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Morning Skate Update: 4/1

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
There were no significant changes at the Penguins’ Wednesday morning skate prior to the team’s showdown with the New Jersey Devils at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m.

Forward Craig Adams was inserted in the lineup and is expected to play on the fourth line, while defenseman Philippe Boucher is unlikely to play.

The combinations were:

The defensive pairings were:

Marc-Andre Fleury will make sixth consecutive start in net.

> Anytime the Penguins and New Jersey Devils clash there is the obligatory comparisons between goaltenders Fleury and Martin Brodeur.

“He’s somebody that I always looked up to and to be able to be on the ice with him and watch him play is pretty cool,” Fleury said. “He’s a role model when I was growing up. He’s one of the best goalies to play the game and I still look up to him a lot.”

But the admiration that Brodeur receives from younger goalies across the league helps the winningest goaltender in league history realize just how long he’s been playing the sport.

“It makes me feel old,” Brodeur joked. “On the other hand, I’ve looked up to different goalies that I’ve played against. I think that’s the beauty of our sport. Because of longevity of certain players you are able to play against certain guys that you looked up to. It’s kind of nice. I love playing the game and being still here, playing on a good team. It’s kind of nice to hear things like that.”

> The Penguins hosted some special guests at their morning skate. Shattuck St. Mary’s of Minnesota, the Tier I team Sidney Crosby played for, is in town to compete in the USA Hockey 18-and-under National Championships, which open Wednesday at RMU Island Sports Center.


Crosby invited his former team to attend the Penguins’ morning skate.

“I’m going to go say Hi,” Crosby said. “It’s pretty good the way it worked out with us playing Jersey and Zach (Parise) being here too. Hopefully, they enjoy it.”

Unfortunately, St. Mary’s didn’t have a chance to watch the Devils, and St. Mary’s alum Zach Parise, practice because of their own 4:45 p.m. scheduled matchup with the Mid-Fairfield Blues.

“I’m good friends with the coach and I know Sidney is helping out too,” Parise said. “They just wanted to come watch a little bit. It’s a coincidence that they’re here. Maybe once every two years we end up in the same spot at the same time. It would have been great to see them. Unfortunately they weren’t able to stick around.”

Still, both Crosby and Parise speak glowingly about their alma mater.

“I met a lot of great guys,” Parise said. “The hockey was great. You learned a lot playing there. It’s a great place for someone who is serious about hockey to go at a young age.”

> As the day opened, the Penguins still find themselves in the sixth position in the Eastern Conference standings, despite their 12-1-2 streak.

“We’re in a battle,” Crosby said. “As well as we’ve played lately we’ve kept ourselves in the pack. That’s all we’ve done. We have to keep winning if we want to separate ourselves. It doesn’t get any easier. We gave ourselves an opportunity to control our destiny but we’ve got to keep going.”

The standings are also a reflection of the tight race in the East. Pittsburgh, at No. 6, is two points from fourth and two points from eighth.

“It’s so tight right now,” Fleury said. “We keep winning but we’re still very close to the eighth spot or the fourth spot. Every night will be a big game. We’ll take it one game at a time and try to get the two points and see what happens.”

The Devils also understand how drastically different the standings can look in a mere week. New Jersey, which was challenging for the top spot it the conference not long ago, has lost five straight games (0-4-1) and could slip out of the Atlantic Division lead if the slump continues.

“There is parity in this league,” Brodeur said. “It makes it interesting. You think you’re safe. Then you go for a couple of games and don’t play well. The next thing you know everyone around you is winning. It makes you accountable playing in a league that’s so tight.”

With the cluster of teams in the mix and the Penguins fighting for their playoff lives, there is no room for error in Pittsburgh.

“It makes you realize how important the last (winning streak) was but also how much more important it’s going to get,” Crosby said. “We set ourselves up for this chance and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

> The “conspiracy theory” from Tuesday’s practiced got a little more interesting after Wednesday’s morning skate. (read the background story here).

Crosby jokingly suggesting that Fleury threw the competition to ensure the Penguins captain lost, while interim head coach Dan Bylsma (who triumphed against Crosby) claimed tongue-in-cheek that everything was legit.

It was only natural to approach the netminder about his role in the comical “controversy.” So, was the fix in?

“I can’t make a comment on that,” Fleury said sheepishly. “There’s a conspiracy theory and I don’t want to make anyone mad. I’m in a tough spot.”

I guess we may never know.

> He said it: Martin Brodeur on former Stanley Cup champion teammate Bill Guerin

“Billy was a great player in New Jersey. Every time you win a Stanley Cup with your teammates, friends and guys that you’ve played with there is always that chemistry. Every time we see each other you always have that feeling that we went to war together. He’s an older player that’s around and making an impact.”

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