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Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 1:16 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Only one Staal present for Canes-Pens matchup

PITTSBURGH -- Hockey players often say the best way to deal with an unsatisfactory performance is to move on quickly and simply forget it.
That's not quite as easy to do when a key player gets upstaged by his little brother.
When the Carolina Hurricanes last played in Pittsburgh -- they make their second and final visit there this season on Tuesday night -- captain Eric Staal's line was regularly matched against that of Penguins center Jordan Staal.
The Staal vs. Staal result? The Penguins outshot the Hurricanes 52-18 while winning 4-2 on Dec. 27, with Jordan Staal getting a goal and being chosen as the No. 1 star. Eric Staal's line was a minus-2.
So while Eric Staal obviously doesn't want to see his brother injured and out -- he's currently sidelined for a month to six weeks with a torn MCL in his left knee -- he said the Hurricanes need to capitalize on the absence of one of the NHL's best two-way forwards.
The Penguins also will be without their captain, Sidney Crosby, who remains out with a concussion, and defenseman Kris Letang, who is close to returning from a seven-week layoff with a concussion but will not play Tuesday.
"It's always a battle whenever you play him," Eric Staal said of his brother, who was having his best season statistically before he was hurt Jan. 6 against the Rangers. "Obviously he's a big part of their team, along with a couple of other players who are out, and we need to take advantage of that. Any time you play against him, it's competitive and a lot of fun and, unfortunately for Jordy, he's out a little bit."
The Penguins have slumped since that Dec. 27 game, going 7-10 and losing six in a row before rebounding with weekend wins against Florida and Tampa Bay. Carolina is 4-4-1 since then and is third from the bottom in the Eastern Conference standings.
"They're a little lower in the standings, but they're a team we've got to be aware of," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It seems like every time we play them, it's a close game, overtime or shootout, so it's something we have to expect."
What Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller doesn't expect again is the Penguins getting off so many shots. By comparison, the Hurricanes gave up 24 shots while losing to Washington 2-1 on Sunday.
"It's the scoring chances, the effective ones, we've got to take away. They're a team that throws everything at the net," Muller said of the Penguins, who have averaged 37 shots since that Dec. 27 matchup. "It's not allowing them to get to the second and third rebounds."
Here are the probable lineups for the fourth and final game between the Eastern Conference teams this season. Pittsburgh won two of the first three.
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Jussi Jokinen - Jeff Skinner - Alexei Ponikarovsky
Andreas Nodl - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Brett Sutter - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Derek Joslin - Jamie McBain
Cam Ward will make his fifth consecutive start in goal, with Justin Peters as the backup. Ward is 11-5-2 with a 2.41 goals-against average against Pittsburgh during his career.
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury, who hasn't had a full game off since a 3-2 win at Carolina on Dec. 3, will be in net. Backup Brent Johnson, who hasn't won since that Dec. 3 start, was pulled against Ottawa during each of his last two starts, on Dec. 16 and Jan. 10.
Penguins forward Arron Asham has an undisclosed illness and is not expected to play.
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 7:33 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Surging Sens blueliner Karlsson an unexpected scratch

PITTSBURGH — Erik Karlsson, the leading scorer among NHL defensemen, was unexpectedly scratched for the Ottawa Senators' game against the Penguins on Tuesday night because of an upper-body injury.
Karlsson went through the morning skate without incident, and also took part in the pregame warm-ups, only to be scratched just before game time. He was replaced by Matt Carkner, who was scheduled to be scratched.
The 21-year-old Karlsson has 6 goals and 35 assists for 41 points in 43 games and is on pace to become only the fifth defenseman to produced 70 points in a season since the 2004-05 lockout. He also has 86 points since the start of the 2010-11 season, one more than Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom.
Karlsson is coming off one of his best games of the season. He had a goal and an assist and was a plus-5 as the Senators rallied from two goals down in the third period to beat Philadelphia 6-4 on Sunday.
Karlsson went into Tuesday's games with an 8-point lead over Brian Campbell of Florida in the scoring race for defensemen.
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:02 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

