ST. PAUL, Minnesota – The Pens will be getting two key members back into their lineup when they take on the Minnesota Wild in the opening end of a post-Christmas back-to-back road trip.
Sidney Crosby, who missed the team’s 5-2 win against Columbus on Monday with a lower-body injury, was back on the ice for the Pens’ morning skate. He was joined by defenseman Kris Letang, who has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury.
“They’re going to play tonight,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re excited to have them.”
Crosby has only missed one contest this season, but the additional four-day break for Christmas helped him heal.
“I feel good,” Crosby said. “To get basically a week (off) has been good. I’m happy with the way I felt this morning.
“It’s just a matter of trusting that you can go out there and take hits. It’s different from a morning skate, but you have to be confident about it. I felt good today. That’s a good thing.”
Letang’s injury progressed to the point of returning to non-contact practice prior to the break. And he let the coaches know that he felt ready to go.
“(Sullivan) asked me if I wanted to be in tonight,” Letang said. “Obviously, I said yes. He wants me to get back into it, make simple plays and build on that. From there he’ll see the player that he wants me to be.”
The Christmas break was a blessing to both players, giving them a few extra days of rest. Although it did have it’s downside as well.
“It’s not perfect because you don’t have the (athletic) trainers or the ice to practice on,” Letang said. “It’s (four) days of rest to heal, get better and re-energize.”
For his part, Crosby was able to get on the ice in Halifax over the break. Once.
“Men’s league,” he said with a smile. “It’s a little different than what I’m used to.”
MORNING SKATE DEETS The Pens used the following workflow at their morning skate…
PP1: Letang at center point. Malkin and Kessel on walls. Crosby down low. Hornqvist net-front. PP2: Daley at center point. Bonino and Sheary/Maatta on walls. Perron down low. Kunitz net-front.
These obviously aren’t official and can always change come game time, but it appears Plotnikov, Warsofsky and Clendening will be out tonight.
HOME ROOTS While the rest of his teammates had quite the hectic day of travel (see entry below), veteran Matt Cullen had quite an easy route to today’s morning skate.
The Virginia, Minnesota native was already home for the holidays with his family. And his bonus Christmas treat is that he will get to play against his hometown team in front of a bunch of friends and family.
“It’s always been a special place for me,” Cullen said. “I remember coming down here and watching the North Stars play way back when I was a kid. It’s home and it’s fun coming here playing in front of friends and family.”
Cullen, who played three seasons for the Wild from 2010-13, enjoyed his time at home over the past few days.
“It’s always fun to bring my boys home and get on the outdoor ponds and have some fun,” he said.
MURRAY STARTS Pens goaltender Matt Murray was the first tender off the ice at the team’s morning skate, meaning he will get the start tonight against Minnesota.
“I’m keeping the same approach I do every game,” Murray said. “I focus on one shot at a time and one play at a time and take it from there.”
Murray, starting in his second career NHL contest, made 22 saves on Monday to record his first NHL victory in a 5-2 triumph against Columbus.
“I felt better and better since I’ve been (in the NHL),” Murray said. “I felt more comfortable in my second game than my first. The more I play, the more comfortable I feel and the more I’ll have success.”
Murray is the reigning American Hockey League Goalie of the Year and Rookie of the Year. He was also named a First-Team All-Star en route to recording a league-best shutout sequence and franchise-record 12 blankings.
Murray has been off to another spectacular start this season, and his head coach noticed.
“Sully’s been great to me all season and for him to have the confidence in me to start me again is a good feeling for me,” Murray said. “I’m looking to pay him back for having that confidence in me, and show that his confidence is in the right place.”
TRAVEL DAY Due to restrictions in the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA, all teams are given a complete day off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That means, no practices, no meetings, not even travel.
Because of these circumstances, the Pens were forced to travel the day of today’s game. The team boarded a plane in Pittsburgh at 8 a.m., and flew to Minnesota. Upon landing the players, coaches, staff and media hopped on a bus and went straight to Xcel Energy Center for their morning skate.
After the morning skate they players will stop by the team hotel for a pre-game nap before leaving for the game. After the contest against the Wild, the Pens will fly to Winnipeg and arrive well into the evening.
Needless to say, it’s not an ideal day of travel. But it’s part of the business.
“That’s the nature of it,” Crosby said. “It’s Christmas break. It’s a hectic time for everybody, especially if you start on the road. I think everyone had a good break. We had an extra day. We’re happy to be back and get back at it.”