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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 1:20 PM

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

Pens bring up McDonald; Michalek a game-time call

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek was injured while blocking a shot in practice Thursday and his status for Friday night's game against the first-place New York Rangers will be decided at game time.
 
Michalek did not take part in the morning skate Friday. The Penguins have not disclosed the nature of his injury.
 
There was one new face on the Consol Energy Center ice -- forward Colin McDonald, who was called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL). McDonald played his only two previous NHL games for Edmonton in 2009-10, scoring one goal. He was chosen earlier this week for the AHL All-Star Classic in Atlantic City.
 
McDonald was leading the AHL Penguins in assists (20), points (28) and plus-minus rating (plus-15).
 
McDonald had 42 goals at Oklahoma City last season, which Bylsma said is a testament to his versatility and his ability to generate offense despite not being a gifted scorer.
 
"He's a gritty guy that plays a good up-and-down wing game. He's good in the tough areas around the net," Bylsma said. "He's a really solid player. He played in defensive situations, (has been) a reliable winger in the past in his career. We'll see him in a third-, fourth-line role, but also as a net-front on the power play."
 
The Rangers are first overall in the NHL with 54 points after beating the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Thursday night, and they're streaking with three consecutive victories and eight in their last nine games. As a result, the Penguins are facing a potentially pivotal game, especially for the first week of January.
 
Pittsburgh, which has dropped two in a row after winning four straight, will fall behind the Rangers by 10 points in the Atlantic Division race should they lose in regulation. While that's hardly an insurmountable deficit, the Penguins understand they can't fall too far behind, especially with no assurance that star Sidney Crosby (concussion) will return any time soon.
 
Crosby, who last played a month ago Friday, remains sidelined with concussion-related problems. He is working out lightly, but is apparently not staking.
 
Pittsburgh is having the same problem against the Rangers that they are with the Philadelphia Flyers -- beating them on home ice. While the Flyers are 4-0 in Pittsburgh since Consol Energy Center opened last season, the Rangers are 3-0 going into the first of their three games there this season. The Rangers also return on Feb. 21 and April 5.
 
The Penguins went into the game with only a three-point advantage over Winnipeg, which began the weekend in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup for the first of their three consecutive home games; they also play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Colin McDonald
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, whose 2.26 goals-against average is lower than that of his career-best 2.32 of last season, will be in net. Fleury is 18-11-7 with two shutouts and a 2.83 goals-against average against the Rangers during his career. Brent Johnson will be the backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:44 PM

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

Bylsma says Sid still important part of Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby isn't wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey these days as he sits out again with concussion issues. That doesn't mean he's not wearing the captain's "C".
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby remains an important part of the team despite being out of the lineup because of concussion-related problems for the second time this year.
 
After sitting out for nearly 11 months, Crosby played eight games from Nov. 21-Dec. 5 before the concussion-related symptoms returned. He hasn’t practiced since Dec. 7.
 
"Sid is around. He is light exercising and doing that with the team. He's a part of our meetings. On non-game days he's around and a part of our team, just like Paul Martin and Kris Letang," Bylsma said Thursday. "It's unfortunate for guys that are out for long periods of time, but they're in and around our team. Sid's in and around our team. He's got a good demeanor about being around the guys."
 
Martin, a defenseman sidelined with a lower-body injury, is expected to return soon. But the Penguins have offered no hints when Crosby or Letang will be back. Letang, one of the NHL's top offensive-minded defensemen, hasn't played since breaking his nose and receiving a concussion against the Canadiens on Nov. 26.
 
Neither Crosby nor Letang are skating, which would be the first step in their return.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 12:44 PM

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

Bobrovsky looks to keep up mastery over Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- For the fourth time this season, the Philadelphia Flyers are dealing with a two-game losing streak. What they haven't had yet is a three-game losing streak.
 
To avoid experiencing their first such streak this season, they must extend their recent success against their cross-state rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
The Flyers won all three games in the then-new Consol Energy Center last season and have gained a point in each of their last five games against the Penguins. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who will start, is 3-0 in Consol and 3-1-1 with a .926 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average against Pittsburgh.
 
Philadelphia won the first of this season's six matchups against Pittsburgh 3-2 on Dec. 8, when Ilya Bryzgalov was in net. After losing his last four starts, Bryzgalov will be the backup. Bryzgalov allowed five goals on 16 shots during a 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
 
The projected lineup for the first game that former Penguins Stanley Cup champions Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot will play in a Flyers uniform in Pittsburgh:
 
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Matt Read - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
James van Riemsdyk - Maxime Talbot - Jakub Voracek
Harry Zolnierczyk - Brayden Schenn - Zac Rinaldo
 
Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Andreas Lilja - Andrej Meszaros
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 12:30 PM

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

Pens seek elusive first win over Flyers at Consol

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made their Consol Energy Center debut 15 months ago, but there's still something missing in their new building.
 
A victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
 
The Penguins went 0-3 on home ice against the Flyers last season, including a 3-2 decision on Oct. 7, 2010, in the first game they ever played in Pittsburgh that wasn't in the Civic Arena. Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was in net for all three decisions, also beating the Penguins 3-2 on Oct. 29, 2010, and 5-2 on March 29, 2011.
 
The Pennsylvania rivals did not meet in the playoffs last season, so the Penguins were not able to end their streak there.
 
Even though the Flyers are paying Ilya Bryzgalov $51 million over nine seasons to be the big-game goaltender they have long lacked, Bobrovsky will be in net Thursday night when the teams meet in Pittsburgh for the first time this season.
 
"I don't have a good answer for you," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday when asked why Bobrovsky was so successful against his team last season. "We'll have to see where the possible cracks are (in him). He did have a lot of success against us, but we are preparing for both goalies."
 
While the Penguins were talking after their morning skate as if it were just another game, they know it's not. Games against the Flyers, Rangers and Capitals have a slightly different feel, perhaps because both teams understand the regular season may be setting the stage for a matchup deep into the playoffs.

"Every game you're up for, but sometimes throughout a game when you have that rivalry, you see each other so often, things can get heated a little faster," forward Jordan Staal said. "I think the guys will be ready for a good battle tonight."
 
The Penguins held an optional skate in advance of the second of their six games against the Flyers, but their projected lineup is:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Matt Cooke
Jason Williams - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Simon Despres - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 20-11-0 with two shutouts in his career against the Flyers, will be in net. He has a 2.73 goals-against average against Philadelphia.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:34 PM

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

Ward earns new nickname after recording goal

PITTSBURGH -- Cam Ward wasn't even done pulling off his gear following the Carolina Hurricanes' game-day skate Tuesday before his teammates began peppering him with his new nickname.
 
Just call him Snipes, as in sniper -- the description often given to a skilled forward who regularly finds the net.
 
See what scoring a goal in an NHL game will do for one's reputation?
 
Ward became the first Carolina goalie and only the 10th in NHL history to be credited with a goal when Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk accidentally sailed an intended pass from beyond the end line and into his own empty net during Carolina's 4-2 victory on Monday night. Ward was the last Carolina player to touch the puck on the play.
 
"I guess they don't ask how -- a goal is a goal," Ward said Tuesday. "It would have been a lot cooler if I actually shot the puck but, hey, but when you look at down the road, it will be kind of cool that you got yourself in the record book as scoring an NHL goal as a goaltender. It definitely was a fluky play that you don't see very often, but pretty neat also."
 
Regardless, Ward remains a bit stunned that he ended up with a goal in his 378th career game. No NHL goalie had been credited with a goal since Chris Mason of Nashville scored against the Phoenix Coyotes on April 15, 2006.
 
"My teammates joke with me that they don't even think I can shoot it down the length of the ice," said Ward, whose cell phone is buzzing from text messages sent by friends from around the League.
 
Ward's feat certainly attracted the Penguins' attention. Coach Dan Bylsma said -- and he was only joking -- that he would assign a defender to Ward, if he played, so that he didn't extend his scoring streak.
 
And Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said, in sizing up the Hurricanes' offensive talent, "I heard he's hot."
 
The Penguins need not be worried; Ward is scheduled to get the night off, with Justin Peters starting in net.
 
Ward admittedly is a bit embarrassed by all the fuss being made about his historic goal, fearing it might eclipse what he felt was a strong defensive effort by his teammates as they improved to 3-1-1 in their last five games.
 
"The guys have played really well and, for me, I didn't want all the focus to be on that play because we did play a very strong game and we were well-deserving of the win," Ward said. "It's important we keep it going."
 
If the 27-year-old Ward needs any advice on how to further upgrade his offensive skills, he need not look far. Hurricanes assistant coach Tom Barrasso's 48 career assists are the most by any NHL goalie. But Barrasso never found the net.
 
Ward had 9 assists coming into this season, but the goal represents his first point in 2011-12. Craig Anderson of Ottawa currently leads all NHL goalies in scoring with 3 assists. Martin Brodeur of the Devils, who has scored a goal in both the regular season and the playoffs, has 39 career regular-season points, including 38 assists.
 
