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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 12:02 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineup for Penguins in Sid's return

Yes, that is Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins' starting lineup against the New York Islanders. It's the comeback that Crosby, the Penguins and the NHL have awaited since January, when Crosby sustained a concussion that ultimately sidelined him for more than 10 months.
 
This will be only the third game in the last two seasons in which all three of the Penguins' top centers -- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- will play in the same game. Staal missed the first half of last season with a foot injury and broken hand.
 
But Crosby isn't the only Penguins player to return following an injury layoff. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who hasn't played since Oct. 22 because of a broken finger in his right hand, also returns and will be paired with usual partner Paul Martin.
 
The Penguins' lineup, one they have been waiting to put on the ice since the season began:
 
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams - Richard Park - Arron Asham
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury is back in goal after Brent Johnson played during a 3-2 loss at Florida on Saturday night. Fleury is 7-0-1 at Consol Energy Center this season.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sacco impressed by Pens' play without Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Colorado Avalanche are taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time in nine months, but two key factors haven't changed going into the interconference matchup.
 
Sidney Crosby isn't playing, yet the Penguins remain a very difficult opponent even without their world-class center.
 
Since Crosby sustained a concussion during the first week of January, the Penguins are 33-17-8. They have gotten at least one point in 41 of 58 games, even while being without the player who was easily leading the NHL in scoring at this time last season.
 
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said the Penguins are capable of being just as impressive, from a team concept standpoint, as they are when the former Hart Memorial Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner is in the lineup.
 
"This team rolls along, they don't miss a beat, and they've done that for a year and a half now with the injuries they've had," Sacco said. "They've figured things out, how to get by without some of their top players. He's not the only guy missing, but certainly he's the key."
 
Since the 2010-11 season began, the Penguins have played only two games with all three of their top centers – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- yet they are 59-29-11 during that span. Staal missed the first half of 2010-11 with a foot injury and broken hand.
 
Pittsburgh also was without Malkin (right knee) for half of last season and seven games of this season.
 
The key to Pittsburgh's success without its stars, according to forward Matt Cooke, is a determination to play with the same intensity, preparation and commitment to a system that has worked no matter who is in the lineup.
 
"If we play out our game plan, we're going to have success -- regardless of what the other team does," Cooke said.
 
Defenseman Alexandre Picard, who played for Montreal last season, is impressed with how the same system used in Pittsburgh is implemented at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL).
 
Penguins general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma require that organization-wide uniformity so that a player such as Picard can be exposed in the minors to the same power-play unit, penalty-killing unit and offensive and defensive systems they will play in Pittsburgh.
 
"Even down there, it's the same thing, it's the mentality of the organization," Picard said. "It doesn't matter who you are or how many minutes you play, the coaching staff expects something out of you. Whether you're Sidney Crosby or Joe Vitale, they expect the same thing."
 
That doesn't mean that Picard isn't eager for Crosby to rejoin the Penguins -- and perhaps soon. Picard opposed the Penguins and Crosby while with Montreal, Philadelphia and Ottawa, so he can't wait to have him on his own team.
 
Like his other teammates, Picard sees daily in practice how Crosby appears to have recaptured all of his offensive skills despite being out more than 10 months with a concussion. The earliest that Crosby could play is Thursday at Tampa Bay.
 
"He's the best player in the world, so obviously when he comes back it's going to be a huge boost," Picard said. "But you still want guys to play the same way that we're playing now, and not hold back anything just because he’s back."
 
While Crosby won't play -- just as he didn't during the Penguins' 3-2 overtime victory at Colorado on Feb. 16 -- the Avalanche-Penguins matchup features the NHL's top power-play unit against its best penalty-killing unit.
 
Colorado's power play is converting at a 27.1 percent success rate (17 of 55), while the Penguins have permitted only 3 power-play goals in 50 attempts, a 94-percent kill rate.
 
"They have a simplistic approach," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of the Avalanche's power play. "They get the puck to the net. They get the shot up top. Then they have skilled players with a unit anchored by (captain Milan) Hejduk."
 
