STOCKHOLM, Sweden —
The Pittsburgh Penguins
entered Saturday night's opening game of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Stockholm 2008 series against the Ottawa Senators
at the Globe Arena knowing they would need new sources of offense from their blue line.
Little did they imagine it would come from Rob Scuderi, who had managed just two goals in his first 219 games of his NHL career. Yet that is exactly what happened as Scuderi scored a third-period goal to tie the game and set the stage for Tyler Kennedy to score the OT winner in the Penguins 4-3 win to start the 2008-09 regular season.
"That was a long shot, eh?" said Michel Therrien, the Penguins coach.
Therrien wasn't talking about the distance Scuderi's shot, which was fired from the top of the left circle, traveled before it banged off the leg pad of Martin Gerber and then under the crossbar. Rather, he was talking about the fact that Scuderi wasn't really among the candidates expected to chip in to fill the offensive void left by the long-term injuries to Sergei Gonchar (shoulder) and Ryan Whitney (foot).
"We're not expecting that one coming," Therrien said.
Even Scuderi was a little surprised to find himself wide open at the top of the circle when Sidney Crosby threaded a perfect cross-ice pass through three players and right onto his stick.
"I thought Sid made that whole play," Scuderi, who last scored on Feb. 16, 2007, told NHL.com. "I jumped in late and their third guy didn't really see me and I gave Sid a little yell and he knew he had help. He's going to find the open guy."
On this night, it was Scuderi who benefited from a perfect Crosby pass on the ice and another nice assist after the goal. Crosby made a beeline straight to the net to pluck out the puck with which Scuderi scored and give it to the defenseman.
Crosby said it was the least he could do.
"Scudsie is probably known as a defensive defenseman, but he made a nice play to join the rush there," Crosby said. "I thought he might want that (puck) because who knows when he might get the next one — hopefully, tomorrow."
After the game, Scuderi was enjoying his moment in the spotlight. Asked if he was confident enough to demand a place in the shootout that appeared to be looming before Kennedy's overtime winner ended it, he laughed.
"I don't have a shootout stick, but I guess I could make one," he said.
The unkindest cut — Janne Pesonen was the odd-man out when the Penguins pared their roster here Friday night.
He will stay with the Penguins through the weekend before returning to North America with the team and reporting to the Pens' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes Barre, Pa.
"It was a tough decision," Therrien said. "The kid had a good camp. He's close. It's an adjustment for him to play at the NHL level.
"We like his skill. He's good around the net. Like I said, we like him, but he has some things to work on."
But Therrien says Pesonen's demotion is not a permanent thing. He will be the first call-up in the case of injury or player struggles.
"We'll see him back in Pittsburgh," Therrien said after Saturday's morning skate.
With Pesonen's demotion, two long shots — Paul Bissonnette and Pittsburgh native Bill Thomas — made the Penguins team out of camp, something at which even Therrien expressed mild surprise.
"Honestly, they earned their places," the coach said. "You have a plan when you open camp, but you have to have an open mind. We had an open mind and we let the players make the decision."
You're out — Both teams got bad news on the injury front.
Ottawa, the home team for Saturday night's game, was forced to play without Mike Fisher, its stellar defensive center. Fisher re-injured his groin in Thursday's exhibition game against Frolunda.
Fisher was on the ice for the morning skate, but ruled himself out after the session.
"I tried to skate and I can't go the way that I need to go to help the team," Fisher said. "I just didn't feel right, my stride. It wasn't good enough to be able to play."
Both Fisher and Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg conceded that it is unlikely Fisher will play in Sunday's game.
Pittsburgh learned during its skate that second-line winger Petr Sykora would miss the game with his own troublesome groin injury. Sykora did not take part in the morning skate.
That put Therrien in a pessimistic mood about Sykora's availability for Sunday's game.
"I'm not expecting a miracle at midnight," Therrien said.
Tyler Kennedy was moved up to the wing on the second line to replace Sykora and Jeff Taffe was inserted as the fourth-line center. Kennedy scored two goals Saturday night, including the winner in overtime.
Scratches — Aside from Fisher, the Ottawa Senators scratched veteran defenseman Luke Richardson and young center Cody Bass, who had a very good training camp, according to several observers of the team.
For the Penguins, Bill Thomas and Alex Goligoski were the odd men out.
Therrien says he likes Goligoski but wants to work him into the lineup slowly. He compares Goligoski to another young Penguin defenseman, Kris Letang, who had his ups and downs last season.
"Alex Goligoski, he's almost in the same position as Letang last season," Therrien said. "Letang started the year in Wilkes Barre before coming up and Alex will start with us and we'll work with him and see what happens."