The trapezoid rule implemented for the 2005-06 season reduced a goaltender's ability to score because it effectively forces him to remain close to the net in playing the puck. Brodeur lamented that the rule severely restricted his ability to jump into a play offensively.
 
While some NHL goalies still try to score -- Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury among them -- Ward has never intentionally tried to put the puck into the other net. For good reason -- he's never been that brave.
 
"I have that fear of turning it over right in the slot into my empty net," Ward said. "But maybe in a two-goal lead situation it would be fun to try it out. It would be pretty cool to get one that way, too. I'll go for No. 2."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:03 PM

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

Backup Peters in net for 'Canes

PITTSBURGH -- Cam Ward got a win and his first NHL goal last night, but that wasn't enough to earn him the start in the back-half of the Carolina Hurricanes' back-to-back set today against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Instead, it will be backup Justin Peters facing  a Penguins team that has scored 26 goals in its last six games.

Peters, who has spent most of the season with Charlotte (AHL), is 2-0-1 in three career games against Pittsburgh, with a 3.33 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
 
The rest of the Hurricanes’ projected lineup:
 
Drayson Bowman - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Jiri Tlusty - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Andreas Nodl - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
 
Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Bryan Allen - Jay Harrison
Justin Faulk - Jaroslav Spacek

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 1:56 PM

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

Muller believes things are coming together for 'Canes

PITTSBURGH -- The Carolina Hurricanes are 4-6-2 under coach Kirk Muller, but have won two straight and are 3-1-1 record in their last five heading into tonight's game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
So has Muller had time to implement all his systems yet? No.
 
Is Muller beginning to see measurable improvements up and down his lineup? Yes.
 
Muller wants the Hurricanes to be a fast-paced, read-and-react team, rather than a sit-back-and-react unit. He likes how his forwards are embracing the up-tempo system, and the energy level they are bringing nightly. That is important to a former player who accumulated 357 goals in 1,349 NHL with the Devils, Canadiens, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Stars from 1984-2003.
 
Muller also likes that he is beginning to see some results that show up in the standings.
 
"The game today, you've got to skate. We've told the forwards from Day 1 that they're going to have to skate and work hard to play in the system," Muller said. "So we've been skating a little harder in practices. It's no secret. We've been here a little while now, that we're an up-ice team.
We want to challenge and play in your face and hopefully play the game from the red line up rather than sit back."
 
Muller added, "I just think with the way the game is today, with the speed and skill of everybody, that you've got to play that tempo. That's kind of been the philosophy so far."
 
Muller believes there is plenty of time for Carolina to move back into playoff contention, especially with the season's midpoint still four games away.
 
While he never had been a head coach before this season -- he had a 10-6 record with Milwaukee (AHL) before taking over the Hurricanes -- Muller said it hasn't been a problem getting his players to play his way.
 
Especially when they're a man down; Brandon Sutter's third short-handed goal of the season Monday was the Hurricanes' seventh in 37 games, or one fewer than they scored all last season.
 
"I think it was easier for the forwards because it took away them thinking … it's just, 'Let's go,'" Muller said. "Get skating, get up ice. I think it was just a matter of retraining them to get their feet moving sometimes. I think it was a little tougher on defense because you got to get the trust factor between the forwards and the (defensemen). You've got forwards pressing hard and the 'D' is trying to stand up wondering who's got the third guy. I think it costs us a few points the first few games, but I can live with that if we learn from it. I think now we're in sync."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 12:52 PM

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

Only 23, Jordan Staal set for 400th NHL game

PITTSBURGH -- He is only 23, hardly an age at which most NHL players are considered to be grizzled veterans. Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins is an exception.
 
When the Penguins try to extend their winning streak to four games while taking on the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Staal will be playing in his 400th career game. At 23 years and 108 days, Staal will become the seventh youngest player since the NHL expansion in 1967 to reach that mark.
 
"It's a pretty rare feat and when you consider how many playoff games  (67) he's played in addition to that, it's pretty amazing for a young player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's still a very young man but he's also a guy who, right now, has found a different level in how he plays the game more physically and what he does on the ice."
 
Interestingly, Staal didn't know of the feat until he arrived at Consol Energy Center. It's an added bonus for the Staal family of Thunder Bay, Ontario, that Eric Staal of the Hurricanes will be on the ice for his younger brother's 400th.
 
"It's nice, obviously. It's a lot of games and any player that plays that many, it's a great accomplishment," Jordan said. "Hopefully I can play many more."
 
