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No easing in for injured Penguins players

Even the most perfect first year of marriage rarely passes without a few regrets.

Take the union between Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and captain Sidney Crosby, who has scored 47 goals in 76 games (counting playoffs) during their seven hockey months together.

Crosby notched his 20th goal of this season Monday night in a home loss to the Carolina Hurricanes; and while Bylsma appreciated that tally, he was a bit disappointed to have provided his superstar center so many opportunities to post it.

"I thought I had that notion (of monitoring ice time), and then I saw how many minutes Crosby played last game," Bylsma said of the 26 minutes and 32 seconds Crosby worked against Carolina.

That total marked a season-high for Crosby, who is fourth among NHL forwards with an average of 22 minutes. His teammate and fellow superstar center Evgeni Malkin is seventh at 21:32.

Getting arguably two of the sport's three best scorers on the ice for a third of the game is an understandable plan of attack by Bylsma. But even he concedes that, no matter the in-game circumstances, Crosby probably played too much against Carolina.

That was Crosby's first game back after missing a contest with a sore groin.

The Penguins, losers of two straight heading into a game tonight at Montreal, have provided Bylsma with a handful of opportunities to monitor ice time for players returning from various lower-body injuries — and many of them agree that the surface is more of a concern than the minutes they spend playing on it.

"The bad ice conditions we play on every night have a lot to do with the injuries," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

No NHL arena is used exclusively for hockey, leaving ice conditions predictable only as less-than-ideal.

"The softer it is, the more chance you have getting stuck in a rut or getting sore groins," Crosby said. "If there was a concert the night before there's really not enough time to make (the ice) that hard, and the chances of tweaking something are a little bit greater."

Orpik's said his four-game absence last month stemmed from catching his left knee in a rut at Boston on Nov. 10. He said "the same thing happened to" fellow defenseman Alex Goligoski on Nov. 28 at Mellon Arena.

That was Goligoski's first game after missing six previous with a groin injury. He has not played since and isn't expected to go against the Canadiens.

Winger Chris Kunitz, who said he will miss his 13th straight game tonight because of an undisclosed lower-body injury, acknowledged that returning players are concerned by the combination of bad ice and "trying to do too much."

"And getting hurt and missing more games," he said. "We've seen that it can happen."

Winger Tyler Kennedy missed 11 straight games after re-aggravating injuries to his groin and hamstrings on Nov. 3 at Anaheim. He recorded two assists in that contest and played over 13 minutes after having missed three straight games because of the injuries.

"I was probably trying to do too much," he said last week. "My body wasn't ready yet to come back."

Crosby, who has missed nearly a dozen games the past four seasons because of various groin injuries, said he was not concerned about his injury Monday night. Had he been he wouldn't have played at all - not to mention over 26 minutes.

"I felt like (my groin) was strong and as the game wore on, it felt better," he said. "I played a lot, but I felt fairly good. I didn't have any complaints. There was no red flag."

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