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AHL Call-ups Helping Keep Pens in Eastern Race

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Dustin Jeffrey never will be Sidney Crosby, but he can mimic him for at least a little while. Eric Tangradi can't be Evgeni Malkin on his best day, but at 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds he does have the size to fill a power forward role for the Pittsburgh Penguins for now.

This is how the Penguins are going to have to roll for the next couple of weeks as GM Ray Shero works to find a team willing to trade with him in light of the season-ending knee injury to Malkin and Crosby's concussion. Names like Jason Arnott, Ales Hemsky and ex-Penguin Alexei Kovalev have been associated with rumors involving Pittsburgh, but for now coach Dan Bylsma has Jeffrey and Tangradi, a pair of AHL call-ups, filling major roles.

He's fine with it because what Jeffrey, Tangradi and even Tim Wallace, who played his first game of the season Sunday in Washington and fought David Steckel, lack in experience they more than make up for in energy, desire and knowledge of the Penguins' system.

"There's certainly that burst of adrenaline that a player rides when he gets called up. The challenge for players is maintaining that or a consistency level once the adrenaline goes away and you get into the day to day," Bylsma said. "For our organization, we've had success with players coming up and contributing because they're 100-percent comfortable in what their role is and how they have to play. That gives them the opportunity to go out and show their skill."

Jeffrey, Tangradi and Wallace were quiet just like the rest of their teammates in Sunday's 3-0 loss at Washington, but at least for Jeffrey, that was rare. He has 3 goals and an assist in the seven games he's played since his most recent call-up Jan. 20. He has played 16 or more minutes over the four games since Mark Letestu went down with a knee injury that will keep him out for the next 3-5 weeks.

Bylsma said Jeffrey is out of that adrenaline-push stage, so now he's curious to see how Jeffrey handles the day-to-day grind knowing he's going to be a part of the Penguins' equation for the foreseeable future.

"Maybe there is a realization now that there is a longer-term opportunity with Geno's (Malkin) injury," Bylsma said, "but (assistant coach) Todd Reirden and myself have had the opportunity to coach Dustin for a while now, so we know him as a player and know maybe he needed a jolt two games ago to make sure he didn't slip, and he hasn't slipped."

Tangradi has played in only three games since being recalled last week and Wallace played in his first game Sunday.

"For short periods of time they're just as good as anybody because their adrenaline is going and they're playing better than what they are," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Over time they become who they are, but a lot of times other teams look at the lineup and go, 'Oh wow, they don't have Sidney and they don't have Malkin,' and they take it easy. There's a reason Wilkes-Barre is in first place in the American Hockey League."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | Senior Writer

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