Bylsma also said, "They have skill, movement, they hunt pucks down, (they) have a big shot from the point. They've had success in a lot of different ways. They haven't gotten it one way. It's not a one-dimensional power play. They are relentless."
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 1:31 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hejduk debuts as Avalanche captain

PITTSBURGH -- The Colorado Avalanche's jerseys had a slightly different look for their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. One of them now features a 'C' on the front.
 
Milan Hejduk officially made his debut as Colorado's captain today after coach Joe Sacco waited until nearly one-quarter of the way through the season to make his choice.
 
"He's won a Stanley Cup, he knows how to win and what it takes," Sacco said. "I didn't have a certain date in mind; it was just when we felt it was the right time."
 
As it turned out, that time was the start of a two-game road trip, to Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
 
Sacco may have required some time to reveal his selection, but to him, it was an obvious one. Hejduk, who has 364 goals and 769 points in 927 NHL games -- all with the Avs -- was chosen 10 years after helping Colorado last win the Stanley Cup.
 
"He's a leader by example," Sacco said. "He's not going to be the most vocal guy, he's not going to be yelling and screaming -- that's not his identity as a person. But he does lead by example on and off the ice by the way he conducts himself, the way he handles himself, his preparation for both practices and games."
 
Sacco added, "He's been an Avalanche now for his 13th year. He's what we want our younger players to be."
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 1:07 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Pens, Avs

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Tyler Kennedy (concussion) and Steve Sullivan (lower-body injury) took part in the morning skate and will be game-time decisions tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2) against Colorado, but it appears as if both will play.
 
Kennedy has been out with a concussion since Oct. 15, while Sullivan sustained an undisclosed injury during a 5-3 loss at Carolina on Saturday.
 
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, as usual, took part in the morning skate but will not play after being ruled out Monday. The earliest he could play would be Thursday at Tampa Bay. Crosby hasn’t played since Jan. 5 against the Lightning.
 
Avalanche forward Brandon Yip (broken right arm) took part in the morning skate and got in some extra work afterward, but coach Joe Sacco said he won’t play in the first meeting between the teams since Pittsburgh's 3-2 overtime win Feb. 16, 2011, at the Pepsi Center. Kennedy scored the game-winning goal on a power play with 50 seconds remaining.
 
Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis left the morning skate after about 10 minutes with a cut on his face that required stitches, but will be in the lineup.
 
The expected lineups at Consol Energy Center:
 
AVALANCHE
Joakim Lindstrom - Paul Stastny - Milan Hejduk
TJ Galiardi - Matt Duchene - David Jones
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Daniel Winnik
Cody McLeod - Kevin Porter/Jay McClement - Chuck Kobasew
 
Kyle Quincey - Shane O'Brien
Ryan Wilson - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
 
Semyon Varlamov, 2-0 in his career with a 2.00 goals-against average against Pittsburgh during the regular season, is expected to be in goal, with Jean-Sebastien Giguere as his backup.
 
PENGUINS
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury (9-2-1) will be back in goal after backup Brent Johnson played against Carolina. Fleury enters tonight's games second in the League in wins (nine), sixth in goals-against average (1.87) and ninth in save percentage (.932).

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.

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Posted On Friday, 11.11.2011 / 4:07 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Tangradi earned way back to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- Even with Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy sitting out with concussions and Evgeni Malkin missing seven games with knee soreness, the Pittsburgh Penguins didn't recall top forward prospect Eric Tangradi.
 
Tangradi didn't take it as a slight, however, just as he didn't when he was one of the first players cut during training camp. He didn't speak out. He just kept producing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL), with 7 goals and 5 assists in 12 games.
 
That steady production led the Penguins to call up Tangradi for their game Friday against the Stars, even though they could have recalled Dustin Jeffrey or Steve MacIntyre, who are in Wilkes-Barre on conditioning assignments.
 
"I don't think I need to do anything different," said Tangradi, who has 1 goal and 2 assists in 16 NHL games the last two seasons. "I'm here for a reason. I'm here to play my game and not worry about anything else. Not be too nervous, not do more than I'm capable of doing and just play my game."
 