No change in Crosby's status

PITTSBURGH -- No change in Sidney Crosby's condition. No return to the ice for him just yet, either.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said there has been no change in Crosby's status as he sits out with concussion-related issues for the second time this season. The Penguins' marquee star missed the first 20 games with an injury that carried over from last season, then played in eight games before being sidelined again.
Crosby hasn't skated since he absorbed several hits Dec. 5 against Boston, apparently triggering a reoccurrence of his concussion problems. He has been limited to light exercising since then.
Bylsma was asked Tuesday what Crosby is doing during his layoff.
"I don't have an update for you on that," Bylsma said. "He is in light exercise. He is exercising. What that is, in terms of heart rate and activity, is different on different days. That's where Sid is in his rehab right now."
The Penguins play their 13th consecutive game without Crosby against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
The 24-year-old Crosby is effectively in the same condition he was in late August, before training camp began. He has yet to be cleared to practice and, once he does, he must show that he can absorb contact without issues before he can play again.
Crosby spent the last two games watching from the management suite at Consol Energy Center.
Since Jan. 5, 2011, concussion issues have caused the Stanley Cup-winning captain and Olympic gold medalist from playing in all but eight of the Penguins' 81 games. Pittsburgh is 39-26-8 without him, with a 16-13-3 record this season.
Since Crosby last played, the Penguins have dropped seven of 12, endangering their chances of reaching the playoffs.
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Streaking Senators have passed Pens in standings

PITTSBURGH -- There will be a desperate team on the ice when the Ottawa Senators take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night. And it won't be the streaking Senators.
The Penguins, on top of the Eastern Conference standings only a month ago, have tumbled to eighth place while losing their last four, six of 10 and seven of 12. The Senators, by contrast, are 5-0-1 in their last six and 8-1-2 in their last 11, vaulting them into fifth place in the conference.
After rallying from two goals down to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-4 on Sunday, the Senators (22-15-6) should have plenty of momentum heading into their second trip to Pittsburgh this season. They'll need it, as they play 10 of their next 11 on the road, a stretch that includes only one home game before their arena plays host to the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 29.
"We've got to worry about what we can control, and that's how we prepare for our game," goaltender Craig Anderson said Tuesday. "Make them adjust to how we're playing, and obviously we're playing very good hockey right now and finding ways to win. We've got to continue with the same mentality we've been going on the last few games, and try to continue with that success."
That's what the Penguins (21-15-4) don't want to do -- continue with the same mentality they've had the last few games. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, upset with what he felt were unnecessary penalties, said there must be more accountability on the ice. Coach Dan Bylsma wants to avoid letdowns that he believes are occurring far too frequently.
The Penguins should get a boost from the surprise return of right wing James Neal, who was expected to be out weeks with what was initially diagnosed as a broken foot that occurred Saturday against the Devils. An MRI exam revealed he has only a badly bruised foot.
"We've got to get back on track and it starts tonight," Neal said. "I'm just happy I'm OK to play."
Forward Eric Tangradi, called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) for the third time this season, slides onto a line with Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy as Pittsburgh tries to avoid its first five-game losing streak since Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010.
Ottawa will have one lineup change, with defenseman Brian Lee replacing Matt Carkner as Chris Phillips' partner. Lee, who adds a speed element, sat out the last two games. Carkner had played five straight.
"We want to make sure we keep Brian Lee playing as well," coach Paul MacLean said. "The two are going to have to rotate depending on how we play."
Here are the likely lineups for the third of four games between the teams this season; they split the first two. Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist in both games for Pittsburgh.
Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Erik Condra - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Bobby Butler
Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Brian Lee
Alex Auld will be the backup goalie.
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Eric Tangradi - Pascal Dupuis - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
Brent Johnson, 8-2-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average against the Senators, will make his first start since he allowed five goals on 10 shots during the second period of a 6-4 loss in Ottawa on Dec. 16. Marc-Andre Fleury, who started the previous eight games, will go Wednesday night in Washington as the Penguins play back-to-back games for the second time in a week. They lost at home by identical 3-1 scores to the Rangers on Friday and the Devils on Saturday.
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 11:52 AM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Quick turnaround for Neal

PITTSBURGH -- James Neal was supposed to be out of the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup for weeks with a broken foot. Turns out his absence lasted mere hours.
Neal, fifth in the NHL with 21 goals, unexpectedly took part in the Penguins' morning skate before their Tuesday night game against the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center, then said he's "good to go."
Coach Dan Bylsma said X-rays taken after Neal blocked a shot by the Devils' Henrik Tallinder during a 3-1 loss on Saturday night showed a fracture, but later tests determined he has a bone bruise. With such an injury, a player can continue playing if his pain tolerance permits it, and without delaying the healing process.
Only a day after teammates reported him walking with considerable discomfort, Neal skated without visible pain and will take his usual spot at right wing on the top line with left wing Chris Kunitz and center Evgeni Malkin.
"The first preliminary tests done after the game (Saturday) indicated a fracture in a tough bone in a tough place," Bylsma said. "The MRI showed what he had was a preexisting condition that showed up as a crack on X-rays. He may have done it as kid. … He was pretty relieved to hear the news."
After weeks of nothing but bad injury news -- Jordan Staal tore the MCL in his left knee Friday against the Rangers and will be out at least a month -- the Penguins finally got some positive news.
"It's all right to go. The MRI showed it can't get any worse," Neal said. "I want to play and help the team, and if it can't get any worse then there isn't any reason why I shouldn't play. It felt good in the skate and I'll be ready to go."
Forward Craig Adams, who appeared to sustain a serious right knee injury during practice on Sunday, also skated and plans to be in the lineup.
Star center Sidney Crosby (concussion) and defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) still remain out indefinitely, but Neal's surprise return clearly provided the slumping Penguins with a much-needed boost.
On Sunday, only 12 hours after the Penguins dropped their fourth in a row and second in as many nights at home, coach Dan Bylsma said Neal would miss "weeks, not days" and that Staal would be out four-to-six weeks. His prognosis has not changed.
"A few days ago things were turning from bad to worse," Kunitz said. "But if he (Neal) is able to go, he's a big part of our team. He's a guy who can score goals from any area on the ice and is a great power-play guy. He's also a great penalty killer for our team."
Neal doesn't expect the injury to affect any part of his game.
"Obviously it's going to hurt when you take a shot to the foot, but I'll be all right to go," said Neal, who is second on the team with 36 points. "Everybody plays with bumps and bruises, and it's just one of those things."
Defenseman Paul Martin's status for the Senators' game is uncertain. He has an undisclosed illness that caused him to miss practice Monday and the morning skate.
Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Fleury to face idol Brodeur in milestone contest

PITTSBURGH— Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is only 27, yet he will play in his 400th career game when he opposes the New Jersey Devils and longtime idol Martin Brodeur at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.
Brodeur, who respects what Fleury has done in a career that already is a lengthy one yet doesn’t appear to be close to being over, believes Fleury is reaching a major milestone.
“Won’t he get a leather jacket from the NHLPA?” Brodeur said following Saturday’s morning skate.
Fleury, who was in net for the Penguins’ third consecutive loss Friday, a 3-1 defeat to the first-place New York Rangers, probably would take a victory over Brodeur rather than a commemorative piece of clothing.
“I think he definitely is aware of who the other goaltender is when it’s Martin Brodeur,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He definitely gets a little charged up about playing against him.”
There are additional reasons, of course, for Fleury to want to play well.  The Penguins haven’t lost four consecutive games since they were 0-2-2 from Feb. 20-26, and they haven’t dropped four straight in regulation since a five-game slide from Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010.
There’s also this: If the Devils (22-16-2) beat the Penguins (21-1-4-4) for the second Saturday in a row – they won 3-1 at Prudential Center on New Year’s Eve – they will move past Pittsburgh and into third place in the Atlantic Division standings.
Only a month ago, on Dec. 8, the Penguins led the overall Eastern Conference standings, while the Devils weren’t n the top eight. Since then, New Jersey is 9-4-1 while Pittsburgh is 5-6.
The Devils are 0-3-1 in their last four trips to Pittsburgh and haven’t won there since Dec. 21, 2009. Pittsburgh took all three home games in the season series a year ago.
New Jersey forward Travis Zajac (Achilles’ tendon) and defenseman Anton Volchenkov (lower-body injury) did not make the trip to Pittsburgh. Volchenkov was placed on the injured reserve list to open up a roster spot for forward Nick Palmieri, who had 4 goals and 3 assists in 23 games earlier this season.
Brodeur, 3-1-1 in his last five starts, will be back in net after Johan Hedberg made 22 saves in beating Florida 5-2 on Friday night. Ilya Kovalchuk, who had two goals against the Panthers, scored on a penalty shot against Pittsburgh last weekend.
This will be the sixth set of back-to-back games for the Penguins and the ninth for the Devils. Pittsburgh is 6-4-1 overall in back-to-back games and 3-1-1 in the second half. New Jersey is 9-7-1 in back-to-back games and 5-3 in second games.
Both teams held optional practices at Consol Energy Center on Saturday, and here’s how they could line up Saturday night will feature the third of six meetings this season. They split the first two games. Pittsburgh will be without center Jordan Staal, who sustained an apparent left knee injury during a 3-1 loss to the Rangers on Friday night. Forward Arron Asham is expected to sit out again with a knee injury that occurred in New Jersey.

