PITTSBURGH - Another one?
Yes, there's apparently another concussion issue for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have announced that defenseman Kris Letang is out indefinitely.
Letang was leveled by Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars during Wednesday night's hard-hitting game.
There's no official diagnosis yet, but it looks like the second concussion of the season for Letang, who was felled by Montreal's Max Pacioretty on Nov. 26. Although Letang returned in time to score the game-winning goal in overtime, the injury wound up costing him 21 games.
Letang is scheduled to fully evaluated by Penguins doctors today, after the team returns from Denver.
The NHL reviewed the hit on Letang and ruled that no action would be taken against Nystrom.
Brendan Shanahan, the former NHL star who now reviews these matters for the NHL, said in a Twitter feed, "Our view is that Letang lunges forward just prior to contact and although it appears that the chin is grazed by the side of Nystrom's arm, the right chest and shoulder of Letang remain the [principal point of contact]."
Not that it matters much to the Penguins. The issue is they could have one of their best players out for an extended period of time.
Concussions are an issue every day in the NHL. Every team has had someone sustain a concussion, and some of the biggest names have been victims.
It always renews the call to ban contact to the head, but Letang's latest situation shows how difficult that kind of blanket policy can be.
Players being hit are rarely stationary targets. So you have two players in motion, one attempting to initiate contact, the other trying to either avoid it or minimize it.
Nystrom, who has no history of head-hunting, said it was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. That kind of body checking is the essence of hockey.
But Letang saw Nystrom coming, moved and wound up injured. There's no way to know if his injury was caused by contact or by the whiplash effect of his head snapping back from the contact.
The on-ice officials didn't call a penalty, and Shanahan supported their judgment.
Remember that Shanahan had the benefit of frame-by-frame replay to watch the contact and make his ruling.
Even with that, there's not 100 percent certainty that Letang wasn't hit in the head.
That's how borderline some of these cases are.
There are already rules on the book to cover blatant blows to the head and obvious attempts to injure.
The difficult ones are like this - two players moving and making contact.
Getting all blows to the head out of the game sounds fine in theory. In practice, though, it's virtually impossible.
Who's No. 2?
Goalie Brad Thiessen finally made his NHL debut at home last Sunday and got the win as the Penguins beat Columbus, 4-2.
Thiessen started because the usual back-up, Brent Johnson, was out with an undisclosed injury.
There's no question this is an audition for next season because it's unlikely Johnson will be back. His contract expires after this season.
But what about this season?
There's plenty of work the rest of the way.
Tonight's home game against Phoenix starts a stretch of 18 games in 33 days to close the regular season.
That includes three sets of back-to-back games where coach Dan Bylsma would like to use his back-up for one of the games.
Thiessen was OK in his start, allowing two goals on 24 shots. The Penguins made a conscious effort to tighten things up and make sure he wasn't overwhelmed.
"We wanted to keep [the shooters] to the outside and make sure there were no rebounds," forward Steve Sullivan said.
Thiessen isn't the typical rookie. He signed with the Penguins in 2009 as an undrafted free agent. He was with the Penguins during their Stanley Cup run as part of the "Black Aces" practice squad.
He turns 27 in a couple of weeks, which makes him less than 18 months younger than Fleury, who has more than 400 NHL games.
The Penguins are in no immediate danger of missing the playoffs, so they're playing for the best spot they can get in the playoff field. It's still possible, but not likely, that they could overtake the New York Rangers for first place.
If Johnson can play, he should get a few more starts. The Penguins need all the points they can get and he has a track record even though he's struggled this season.
Thiessen has promise, but every team is better than the Columbus team he faced in his debut.
Ironically, the identity of the backup becomes less on an issue in the playoffs.
The backup gets mostly mop-up work in the postseason.
If Fleury can't play for some reason in the playoffs, it's a huge problem no matter who is backing him up.
Ready to reveal
The Penguins will officially unveil the Mario Lemieux statute this week.
The ceremony is scheduled for noon Wednesday, the same day the Penguins play the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:30.
The sculpture will be on Centre Avenue, which divides the Consol Energy Center from the site of the Civic Arena. The arena is being demolished, with more of it disappearing every week.
At last check, half of the arena done was gone. The building is expected to fully razed by May.
The Lemieux statue will become the first one downtown honoring a sports figure.
That night's game will be televised nationally by the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus).