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Penguins notebook: Letang resumes skating

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

Kris Letang skated on his own Saturday.

For a defenseman with Norris Trophy aspirations, that might not seem like much, but it is progress.

Letang had not skated since Sept. 27, when he practiced with Penguins teammates in West Point, N.Y.

He remains out indefinitely with an undisclosed lower-body injury, although coach Dan Bylsma seemed to be encouraged by where Letang is with his recovery.

“I don't have an exact timetable on when he will return to practice for sure, but he's progressing real well,” Bylsma said.

Letang is eligible to be removed from the injured reserve list Tuesday.

Letang's absence has opened a spot on the roster — and playing time — for Olli Maatta, the 22nd pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Maatta again was paired with Robert Bortuzzo for the Penguins' game against Buffalo at Consol Energy Center on Saturday.

Because he still is eligible for junior hockey, Maatta, 19, must play with the Penguins or his junior club (London). He can play nine NHL games before this season would count as the first on his entry-level deal.

Although a permanent stay for Maatta remains unlikely because of contractual reasons, Bylsma has not ruled out that possibility.

“There are hypothetical (situations, such as injuries and/or trades) that could happen,” he said.

Injuries Part 2

Winger Matt D'Agostini also is out with a lower-body injury, although there is a clearer picture for his return. He could practice Oct. 16 or 18, Bylsma said. The Penguins play at Philadelphia in between.

Right winger James Neal (upper body) is out indefinitely. He has not practiced since Monday, although he played sparingly Thursday against New Jersey at home.

Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) is out until at least January.

Love in

A sellout crowd provided a standing ovation to members of the Pirates, led by Andrew McCutchen in an Evgeni Malkin jersey, who watched the Penguins-Sabres game from a luxury suite.

The players were shown on the video board late in the first period. An “MVP” chant followed the ovation as McCutchen made a face at the camera. A jolly roger flag hangs from the ceiling inside the Penguins' home dressing room.

Duck soup

Anaheim, which is in the market for a defenseman, had a scout at Consol. Philadelphia, Phoenix and Minnesota also had scouts in attendance.

View from atop

Three assistant coaches are one too many for behind the bench.

The plan remains for one of the Penguins' assistants — Tony Granato, Todd Reirden and Jacques Martin — to work from the media level during games. That coach communicates with another assistant via a headset. Former goalie coach Gilles Meloche used to hold that responsibility.

Granato, not behind the bench Thursday, replaced Martin there Saturday.

Around the boards

Cassidy Wolf, the reigning Miss Teen USA, said on Twitter that she attended Saturday's game and that it was her first NHL contest. … The Mario Lemieux Foundation's Penguins 6.6K Run/Walk starts at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, with registration at 7 a.m. Many members of the Penguins organization are expected to be on hand for the inaugural event.

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