Penguins notebook: Letang, Niskanen return to lineup against Senators
Coach Dan Bylsma welcomed defensemen Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen back to the Penguins lineup for Wednesday's home game against the Ottawa Senators. Letang (lower-body injury, undisclosed) had missed three consecutive games. Niskanen (ankle) was out for eight games dating to Jan. 27.
The return of two top-four defensemen means that rookies Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo will compete for a spot among the top six, Bylsma said.
“It's four right shots,” Bylsma said, referring to Letang, Niskanen, Bortuzzo and veteran Deryk Engelland.
“Righties, in particular, find it a little more difficult to play the off side. Simon adds the left shot, and it alleviates a little bit of that.”
Niskanen prefers to play as a left defenseman. Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, both left-handed shots, will remain the Penguins' defense pairing designated to play against opponents' top offensive units, Bylsma said.
The decision to play either Despres or Bortuzzo will not be based upon opponents' styles, Bylsma said.
“Simon is a little more offensive and adds offense with his passing ability; Robert's a little bit more abrasive, a physical guy,” Bylsma said. “They've both shown they can play. They add a little bit different elements.
“Simon probably has a little bit more of the advantage adding the left shot.”
Bortuzzo did not play against the Senators.
• Defenseman Dylan Reese was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He practiced Wednesday morning with the Penguins but returned to the AHL because Letang and Niskanen were activated before the game against Ottawa. Reese, an Upper St. Clair native, played three games for the Penguins.
• The Senators scratched left winger Milan Michalek (lower-body, undisclosed). He was injured during the pregame warm-up. He had only two goals through 13 games but last season scored 35 goals in 77 contests for the Senators. Center Dustin Jeffrey and Bortuzzo were scratches for the Penguins.
• Center Brandon Sutter played in his 300th NHL game against the Senators. All but 14 came as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
— Rob Rossi