Penguins notebook: Letang skates, but no sign of return
SUNRISE, Fla. — Kris Letang skated smoothly while practicing with the Penguins on Friday morning.
That was a nice sign of progress, coach Dan Bylsma said — but not indicative of whether Letang will soon play for the Penguins.
“(We're) probably taking a little more time precaution-wise than if this was a midseason situation,” Bylsma said, noting Letang had not practiced since Sept. 27 because of an unspecified lower-body injury.
“(We'll) probably see how the next three days go … whether he's doing well, if there's a setback or not a setback.”
Letang, who underwent post-practice tests that involved taking contact, missed a fourth consecutive game Friday night against Florida at BB&T Center. The Penguins play at Tampa Bay on Saturday night, then not again until Tuesday against Edmonton at Consol Energy Center.
Letang could get in a workload of two game-day practices and a full off-day session before the game against the Oilers.
Letang is arguably the Penguins' top defenseman. He averaged a point per game last season and was a Norris Trophy (top defenseman) finalist.
Letang's absence has provided management and coaches with an unexpected opportunity to play the organization's top prospect.
Olli Maatta, 19, played in his fourth game Friday night. He can play in nine games before this season will count as the first on his entry-level deal.
Before training camp — Maatta's first since he was selected 22nd overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft — the odds were considerably stacked against him making the squad, let alone potentially becoming a regular.
That still remains the case, though the Penguins have not publicly declared Maatta will return to his junior club (London).
Bylsma said Friday that Letang could return to play in a game that also features Maatta.
“(But) I don't know what the cap situation/roster situation is before I speak of that,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins have seven defensemen, counting Letang, who would need to clear waivers for an AHL assignment. They are within $100,000 of the $64.3 million salary cap — and that's with goalie Tomas Vokoun ($2 million) and winger Matt D'Agostini ($550,00) temporarily off cap allotment because they are on the long-term injury list.
Clubs can't carry more than 23 healthy players, and the Penguins can carry only the number of players that make them cap compliant.
Management does not expect to carry 23 players when all are healthy.
The Penguins were the handpicked opponent by Florida ownership for the Panthers' home opener Friday.
Florida's first NHL home game was a 2-1 loss to the Penguins on Oct. 12, 1993. That game was staged at Miami Arena. The Panthers moved to BB&T Center for the 1998-99 season.
Original Panthers owner H. Wayne Huizenga dropped a ceremonial first puck alongside current owner Vincent Viola. Former general manager and coach Jacques Martin, now an assistant with the Penguins, extended congratulations to the organization with a videotaped message.
Tickets for the Panthers' opener Friday were sold at a 30 percent discount. A new video board, nicknamed “Big Red” and costing $4.2 million, was debuted.
Bylsma does not have many lineup options because of injuries. He stayed with what had worked Friday, other than Jeff Zatkoff starting in goal for the Penguins. That meant a fourth straight game as a healthy scratch for defenseman Deryk Engelland.
Winger Matt D'Agostini (lower body injury) skated on his own after the Penguins' Friday practice. D'Agostini has yet to play this season, though Bylsma projected him to resume practicing either Wednesday or Friday.
Right winger James Neal (upper body) did not accompany the Penguins on their first road trip of the season. He has not played since the opener against New Jersey and missed his third consecutive contest Friday night.
Fleury in goal Saturday
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is slated to start at Tampa Bay on Saturday night. Fleury had started three consecutive games before giving way to Zatkoff, who made his NHL debut Friday night.
The Penguins are playing consecutive nights for the first time this season. That will happen 17 times during the regular season. They went 9-5 in back-to-back games last season, with a 5-2 record in Game 1 and a 4-3 mark in Game 2.