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Despite recent struggles, Pens quiet at deadline

by Alan Robinson
Turns out the Pittsburgh Penguins' trade deadline was last Thursday, not Monday.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who has picked up players such as Marian Hossa and Bill Guerin at past trade deadlines, was on the sideline Monday as he chose not to further tinker with what he believes is an improved team.

After picking up forward James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen from Dallas and forward Alex Kovalev from Ottawa last week, Shero is comfortable with his current roster -- with or without the injured Sidney Crosby.

And if the Penguins were interested in adding one last piece to a team that has scored more than three goals only twice in 13 games, Shero said, "What was available, what the cost was, looking forward I didn't think it was going to be worth it for this hockey team."

"I really wasn't looking to detract from our team," Shero added. "I didn't want to move players off. … Yeah, the prices were somewhat high, but there really wasn't anyone that we saw as a real fit for us. I think our trade deadline, as we know, was probably a week or so ago."

Coach Dan Bylsma, despite seeing his team lose six of eight, also is convinced he has a group capable of advancing deep into the playoffs. And, as Shero said, Bylsma believes this can happen with or without Crosby, who has been out for nearly two months with a concussion.

"I like the way our team plays," Bylsma said. "I like our mentality. I like our work ethic. I like the pieces we have. I looked at our board yesterday, and I think that's a lineup we plan on winning four games in the first round of the playoffs (with) and getting out of the second round. That's a group we can do that with."

Because there were so many deals leading up to Monday's deadline, the final day was less active than usual. Shero even joked about Canadian sports network TSN's traditional, day-long coverage being filled with long gaps with no news.

Shero isn't sure if this was a one-time anomaly or is a signal that, from now on, deals will be spread out well in advance of the deadline instead of being clustered on one day.

"There were just bigger deals, I guess hockey deals as they call them, within the last couple of weeks," Shero said. "I don't think I've seen a No. 1 overall pick traded in a while, that being Erik Johnson, with young guys like Chris Stewart getting traded, James Neal getting traded, (Alex) Goligoski getting traded. I'm not sure if that's going to be a trend in the future, but this certainly was different than it was in past years."

Crosby, the NHL's leading scorer before he was sidelined following a Jan. 5 game against Tampa Bay, attended practice Monday at Consol Energy Center but didn't talk with reporters. Neither Shero nor Bylsma is dropping any hint whether Crosby might play again this season.

After being off the ice for so long, Crosby would need recovery, workout and practice time to regain his game legs and get back into playing condition.

"I don't know the recovery time," Bylsma said. "I don't know what the steps are to get back. … We're focused on right now. I get a report on how he's doing, but we're not talking about dates or timetables or projections into which month,  which day, which time of year (his return is) possible."

Last week, the Penguins dropped home games to the Capitals (1-0) and Sharks (3-2 in overtime) and a road game at Carolina (4-1) before winning at Toronto 6-5 Saturday in a shootout decided by Kovalev's goal.

While Kovalev made a major contribution to his former team in only his second game back, scoring a goal in regulation, Neal has yet to score and is a minus-1 in three games with Pittsburgh.

"It's tough for those guys," center Jordan Staal said. "It's a new system and a new way to play, and it makes it difficult for them. Hopefully, in the next few games, they'll really start to feel comfortable in the way we want to play and what we want to accomplish."
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