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All-Star break offers chance to heal

| Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009

The All-Star break could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

It's an opportune week for the players to get healthy and prepare for the aggressive push they'll have to make to get into the playoffs.

"We have faced a lot of adversity, and we have a lot of injuries," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said following the Penguins' 2-1 loss to Carolina Tuesday night. "I hope the break will give time for some players to rest so that they're ready to come back after the break because those are going to be really crucial games."

Center Evgeni Malkin is the Penguins' lone active All-Star, and defenseman Kris Letang will play in the YoungStars game. The rest of the Penguins will return to action Wednesday when they will host the New York Rangers. That game will also mark the return of forwards Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot, who were on injured reserve before the break.

The time off could be most beneficial for center Sidney Crosby. Heeding advice from the team doctor, Crosby opted not to play in the All-Star Game. Instead, he will rest during the seven-day break with hopes of healing his lower-body injury believed to be a bruised left knee. Crosby was injured in a Jan. 14 game against the Capitals.

"The doctor said I would give myself a lot better chance to get back to 100 percent if I stay off of it for four to five days," Crosby said.

Although it's unfortunate Crosby can't play in Sunday's All-Star Game, the Penguins are lucky he didn't have to miss more time. Crosby has missed just one game this season - two nights after he initially was injured - and the Penguins don't want to be without their captain heading into the final stretch.

"I think it would be really nice to relax and get our bodies back and ready for the long haul here," center Jordan Staal said.

While most of the Penguins are currently relaxing - either at home or on vacation - they certainly won't expect to joyride through their remaining 34 regular-season games.

A month-and-a-half slump through December and part of January complicated the Penguins' chances of making another run at the Stanley Cup. They sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, a position they don't want to be in when the season ends.

The top eight teams make the playoffs, and the Penguins trail eighth-place Carolina by one point and seventh-place Buffalo by three.

It could be worse, though.

If the Penguins hadn't snapped out of the slump before the All-Star break, they would have had a much more challenging task ahead of them.

There was an eight-game stretch from Dec. 27 to Jan. 10 when the Penguins won just one game. The Penguins rebounded when they won three of their next five - a string of games they could build upon when play commences after the break.

"I think guys were really starting to understand how to play the right way and starting to play the system well," Staal said. "I think we'll take a few more steps forward, and we'll be fine."

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