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Penguins Wrap: A Week With All Kinds of Comebacks

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Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t always at their best during the past week, but they were always good enough to win.

They went 3-0, with a pair of victories against Buffalo and another against Columbus, and got their No. 1 defenseman back less than two weeks after he suffered the second stroke of his NHL career.

A look back at the week that was:

Sunday

Members of the Penguins’ second line had been missing from the scoresheet for quite a while — Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust didn’t have a point in six games, and Evgeni Malkin had one in five — but that changed during a 6-2 victory against St. Louis Saturday, when those three combined for 10 points (two goals and eight assists).

Remember when the Pittsburgh Penguins’ penalty-kill was leaking goals with alarming regularity? Well, when their shorthanded unit snuffed both Blues’ power plays, it marked the ninth time in 10 games that their opponent failed to score a man-advantage goal.

Monday

Team officials said Kris Letang was back on skates a couple of days after suffering a stroke Nov. 28, but there never was any video confirmation of him being on the ice until this day, when he was out there for 45 minutes with assistant coach Ty Hennes and injured forward Ryan Poehling.

There were some pretty prominent absentees from the Penguins’ practice at PPG Paints Arena, as their top two centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and backup goalie Casey DeSmith did not participate because of illness, and Poehling was held out because of an unspecified upper-body injury.

P.O Joseph, regarded by many to be a long shot to crack the Penguins’ lineup when the regular season began, is growing into his role as a regular at this level after serving a lengthy apprenticeship in the American Hockey League.

A look at the personnel problems the Penguins, who have nominal salary-cap space available, could face if Crosby and Malkin weren’t healthy enough to dress for a game against Columbus Tuesday.

Tuesday

The medical news in the morning for the Penguins was encouraging for the Penguins: Malkin participated in an optional game-day skate and Crosby was able to do some off-ice work.

Crosby felt good enough by the time the game rolled around to score two goals in the Penguins’ 4-1 victory against Columbus.

The Penguins had to overcome a lackluster first period to defeat the Blue Jackets.

Wednesday

Ron Hextall resisted the temptation to make a significant personnel move when the Penguins were slumping earlier this season. Good move. Or, more to the point, non-move.

It wasn’t so long again that Rust was in an exasperating slump, but he’s broken out in a big way lately.

Sam Poulin, probably the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top forward prospect, took a leave of absence from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre.

Thursday

There was a surprise participant in the Penguins’ practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Letang returned to practice, and shed some light on what he went through in relation to his stroke little more than a week earlier.

Dan Kingerski takes a look at the impact a productive power play — something the Penguins were missing for much of the season — can have on a team.

Friday

Letang took another step toward getting back on active duty during an optional game-day skate.

Buffalo had the better of play for much of the evening, but the Penguins ended up with the bigger number on the scoreboard when the game was over. Give Sabres winger Jeff Skinner, who cross-checked Jake Guentzel in the face with 21.3 seconds left in regulation, some of the credit for that.

Jeff Carter says he had a pretty simple approach to executing his duties on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play during overtime.

Saturday

A lot of people expected Skinner to receive a multi-game suspension for the cross-check on Guentzel, and the Dept. of Player Safety came through for them.

Letang, just 12 days removed from the second stroke of his career, went from being a “game-time decision” to securing a place in the lineup for the rematch with Buffalo.

Crosby scored two goals and Casey DeSmith made 37 saves to assure that Letang’s return to active duty was a success.

The Penguins had a lot to say about a lot of subjects after their 3-1 victory against Buffalo.

There was a lot for the Penguins to like about the way they performed while defeating the Sabres for the second time in two nights.