyers.
“(I’ve heard) both teams are going to bring their best game. You want teams that rise to the occasion. And obviously the state is on the line, so you’ve got to bring it.”
The Flyers have dominated the Pens over the last few seasons and enter tonight’s matchup on an eight-game undefeated streak (0-6-2) against their cross-state rivals. People may feel that the Flyers are in the Pens’ heads, but Letang disagrees.
“I don’t think it’s about the Flyers. I think it’s about ourselves,” Letang said. “Shooting ourselves in the foot every time we play that team. Not that we get too emotional, but we have to stay under control. Try to initiate instead of receiving, getting frustrated. I think our game needs to speak for itself.”
Crosby agrees. The Pens are far enough into the season that their No. 1 priority is getting two points out of this game, especially considering that the Flyers are just one behind them in the wild-card race.
“I think at this point, we’re kind of worried about ourselves and not who we’re playing as much,” the captain said. “We know the situation and we know how close everyone is in the standings, so you should see two desperate hockey teams.”