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Penguins notebook: Letang takes first step toward return

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Penguins defenseman Kris Letang skated with the team on Monday, April 8, 2013, and may return to the lineup against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.

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Monday, April 8, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

• It was only one practice, so Kris Letang doesn't think it's fair to say whether or not he's ready to return to play for the Penguins. But the defenseman's presence Monday at Southpointe was part of what he called getting “ready for the big picture. There's no rush to get back but, at the same time, it's a short season,” said Letang, who has missed five games with a groin injury. “I want to start playing, be healthy and make sure when we get into the playoffs I'm ready to go.” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Letang remains day to day but called it a “good step for him” and a “good sign.”

• Count defenseman Brooks Orpik among those eagerly awaiting Letang's return. Orpik said the Penguins miss Letang's puck-moving ability in transition and breakouts, as well as his ability to eat minutes and play on the power play, especially with Paul Martin out. But he's also in no hurry for Letang to come back too soon. “I think he rushed it back the last time and set himself back, so hopefully he's been a little more patient and learned from that,” Orpik said. “Getting him back would be huge.”

• Orpik was reluctant to weigh in on the NHL's decision not to discipline New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto for his reverse-forearm/elbow Friday that gave winger James Neal a concussion. “I was surprised there wasn't at least a hearing,” Orpik said. “It hasn't been a topic of conversation in our locker room, I know that.”

• Bylsma called it a “first step” that the Penguins clinched a playoff berth Sunday. “Just getting to the playoffs is not our goal, not where we want to finish,” Bylsma said. “We still have a significant amount of work to do, but when I see the ‘X' in the standings, it's always a good thing.”

— Kevin Gorman

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