Feb 7, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) talks to center Evgeni Malkin (71) during a time-out against the New York Rangers in the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers won 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins Gameday Skate: Should Olympians Skip Games Down The Stretch?

It was somewhat buried in Monday’s news about Kris Letang and three other injured Pittsburgh Penguins returning to practice, but it was perhaps just as significant.

Five of the Penguins’ Olympians – the sidelined Paul Martin and the rehabbing Chris Kunitz excepted – were given a day off in preparation for Tuesday’s home matchup against Dallas.

For their sake, I hope Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, Olli Maatta and Brooks Orpik enjoyed their time away from the rink, because the Penguins have four games in the next six days, seven in the next 11 and 12 in the next 20. Pittsburgh will not have more than one day between games during this upcoming three-week stretch, which ends with a pair of off days April 7-8.

That type of frequent action may be good for the Penguins who are just returning from injuries, but it’s not optimal for players like Crosby, Malkin, Jokinen, Maatta and Orpik, all of whom play significant minutes with Pittsburgh and didn’t get a two-week break like most of their NHL peers.

Related: Pens get well-timed lesson from Flyers

As we’ve heard over and over, the Penguins will be judged by what they do in the playoffs, so coach Dan Bylsma and staff should consider sitting the aforementioned five for intermittent games down the stretch.

It’s nice to think that taking a practice off here and there can make a big difference, but the toughest wear to an athlete’s body is incurred during games. With the Penguins (44-19-4, 92 points) holding a 15-point division lead while trailing Boston by five points for the conference’s top spot, they have an 88 percent chance of being the East’s No. 2 playoff seed, according to Sports Club Stats.

All of that is to say these next 15 games mean very little. The Penguins have four back-to-back situations left this season, so there’s ample justification to give some important players a game or two off as you look toward the postseason.

The athletes may not like it, but they’re not in charge. Time for the Pens to make the prudent decision and eliminate fatigue as an excuse.

Tonight’s Game: Penguins (44-17-4, 92 points – 1st Metropolitan) vs. Stars (32-24-11, 75 points – 5th Central) at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center
Faceoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh
Radio: 105.9 The X

Kunitz (bruised ankle) and James Neal (concussion) participated in Tuesday’s morning skate on the first and second lines, respectively, in addition to manning spots on the top-unit power play. Both missed the weekend home-and-home against the Flyers; they will need medical clearance before tonight’s game in order to suit up.

Jeff Zatkoff will start in net for the Pens after his effective relief appearance Sunday. Kari Lehtonen will oppose for the Stars, returning from a head injury he suffered a couple weeks ago.

Much like Philadelphia over the weekend, Dallas will be hunting points feverishly. The Stars trail Phoenix by two points for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, although they have two games in hand on the Coyotes.

Tags: Dan Bylsma Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

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