Penguins Star Kris Letang Set to Return to Lineup After Toe Injury

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIApril 11, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 16:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Rangers during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 16, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins star defenseman Kris Letang is set to return to the lineup on Thursday evening against the Tampa Bay Lightning after battling a toe injury.

The team's official Twitter page broke the news, citing head coach Dan Bylsma as the source:

Letang was initially injured on March 17 in the team's ninth straight victory over the Boston Bruins, and had only played in one game since then—a 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

The play that Letang came up gingerly on looked rather routine, as he simply skated near the boards to retrieve the puck from behind his own net. Unfortunately, it caused Letang to miss a chunk of the lockout-shortened season down the stretch.

Although the team still sits atop the Eastern Conference and has already clinched the Atlantic Division title, Letang's return comes at a critical juncture.

The Pens can use all the help they can get as the playoffs approach since Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely after taking a puck to the face. To help absorb the NHL's leading scorer's loss, Letang will provide some more punch to the team's offense, which still leads the league with 3.2 goals per game.

The two-time All-Star Letang will be one of the key contributors for Pittsburgh as it strives to make a significant run for the Stanley Cup.

One problem the Penguins have had is on the penalty kill, where they rank just 22nd in the league with a success rate of just under 80 percent. Letang can only help in that regard, and that should be a big factor as to how deep Pittsburgh goes in the postseason.