Coach Dan Bylsma said Tangradi is up for a reason.
 
"Eric's game has really come on strong the last eight games or so with Wilkes-Barre," Bylsma said. "He's playing strong down low. He's protecting the puck. He's been a physical presence. He's really improved his puck management in the neutral zone. That's something that he's been inconsistent on in the past. We're looking for him to continue that and be a force in the offensive zone, hold on to the puck, get to the net."
 
And show why he is Pittsburgh's top prospect.

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Posted On Friday, 11.11.2011 / 1:08 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Penguins to honor military heroes

PITTSBURGH -- A dozen wounded military veterans attended the Penguins' game-day skate, part of the team's Veterans Day tribute.
 
The veterans, seated near the glass during the skate, were greeted by Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, who signed autographs for a group representing the Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Troop Appreciation and the Veterans Affairs department.
 
The veterans also were given a tour of the Penguins' dressing room, with numerous players coming up to shake hands and pose for pictures. Select members were given personalized Penguins jerseys.
 
During the pre-game skate before the Stars-Penguins game, the Pittsburgh players will wear special camouflage jerseys that they later will sign. The jerseys then will be auctioned on NHL.com, with proceeds benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Troop Appreciation.
 
ROTC members will be stationed at all entry gates at Consol Energy Center, and selected military members will sit in suites purchased by Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. All fans will be given an American Flag Foundation wristband. Military veterans also will participate in Zamboni rides during the game.

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Posted On Friday, 11.11.2011 / 12:31 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Likely lineup for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Here's the Pittsburgh Penguins' likely line combinations for tonight's game against the Dallas Stars (7 p.m., NHLN-US), a matchup of the teams currently leading the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively.

The Penguins are playing their first game since a 3-2 shootout win at Los Angeles on Saturday.
 
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Arron Asham
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Coach Dan Bylsma rotated his six healthy defensemen -- Paul Martin, Deryk Engelland, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Alexandre Picard and Matt Niskanen -- during the morning skate. Bylsma has been using different pairings since Zbynek Michalek (broken finger) and Ben Lovejoy (broken wrist) have been hurt, and was forced to improvise Saturday when Niskanen didn't play against the Kings because of a lower-body injury.

Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal, with Brent Johnson the backup.
 
Tyler Kennedy (concussion) skated mostly by himself during the morning practice and will not play. He has been out since Oct. 15. Sidney Crosby (concussion) also took part in the game-day skate, as he has been doing all season, even though he has yet to play in a game. On Thursday, Crosby was ruled out of the Penguins' games this weekend, against the Stars and at Carolina on Saturday.

We'll have more on the Stars' lineup after their skate.

For more on today's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 4:23 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Pens hope All-Star Game follows draft to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- The Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and 2009, the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic, now the 2012 Draft. Obviously, Pittsburgh has been a busy port of call for the NHL over the past few seasons.
 
According to Penguins CEO David Morehouse, not quite busy enough.
 
Now that the much-praised Consol Energy Center is their home, the Penguins are making a major push to also play host to the NHL All-Star Game. The All-Star game was last played in Pittsburgh in 1990, when Mario Lemieux scored four goals in his one and only all-star appearance on home ice. A season later, he would lead the Penguins to the first of two successive Stanley Cups.
 
That 1990 All-Star Game was notable for being the first to stage a Heroes of Hockey Game and an All-Star skills competition.
 
Morehouse promised the Penguins will remain aggressive in pursuing the All-Star Game, which will be played this season on Jan. 29 in Ottawa.
 
"I know we're going to ask an awful lot," Morehouse said. "We're going to see if we can wear them down. In a few years, I think it's a great place to host an All-Star game. It's one of the premier facilities, if not the premier facility, in the NHL. And Pittsburgh has proven itself a great hockey town -- we continue to lead U.S. teams in television ratings and merchandise sales and almost every other category. We're very excited about the growth of hockey in Pittsburgh, and how it continues to grow."
 
