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Kunitz, Penguins returning to full health

| Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009

A miserable month-long stretch ended Saturday for Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz, who played last night against the Florida Panthers at Mellon Arena for the first time since Nov. 12.

Winger Eric Godard was scratched to make room for Kunitz, who had missed 13 consecutive games with a lower-body injury. Kunitz opened by playing with his regular linemates — center Sidney Crosby and right wing Bill Guerin.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said before the game that Kunitz had "ramped up his skating and battle (level)" during recent practices, adding that his injury "continued to respond."

Kunitz's return afforded Bylsma his first opportunity to choose from a full complement of forwards. The Penguins opened the season with Max Talbot on the long-term injury list, and he missed 21 games while recovering from offseason surgery to his left shoulder.

With 22 players on the roster, counting Godard and extra defenseman Martin Skoula, the Penguins are about $900,000 under the NHL's $56.8 million salary cap.

Too much Flower

Brent Johnson started in goal for the Penguins, marking only his second appearance at home since Nov. 14, when he stopped 28 shots in a win over the Boston Bruins.

The decision to rest top goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was not easy for Bylsma. Fleury was 7-1-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .917 save percentage dating to Nov. 21.

"There are 82 games, and (Fleury) is probably on pace to play one or two more games than we had scheduled for him to play," Bylsma said.

Fleury was on target for 65 appearances. His career high is 67 from three years ago, when he set a personal mark with 40 victories.

Around the boards

The Penguins will not practice today because of the previously scheduled team holiday party. ... Center Jordan Staal is slated to move into a tie for third place on the franchise's list of consecutive games played on Tuesday against Philadelphia. Teammate Evgeni Malkin owns that spot with 254 straight games played from 2006-2009.

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