Heatley's promotion — Ottawa's Dany Heatley not only starts the 2008-09 season in a new place, but with new responsibilities.
First-year Senators coach Craig Hartsburg announced Friday that Heatley would be an alternate captain this season, joining incumbent Chris Phillips in helping Daniel Alfredsson with his captaincy duties. He wore the "A" for the first time in Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss, in which he scored a goal.
The announcement of the 27-year-old Heatley as an alternate captain might have come as a surprise to some, but Hartsburg said the player earned the accolade.
"There's a lot of guys that we looked at," Hartsburg said Friday. "It was my conversations with Dany over the summer and watching the players and how they interact with teammates and their work habits. I think Dany will be a great leader."
Heatley, without being boastful, agrees. He feels the added responsibility comes at exactly the right time in his career, which is entering its seventh season, fourth with the Senators.
"It feels great," Heatley said. "I've been here three years now and in the League for six or seven and I feel I can do more -- be more of a leader and play in more situations and Craig has given me that opportunity. It's definitely an honor."
Heatley said the best way for him to lead is to continue to produce on the offensive end as he has in the past. But he says he also understands the goals are not going to come every night, so he has to contribute more to the team in other areas, like playing a sound defensive game.
For Alfredsson, Heatley's ability to grasp that concept shows he is ready to step into a formal leadership role.
"He's just grown more comfortable," said Alfredsson. "He knows he is one of the best goal scorers in the League. He takes on a bigger role every year because he is just a better player. He wants to contribute more in other areas, like the penalty kill. I think this is the evolution of a really good player."
"I've been here three years now and in the League for six or seven and I feel I can do more -- be more of a leader and play in more situations and Craig has given me that opportunity. It's definitely an honor." – Dany Heatley on being named an alternate captain
Another "A" — Pittsburgh also made some news on the leadership front, naming Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik as the alternates to captain Sidney Crosby.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien said he wants to build his young leadership core and is using the absence of defenseman Sergei Gonchar, an alternate last season, to blend some new players into leadership roles.
In fact, he plans to alternate the alternates on a monthly basis to give as many deserving players as possible the opportunity to adopt a formal leadership position within the team.
Why Malkin as the choice in October?
"It's well-deserved because he stepped up as a leader last year when Sidney was out (with injury)," Therrien said.
Malkin scored 47 goals and was one of just two players to top 100 points last season as he carried the team for long stretches while Crosby missed six weeks with a high-ankle sprain. Malkin's 106 points was 21 more than his total from the previous season.
The Pens hope Malkin can make a similar jump off the ice, going from a shy newcomer to the team to a more gregarious veteran that demands accountability from his teammates.
Remember me? — Jarkko Ruutu played for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, fighting and clawing with that team all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Now he plays for the Ottawa Senators after signing there this summer.
He put to rest any notions of harboring divided loyalties Friday because of the close bonds he shares with some of the Penguins players.
"They have a lot of good guys over there and I had a lot of good experiences with that team over there," he said. "I enjoyed my time there, but you can't look back."
He expects the Penguins to feel the same.
"They'll probably try to kill me, but that makes it even," he said, with his trademark mischievous smile.
Ruutu's game is about irritating opposing players. Last season he did it to Ottawa. Now Ottawa will use him to get Pittsburgh's top players off their game. It seems he has already passed on some weaknesses of his former team to his new mates.
"He gave us a few hints on who to tease and what not," Alfredsson said. "It'll maybe help."
Ruutu, a Finn, said he has a few surprises in store for his former team, especially the ever-dangerous Malkin, a Russian.
"I've been trying to learn some Russian over the summer to work on Geno (Malkin)," Ruutu said. "I'm still working on it."
Masked Man — John Curry, the Penguins' No. 3 goalie, was a big hit at Friday's open practice at the Globe Arena.
After all his teammates left the ice, Curry still was signing autographs, taking every jersey, including a few New Jersey Devils jerseys, program and piece of paper thrust his way and returning it with a signature and a smile.
The fans clamored over each other to get good position to be next in line, acting like Curry was the second coming of Crosby.
"Little do they know," Curry told NHL.com, flashing a self-deprecating smile as he peeled off his pads.
Curry didn'r dress for Saturday's 4-3 win over Ottawa and knows this joyride with the Penguins soon will end, probably as soon as he returns to North America. Most likely, the club's American Hockey League, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, are in Curry's not-to-distant future.
So he's going to enjoy every minute of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"It's just unreal," Curry said. "It's been a great experience, not only to be a part of this team, but you're also going to Sweden. It's been incredible."
Curry knows minor-league hockey looms around the corner, but he doesn't have to think about it. He is having far too much in Sweden.
"It'll be very hard to go home," he said. "Maybe I'll just stay here."