Especially if he can play at his current level. Considered one of the League's best two-way forwards since his rookie season in 2006-07, Staal is on pace for one of his best seasons offensively with 13 goals and 6 assists in 30 games. His career high is 29 goals as a rookie.
 
While Staal has been a finalist for the Selke Trophy given for outstanding defensive play by a forward, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he isn't close to peaking.
 
"If you're looking for a guy to vault into the top 10 in scoring, I'm not sure that's what his upside is. But this year, the way he can dominate a game on both sides of the puck, is where his game can go," Bylsma said. "I hate even talking about him being a third-line center, because what he can do on the ice is more like a top guy on your team."
 
Staal is frequently called the best No. 3 center in hockey because Sidney Crosby, when healthy, and Evgeni Malkin man the Penguins' top two lines. Bylsma said Staal is much more than that to Pittsburgh.
 
"He can dominate the puck at both ends of the rink, defensively and offensively," Bylsma said. "Faceoffs have gone to a different level. He's a guy you can count on to win faceoffs, not to mention that his penalty kill has always been exceptional."
 
Staal will center the Penguins' No. 2 line against Carolina, which is coming off a 4-2 victory over New Jersey. Carolina is trying for its first three-game winning streak since Oct. 12-18; the Penguins last won four in a row during a five-game winning streak that lasted from Oct. 18 through Oct. 27.
 
The Penguins’ projected lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Jason Williams
 
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Zbynek Michalek - Simon Despres
Ben Lovejoy - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, second in the League with 18 wins, will be in net. He is 4-1 in his last five starts and 15-5-2 over his last 22. Brent Johnson will be the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 3:24 PM

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

Mario Lemieux skates again -- but only for fun

PITTSBURGH -- Yes, that really was Mario Lemieux showing off his fast hands and deft shooting touch on the Consol Energy Center ice on Tuesday.
 
No, it had nothing to do with his Pittsburgh Penguins' extended run of injuries. No. 66 isn't planning yet another comeback.
 
Lemieux was among a half-dozen former NHL players who took part in an informal afternoon game with Penguins staff members, including coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden. The contests are part of the game-day routine whenever the Penguins are in Pittsburgh.
 
Having Lemieux and players such as Mark Recchi, Bryan Trottier, Phil Bourque, Jay Caufield and Marc Bergevin participate was an added attraction. Lemieux, Recchi and Trottier have a combined 1,791 NHL goals -- each scored more than 500 -- and 4,681 points.

Bourque, one of the team's radio announcers, played with Lemieux on the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992. Regardless, he still gets a thrill from playing alongside the 46-year-old Lemieux, even in an informal setting.
 
"Every once in a while he does something that makes you remember it wasn't long ago that he was doing it for the Penguins," Bourque told the team's website. "Everybody takes it up a notch and pays attention because if you blink, you might miss something special that he does out there. It's just good to see him out there."
 
Lemieux, the Penguins' co-owner, retired for the second and final time at age 40 in 2006 -- seven years after acquiring the team.
 
Earlier this week, the alumni players took part in a "Skate With the Greats" event at the Penguins' temporary outdoor rink, Penguins Pond, on Pittsburgh's South Side.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 1:44 PM

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

Inclement weather cancels Pens' outdoor practice

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins won't be venturing into the great outdoors for the second time this year after all.
 
With the one-year anniversary of their 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic game against the Washington Capitals approaching, the Penguins planned to practice outdoors Wednesday at the temporary rink they constructed on Pittsburgh's South Side.
 
However, a steady rain Tuesday is expected to be followed by more rain Wednesday, with temperatures in the mid 50s. The combination of wet weather and spring-like temperatures caused coach Dan Bylsma to shift the practice back to Consol Energy Center.
 
Known as Penguins Pond, the rink will be open daily for skating through Jan. 8, but the team has not said if it might reschedule the outdoor practice.
 
The rink was installed in part because of the popularity of the open-to-the-public outdoor rink that was built next to Heinz Field last winter in advance of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic. That rink was greeted more enthusiastically than even the Penguins anticipated, because it allowed thousands of fans to share in the experience of the outdoor game.
 
The boards and glass at Penguins Pond are from the Civic Arena, the Penguins' home from 1967-2010. That arena is being demolished to make way for commercial development.
 
The rink is located, fittingly enough, at the intersection of 26th Street and Sidney Street.
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It's tough to realize, maybe, but it's something I'm happy and proud [of]. I've been fortunate to play with good teams too.

— Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after notching his 300th career win
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