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Penguins

Penguins notebook: All-Star berths surprise Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang

Jonathan Bombulie
| Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, 9:27 p.m.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is congratulated after scoring against the Bruins on Jan. 7, 2018.
Getty Images
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is congratulated after scoring against the Bruins on Jan. 7, 2018.

Honored but shocked.

That was the reaction from captain Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang on Friday to the news earlier this week that they had been chosen for the NHL's All-Star Game in Tampa at the end of the month.

Crosby and Letang are among the most accomplished players in the game, so it can never be a total surprise when they're selected for an NHL honor, but they haven't been as consistent as teammate Phil Kessel, for instance, through the first half of the season.

“I didn't expect to be there,” Crosby said. “I thought Phil would be the guy selected, but it's always an honor to go there. There are a lot of guys who are deserving, so I feel fortunate.”

Letang, a four-time All-Star, said it's always enjoyable to spend a weekend getting to know some of the game's top players and coaches better. Since he spent his off week at home in Quebec, he's looking forward to some warm weather in Tampa, too.

“I was pretty surprised, but it's a great honor to go there and represent your team,” Letang said.

Kessel leads the Penguins in scoring with 47 points in 44 games this season and hasn't gone more than two consecutive games without hitting the scoresheet.

The support for his All-Star candidacy came from all over the locker room.

• “I don't know the rules, how many you can pick from every team, but he's been for sure one of our top players,” winger Patric Hornqvist said.

• “With the first half he had, it's kind of crazy that he wasn't. I guess it's good for us. He gets to rest,” defenseman Justin Schultz said.

• “Phil's had a terrific year for us. I think he's very deserving. I think the format of the All-Star Game is such that some good players are going to be left out, and Phil's one of them,” coach Mike Sullivan said.

Princess treatment

Hornqvist had one of the team's most eventful bye weeks, taking his daughter to Disney World in Florida.

“It was the first time for her. She was excited,” Hornqvist said. “She met all the princesses. Me and my wife had fun, too. It was a great experience for us.”

Hornqvist said it was a challenge to keep hockey off his mind even when visiting the Magic Kingdom.

“I think the first few days, you just let it go. After a few days, you're checking stats and what the other teams do and all that,” he said. “We live and die with hockey. We love it so much.”

Trending up

The Penguins had a spirited, hour-long practice Friday in Cranberry. With Evgeni Malkin playfully roughing up frequent linemate Kessel in the corner during one drill and Crosby sharing a laugh with Ian Cole after the defenseman took a tumble while trying to defend the captain one-on-one, it was clear there was plenty of enthusiasm.

That's probably because the team's last two games before the break, victories over the Islanders and Bruins, represented some of its best work of the season.

“We talk about playing Penguins hockey, and there were a lot of elements in those games that were consistent,” Sullivan said. “I thought we were playing with pace. I thought there was a lot of speed in our game. There was a lot of puck pursuit in our game. We were controlling territory. There was a lot to like about those games.

“A lot of our players, they were some of their better games throughout the course of the season. Those two games, we can look at as an inspiration moving forward.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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