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The Inside Scoop: Letang Questionable; Warsofsky "Auditioning"

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pens defenseman Kris Letang missed the team’s Friday afternoon practice at Toyota Sports Center with an injury and his availability for the team’s Saturday contest against the Los Angeles Kings is unknown.

“We’ll see what the trainers have to say as we move along,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “With an afternoon game (Saturday) we’ll just check him in the morning. If things are moving like they think they might be there’s a shot (he’ll play). If not, we’ll definitely keep him out.”

Letang left the Pens’ Thursday afternoon practice early, but has been dealing with the undisclosed injury for some time now.

“It’s been lingering a little bit,” Johnston said.

The Pens are optimistic that blueliner Olli Maatta (upper body) will return to the lineup after missing the past six games with an injury.

“It’s looking positive now,” Johnston said. “He’s had two good days of practice, but I’m always cautious because the trainers have the final say. They haven’t cleared him to play yet. We’ll know later today as they examine him after practice.”

Maatta, who was hurt when he was pushed awkwardly into the boards at the Minnesota bench with the door open on Nov. 17, has undergone two consecutive days of contact without any setbacks.

“I feel good, a great practice today,” Maatta said. “I hope I feel good tomorrow morning. We’ll see.”

Although he has been out of the lineup for the past two-plus weeks, Maatta feels he can shoulder a lot of minutes in his return if called upon.

“I want to play a big role on this team,” he said. “Jumping into it, it won’t be that different. I haven’t missed that much time.”

There were a few common phrases thrown around the Pens’ locker room when asked about the Kings. Words like “big,” “heavy” and “physical.”

“They’re a very complete team,” said defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who has experience playing against the Kings from his days with the Anaheim Ducks. “They will wear you down, hit you and be physical. They’re a tough team to play against.”

“They’re a really physical team,” center Nick Bonino, another former Duck, said.

The best way to beat a physical team is to not be hit. The Kings can’t hit what they can’t catch.

“Whenever we play these big California teams specifically I’ve done my best to harp on guys that we need to use our speed,” Lovejoy said. “We need to make that a fact.”

Defenseman David Warsofsky made his Pens’ debut Tuesday night in Pittsburgh’s 5-1 win at San Jose.

During the game, Warsofsky worked on the second power-play unit, and showed a propensity to shooting the puck. Although he didn’t figure in on the scoresheet, his willingness to fire the rubber on net helped set up a Pens’ man-advantage score.

“He had a good shot from the point. He wasn’t afraid to shoot it if he had an open lane,” Johnston said. “He got his wrist shot through. He got his slap shot through. That’s so important on the power play. You have to have a threat to shoot so that people don’t just take away the outsides. You’re afraid of a shot, intimidated by the shot.”

Warsofsky said he was just taking advantage of the opportunity in front of him.

“I take what’s given,” he said. “I had the lane to shoot a couple of times, so I shot. If I’m playing it might be different to where I have to pass. I just take what the other team gives.”

Warsofsky practiced at the point on the Pens’ top power-play unit in place of the absent Letang. And if Letang does not play against the Kings, it’s a role Warsofsky will be asked to fill.

“He’s auditioning a little bit,” Johnston said.

The Pens used the following workflow at Friday’s practice…



PP unit 1: Warsofsky, Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist
PP unit 2: Maatta/Dumoulin, Perron, Bennett, Bonino, Kunitz

*Johnston said the Pens haven’t decided yet on how or if they’ll split the goaltending duties this weekend with back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday.

*Malkin on his spin-o-rama goal against Edmonton: “It’s not hard. You just need a little bit of speed, turn and shoot.” Which prompted ROOTS Sports’ Dan Potash to ask, “So it’s not hard, I can do it?” Malkin responded, “Not you, but maybe (Mike Lange).”

*Speaking of the Pens’ Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Mike Lange, he asked Malkin if he wished he had gone fishing on this trip. “Not yet,” Malkin answered. “Fishing tomorrow at 1 o’clock,” referring to the local game time.

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