Zach PariseAdam HenriqueIlya Kovalchuk
Petr SykoraPatrik EliasDainius Zubrus
Tim SestitoSteven ZalewskiDavid Clarkson
Eric BoultonRyan CarterCam Janssen
Bryce SalvadorAdam Larsson
Mark FayneHenrik Tallinder
Kurtis FosterMatt Taormina
Brodeur is 43-25-5 with nine career shutouts against the Penguins. Hedberg will be the backup.

Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Steve SullivanRichard ParkTyler Kennedy
Matt CookePascal DupuisCraig Adams
Steve MacIntyreJoe Vitale – Craig McDonald
Brooks OrpikMatt Niskanen
Paul MartinZbynek Michalek
Ben LovejoyDeryk Engelland
Fleury remains tied for second in the League with 19 wins. Backup Brent Johnson is expected to play next in one of the back-to-back games against Ottawa on Tuesday and at Washington on Wednesday.
Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bylsma: Injuries not derailing Penguins

PITTSBURGH— Jordan Staal was limping only slightly as he left Consol Energy Center following the morning skate Saturday, and that might have been the best news possible for the injury-hobbled Pittsburgh Penguins.
While coach Dan Bylsma said it’s still too early to tell how long Staal will be out with a left knee injury, the fact that he isn’t on crutches and is walking on his own likely is a positive sign.
Normally, a player who sustains a serious knee injury – a torn anterior cruciate ligament – isn’t as able to maneuver as well as Staal did only 12 hours or so after being hurt. If the injury is to the medial collateral ligament, Staal’s absence could be a relatively short one.
However, if there is swelling involved, as there often is with such an injury, doctors may wait a day or two before ordering an MRI exam that will determine exactly what is wrong.
“You saw him leave the game with an apparent knee injury,” Bylsma said Saturday. “At this point in time, it’s too early to tell the significance of the injury. Maybe in the next few days we’ll have an update on what the timetable will be for that.”
Staal, a skilled two-way center enjoying one of the best offensive seasons of his career, appeared to be in significant pain after absorbing a knee-to-knee hit from friend and former teammate Mike Rupp late in the New York Rangers’ 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night. Rupp drew a kneeing penalty.
For a team already reeling with injuries – the Penguins are currently without superstar center Sidney Crosby and ace defenseman Kris Letang – Staal’s injury initially looked to be another major setback. It also looked to be a major setback as the Penguins scramble to maintain their Eastern Conference playoff positioning.
The Penguins (21-14-4), who were atop the Eastern Conference standings as late as Dec. 8, went into Saturday night’s home game against the New Jersey Devils (22-16-2) in sixth place in the conference – and only two points removed from being out of a playoff spot.
While forward Dustin Jeffrey appears to be close to returning after missing all but six games this season with a knee injury, the Penguins aren’t close to being healthy.
 Letang, who last played on Nov. 26, resumed skating only Friday and is not yet ready to practice.
 Crosby, the player who makes everything go in Pittsburgh, is sidelined for the second time this season with concussion-related injuries and there is no speculation when he might return. The Penguins remain hopeful he can play again this season but, since he left the lineup Dec. 5 after playing in eight games, Crosby has been restricted to light exercise.
Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Zbynek Michalek, Paul Martin, Ben Lovejoy, Richard Park and Tyler Kennedy also have missed more than a few games this season for a team that is 11-11-1 since it began the season with a 10-3-3 record.