The Penguins will play before their 216th consecutive sellout crowd Thursday night when they meet the Islanders, a streak that began when they played in the Civic Arena. The 18,387-seat Consol Energy Center opened last season.
 
At least one more major hockey event will be played in Pittsburgh in the near future -- the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four. Morehouse also wants to bring the world junior championships to Consol, but has been told there is a waiting list for that popular, holiday-time tournament.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 2:39 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

J. Staal has fond draft memories

PITTSBURGH—Jordan Staal said Pittsburgh is in for a treat.
 
Staal, one of the NHL's best two-way centers, said being drafted No. 2 by the Penguins in Vancouver in 2006 remains one of the biggest thrills of his life. He has watched other drafts since then, and he said it's always entertaining to watch a young player learn where he is going to begin his professional career.
 
"The draft was pretty cool for me," Staal said. "It's your first step into your new dream and it's a pretty fun experience that I'm sure a lot of players will never forget. I'm excited that it’s going to be in Pittsburgh, and I'm sure it’s going to be a lot of fun."
 
When the Entry Draft was last held in Pittsburgh in 1997 -- at the now-closed Civic Arena -- Joe Thornton was the No. 1 pick by Boston, followed by forward  Patrick Marleau, San Jose; forward Olli Jokinen, Los Angeles; goalie Roberto Luongo, the New York Islanders; and defenseman Eric Brewer, the Islanders. Other first-round picks included Sergei Samsonov, Marian Hossa and Brenden Morrow.
 
Thornton became only the second 17-year-old to be selected No. 1, joining Pierre Turgeon. Luongo was the first goaltender drafted as high as No. 4 since the draft began in 1969.
 
The Penguins' top pick, forward Robert Dome at No. 17, turned out to be one of their less-successful first-rounders. Dome, who wore his hair long to mimic then-Penguins star Jaromir Jagr, had 7 goals and 7 assists in 53 career NHL games, all but one with Pittsburgh.
 
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Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 12:50 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Upcoming lull in schedule should help get Sid ready

PITTSBURGH -- Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins will catch a break next week.
 
A schedule break, and a long-awaited one at that. One that might accelerate star Sidney Crosby's return to the lineup.
 
The Penguins are beginning their season by playing 13 games in 24 days, a hectic pace that concludes with games Thursday against the Islanders and Saturday at Toronto. By contrast, they play only 12 games in 31 days in January, partly because of the All-Star break.
 
So many games in so few days this month -- only once have the Penguins had even a two-day break between games -- hasn't allowed for much practice time. Or time that is needed for Crosby to be introduced to more contact, which he needs before he can be cleared for game action.
 
Crosby, who is healing from a concussion, has taken part mostly in game-day skates, during which contact is minimal at best.
 
Next week, though, the Penguins will enjoy a four-day break before they play at San Jose next Thursday and Los Angeles on Nov. 5. After that, they have five days off before a Nov. 11 home game against Dallas.
 
Those days, coach Dan Bylsma said, will permit more detail work during practices than the Penguins can experience while playing so often.
 
"I think you'll see some days for the whole team to rest, but that time will also allow us to have some type of practices that are different than even what we go through (on a normal practice day)," Bylsma said. "That'll be balanced with some rest days as well. But I think our team -- not just Sidney -- knows we need some work and some work days."
 
Bylsma said the Penguins, despite their strong start, need some "work-day practices where we're getting pace and tempo and some battle into our game in different areas. Those are areas that we all know we need. Not just guys who are returning from injuries, or Sidney."
 
Crosby was cleared Oct. 13 for contact during practice, but has yet to experience anything other than bumping or shoving -- and nothing approximating what occurs during a game.
 
Crosby didn't get much time on the ice during Thursday but took full advantage of it, flying down the ice with excellent acceleration while shooting with precision and authority. At times he was a white-and-purple blur, reflecting the specially-designed jerseys the Penguins wore during the morning skate and will don again for the pre-game warm-ups. The jerseys will be auctioned on NHL.com starting Nov. 1 as part of the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative.
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I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic