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Penguins Report: Practice Wrap

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins held an optional practice at Southpointe Thursday afternoon. Forwards Craig Adams, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Eric Godard, Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal and Maxime Talbot, defensemen Philippe Boucher and Kris Letang and goaltender Mathieu Garon participated. The group stayed on the ice, along with assistant coach Mike Yeo, for well over an hour.

> One of the hot topics following practice was the team’s new identity. It’s been pretty clear in the Penguins’ attitude, demeanor, style and success, that this team is completely different from the squad that struggled through the middle portion of the season.

“We play a little different,” Crosby said. “We’re more aggressive and hopefully a little bit more physical. That’s the way we want to be. I would say that’s true. Everybody has to play the same way for us to have that identity. When we’re all playing together we’re pretty difficult to play against.”

“I think everybody is different from what I’ve heard,” Bill Guerin said. “I think (the changes) make everyone in the dressing room a different player. Guys want to come to the rink. They want to come and play hard. Guys are in a good mood. Everybody feels confident in the way we’re playing. It makes a huge difference in an individual.”

Much of the credit belongs to interim head coach Dan Bylsma for his contagious attitude and charisma. The Penguins bought into Bylsma’s mentality and approach and are 15-2-3 since he was named interim head coach on Feb. 15.

“I think most of our players have a good idea of how we need to play,” Bylsma said. “When you’re talking about the way we need to play, all 23 guys should be thinking the same thing and know what their role is and how they bring that to the table. I think we’ve done a pretty good job as players and coaches of really coming together and having an identity. The key is to keep getting better at it.”

The return of defenseman Sergei Gonchar from a season-long injury and the acquisitions of Guerin and Chris Kunitz have helped springboard the Penguins’ recent surge, from 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings into a fourth-place tie. However, Crosby believes that the change has more to do with attitude.

“I don’t think it changes our mentality,” Crosby said. “Before those guys came here we wanted to play the same way with the same mindset. Those guys have come in and complimented that well. We’ve always had the mentality since Dan has come here, to get after teams and play physical and play an in-your-face type of game.”

“Our focus is to keep our edge, playing with desperation and urgency and playing the hockey we need to play,” Bylsma said. “That should put us in a good position in the standings but also get us ready for the postseason - if we can secure a spot.”

> Forward Mike Zigomanis, out of the lineup since early December with a shoulder injury, said that he is ahead of schedule and plans on returning to the ice next week.

"Rehab is going really well," Zigomanis said. "I’m probably head back on the ice next week which has me way ahead of schedule. It’s a lot of hard work and I’ve got it taken care of so that way I can be healthy and 100 percent going here forward."

Even with a possible return to the ice next week, Zigomanis still is some time away from being ready to play.

"I think maybe somewhere in the middle of the playoffs I could probably return," he said. "But it’s going great right now and it will just give the team an option for another player, add depth and that’s all I can really hope for right now."

He added:

"Just the thought of getting back on the ice again and getting back in the action and being out there with the guys is probably the biggest motivation."

> Guerin scored a goal and a fight against the New Jersey Devils in the team's 6-1 victory Wednesday night. He was only one assist shy of netting the Gordie Howe hat trick.

“The assist is the toughest thing for me to get,” he joked. “I was hoping.”


> Penguins prospects defenseman Ben Lovejoy and left wing Janne Pesonen have been named to the American Hockey League’s Second All-Star Team, it was announced on Thursday.  All-Star Team members were selected by a vote of coaches, players and media members from the league’s 29 member cities.

Lovejoy, 25, currently leads all AHL players with a plus-43 rating in 72 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.  The second year pro has also bettered his rookie season totals across the board with seven goals, 22 assists and 29 points this season.

Selected to play in the AHL All-Star Classic in Worcester, Massachusetts in January, Lovejoy made his National Hockey League debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 8 against the Buffalo Sabres.  He was scoreless and even in two games with Pittsburgh this season.

The 6-2, 215 pound native of Orford, New Hampshire was signed by Pittsburgh as a free agent on July 7, 2008.

Pesonen, 26, ranks seventh in the AHL with 74 points (29+45) in 65 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.  He set a new Penguins team record by picking up his 68th point on the season on March 16 in Albany, and tied the team record for points in a game with five (1+4) on March 11 at Philadelphia.

Playing his first season of North American hockey, Pesonen is tied for eighth in the league in goals, tied for 12th in assists, tied for 14th in power play goals (12) and is 10th in shootout percentage (8 of 10).  He made his NHL debut with Pittsburgh on November 1 at St. Louis.  He has appeared seven games with Pittsburgh this season, going scoreless.
The 5-11, 180 pound native of Suomussalmi, Finland made led the Finnish league with 34 goals and 78 points last season with Oulu Karpat, and helped the team to its fifth league championship.  He was signed by the Penguins as a free agent on July 7, 2008.

> The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins signed center Joe Vitale to an amateur tryout contract, it was announced on Thursday.

Vitale, 23, recently completed his senior season at Northeastern University, finishing third on the team in points (27) and second in assists (20) and penalty minutes (68).  He was named Hockey East’s Best Defensive Forward.

The 6-1, 196 pound native of St. Louis, MO, led the Huskies in scoring during his junior season, posting 12 goals, 23 assists and 35 points.  He was named All-New England and New England's Most Improved Player, earned second-team All-Hockey East honors and was voted the Northeastern team MVP.

Selected by Pittsburgh in the seventh round (195th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Vitale recorded 94 points (34+60) in 143 games during four seasons with Northeastern.

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