A year ago, the Penguins preserved to put together a 106-point season even while being without Crosby (Concussion) and Staal (foot injury, broken hand) for half a season and Malkin for the final two months and the playoffs. This time, they are below .500 (5-6) since Crosby left the lineup -- a possible sign that the recurring injuries might make it difficult for them to repeat last season's success.
“I don’t sense the team being down or there being dips in our team because of the injuries,” Bylsma said, pointing to the effort expended as the Penguins outshot the Rangers 38-21 on Friday yet still lost. “I think we’ll keep playing games exactly like that for another 42, 43 games and we’ll take our record.”
While Staal missed five games earlier, he has 15 goals and 6 assists in 34 games and is on pace to top the 29 goals he had as a rookie in 2006-07. The Penguins also will miss his scoring touch against the Devils; Staal has nine career goals against them, two of them during a 4-1 win on Oct. 22.
“You’re talking about a guy who does a lot of different things in a lot of different areas,” offensively, defensively, penalty kill-wise especially, faceoffs, going against other teams’ top lines,” Bylsma said. “In addition to that, he has scored a nice clip of goals and (is) adding punch to our team in that regard. It’s a big part of our team right now that’s not going to be in the lineup.”
Pascal Dupuis, who had never played center before being temporarily shifted there from right wing earlier this season, will fill in for Staal against the Devils and perhaps the stretch of games that follow. The Penguins play another set of back-to-back games Tuesday (Ottawa) and Wednesday (at Washington) before playing at Florida on Friday and Tampa Bay on Jan. 15.
Park missed nine games with a broken foot, then returned Friday only to get cut under the right eye.  The injury will not keep him out against New Jersey.
Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Letang skates for first time since late November

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang skated Friday for the first time since sustaining a concussion and breaking his nose Nov. 26 in Montreal.
Coach Dan Bylsma called it a sign of progress for Letang, but it is uncertain when Letang will return to practice -- the next step he must take before he can return to game action.
Letang was injured while absorbing a hard hit from the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, who subsequently drew a three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head. Letang was checked over by a doctor and was allowed to return to play, and he scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
After initially passing a concussion test, Letang was diagnosed with a concussion and he has not played since. Like teammate Sidney Crosby, who last played on Dec. 5, Letang has been limited to light conditioning work off the ice.
"He is doing pretty well right now," Bylsma said. "He's had light exercises and is on the road to rehab and recovery. In terms of concussions and treating them, everyone is different. Players' symptoms are different. We've treated each player with uniqueness. Kris has had some good days."
Before he was hurt, Letang was off to a strong start with 3 goals and 16 assists in 22 games. His ability to generate offense despite not being on the power-play unit with Crosby was a contrast to last season when, after an equally effective start, Letang's scoring dropped off significantly after Crosby sustained a concussion at midseason.
Crosby, who has been limited to eight games in the last year, still has not resumed skating. The Penguins haven't updated his condition since 10 days ago, when Bylsma confirmed he was having concussion-related symptoms.
Crosby missed the second half of last season and the first 20 games of this season before returning with a two-goal, two-assist performance against the New York Islanders on Nov. 21. Crosby had 2 goals and 10 assists while playing in eight consecutive games, but the concussion symptoms returned following a 3-1 loss to Boston on Dec. 5. Crosby has not been on the ice since then.
Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:49 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Winter Classic hero Rupp set for return to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH— The Return of Rupp isn’t igniting Pittsburgh Penguins fans the way that the visits of Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot of the Flyers did a week ago.
There hasn’t been any talk that Mike Rupp’s first appearance in Consol Energy Center since signing with the New York Rangers will generate loud booing. Or that he will receive anything but a polite reception – at least until the game starts, when all players wearing Rangers blue are prospective targets for jeering.
Rupp didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh after playing for two seasons there, and the Penguins didn’t want him to go, but salary cap constraints effectively forced him to sign elsewhere.
The Penguins sought to bring back a player who is an asset on and off the ice because of his toughness and leadership qualities but, after paying Rupp $850,000 a season ago, they couldn’t match the $4.5 million, three-year deal he received from the Rangers.
Despite winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003, Rupp called his two seasons in Pittsburgh “the best of my career.” While playing mostly on the fourth line, Rupp had 13 goals and six assists in 2009-10 and nine goals and eight assists a season ago.
Rupp enjoyed Pittsburgh so much that he and his family plan to continue living in the area during the offseason.
“I think that goes with just overall being happy in a hockey environment and playing and having a great group of guys. The coaches were great to me. The organization was awesome. The fans were fantastic,” Rupp said Friday. “It’s a place that was really welcoming for me and my family, so it was good. We’ve kind of lived in this area for a while and plan on continuing to do that, so it’s home for us. It’s a special place for us, that’s for sure.”
Doesn’t sound like a player who expects to hear a lot of booing.  Jagr, by contrast, drew plenty of jeers while he and Talbot were scoring goals during the Flyers’ 4-2 win at Consol on Dec. 29.
Rupp was out from late October until mid-December with a knee injury, but returned to play in the last nine games. He had two goals Monday as the Rangers beat the Flyers 3-2 in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, gaining him the kind of media attention and notoriety that’s uncommon for a fourth-line player.
And that Jagr-like salute he gave after scoring his first goal? That just might earn him some cheers Friday night.
“I think it’s about just trying to find my game after an injury, trying to manage the injury and get the good feeling back,” Rupp said. “I started feeling that way probably the last week or two. We’ve got a good team here and I’m just trying to contribute in some way each night. Things are going well and we’re going to keep working.”
It was his second successive Winter Classic; Rupp also played in the Penguins’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 1, 2011 at Heinz Field.
Rupp took time to seek out his former teammates before the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-3 in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 29. He peeked in on them during their morning skate Friday, but only for a moment.
“They’re doing the drill that we always did on game day skates at the end of practice,” Rupp said. “It was good to get the first one out of the way. I saw the guys when they were in New York, so those feelings have been settled already. I don’t need to shake all their hands tonight. We’ve got a hockey game to win tonight, so that’s our main objective.”

Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:14 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Much-improved Rangers in Pittsburgh for Atlantic showdown

PITTSBURGH – Everything about the New York Rangers is better this season than it was a year ago.
They are 25-9-4 for a NHL-best 54 points after 38 games, or eight more points than they had at this stage a season ago, when they were 22-14-2. They are leading the Atlantic Division, and they have one more point than Boston in the Eastern Conference standings.
Their goaltending tandem of Henrik Lundqvist (17-7-4, 1.92 goals-against average) and Martin Biron (8-2, 2.06 goals-against average) is one of the League’s best. They’re getting scoring up and down their lineup; right wing Marian Gaborik already has more goals (23) than the 22 he had last season.
Center Brad Richards has been a great pickup, getting 14 goals and 30 points in 38 games.  Derek Stepan, who centers the No. 2 line, has 8 goals and 18 assists and is a plus-12. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto is a plus-25.
But to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, whose team plays the Rangers on Friday night at Consol Energy Center, the most striking difference in the Rangers from the team that finished eighth in the Eastern Conference a year ago is their upgraded speed.
“I think that’s a significant difference this year with their team from the past. If you’re looking at the Rangers, they’re playing much quicker this year. It was a factor in our first game against them,” Bylsma said, referring to a 4-3 Rangers victory on Nov. 29. “When you scout them, you see the quickness with which they are attacking and generating speed, counter attacking. It puts teams in trouble. In addition to that, they’ve been a tough team to handle on the forecheck in the offensive zone. Now with that speed and counter attack, they’re a factor with their skilled players and others. They’re a handful.”
New York hopes to rely on that speed during the first of its three games at Consol this season. While they’re playing for the second time in as many nights – they beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in overtime at Madison Square Garden on Thursday – the Penguins are playing for the first time in six days. They’ve been off since losing at New Jersey 3-1 on New Year’s Eve.
The Rangers held at optional skate Friday morning.  Their probable lineup:
Artem AnisimovDerek StepanMarian Gaborik
Brandon DubinskyBrad RichardsRyan Callahan
Carl HagelinBrian BoyleRuslan Fedotenko
John MitchellMike RuppBrandon Prust
Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi
Michael Del ZottoAnton Stralman
Marc StaalStu Bickel
Lundqvist is expected to be in goal as he rides a five-game winning streak, and he has allowed only six goals during the streak. Biron would be the backup.
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Quote of the Day

That's today's game. That's one of the things you have to deal with when you're a championship team. Guys are going to earn more money based on their performance and what they've achieved, [and] deservedly so. [Saad] falls into that category.

— Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Brandon Saad, who was traded by Chicago to the Columbus Blue Jackets this offseason