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Penguins Report: Staal and Cooke Dubbed Alternate Captains

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins head coach Michel Therrien named his two alternate captains for the month of December on Tuesday at Southpointe. The Scarlet Letter "A" will appear on the jersies of linemates Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke.

"I think it's important for our young group to try to extend the leadership group," Therrien said. "I feel good about this."

"It's a great feeling," Staal said. "Especially with all the talented players we have on this team. It's nice to have a part of the leadership. I want to help lead this team and be a part of it. On the ice, I try to lead as an example. I might not be screaming at guys but I’ll help them out if I see a problem.

"Once you’ve been with the guys in the dressing room you feel more comfortable speaking up or doing different things in the leadership role. I’m starting to feel more comfortable there."

Therrien said the honor will help with Staal's confidence.

"This is a guy that we are counting on for the future," Therrien said. "I like the way that Jordan is playing. He’s responsible defensively, good at penalty killing. You can see that he’s got more confidence than he used to have in the past, offensively."

Therrien has rotated the alternate captaincy each month this season. Brooks Orpik and Evgeni Malkin were selected in October, while Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi had the honor in November.

> Four players were absent from the Penguins practice on Tuesday at Southpointe. Forward Evgeni Malkin, defensemen Philippe Boucher and Ryan Whitney and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Malkin was given the day off to rest. Whitney was away getting special skates made to fit his feet. Fleury continues to skate with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before practice. Boucher's status was updated by Therrien.

"He's week to week," the coach said.

> The Penguins contest in New York against the Rangers on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. is the first leg of the team’s three-game road trip.

Pittsburgh plays the Carolina Hurricanes the following night and finish up the trip at Ottawa on Saturday. The Penguins will get used to living in hotels as four of their next five, and six of their next eight games will be away from Mellon Arena.


“We want to take a lot of pride in that we’re a solid team on the road,” Therrien said. “I think it’s important for any team to play with a lot of pride.”

The Penguins should be proud of their current effort on the road. In 11 away games this season, Pittsburgh has a 7-3-1 mark, including a 5-1 record in November. Only two teams in the NHL have more road wins than the Penguins (Detroit 10, San Jose 8), and that could all change by the end of the week.

“You need some character to be successful on the road,” Therrien said. “For us, we don’t have a different game plan because we’re on the road or at home. We want to make sure that we play the same way. Our leaders – (Sidney) Crosby and Malkin – they’re doing a fantastic job to make sure that they lead the right way. You need goaltending. You’re going to have breakdowns on the road. Goaltending has been a big part of our success.”

Alternate captain Staal believes that the team can focus better on the road because there aren’t as many distractions as there are with games in Pittsburgh.

“We’re not really thinking on the road,” Staal said. “We just kind of go out and play. We’re not trying to change our game, just keep it simple. When you’re on the road, the simpler hockey you play, the better it is.”

Therrien concurred:

“When we’re at home, our players get excited to play in front of our fans. There’s no doubt about that. When we’re on the road, they’re focused probably a little bit more about the way we’re supposed to play. We don’t have the excitement of playing in front of our great fans.”

The Rangers are the first team up on the trip. They are currently the leader in the Atlantic Division race with 36 points – five ahead of Pittsburgh. But the Penguins have played four less games and can gain some ground on Wednesday.

They’re a little ahead of us right now. We want to catch up. This is a big opportunity for us. - Jordan Staal
“This week is a big one for us,” Staal said. “It’s a big opportunity for us to get some points on (New York). They’re a little ahead of us right now. We want to catch up. This is a big opportunity for us.”

It is Pittsburgh’s second game at Madison Square Garden this season. In the previous matchup Oct. 25, the Penguins blew a 2-1 lead in the final minute of regulation and lost in a shootout.

“We had a letdown the last time there,” Cooke said. “There’s no getting over that. We know that. It’s a focus of ours to get on the winning side.

“We’ve been a good road team all year. Whether it’s New York or Carolina, we have to make sure that we have a good road trip. It’s a new month. We need to focus on taking care of business in the month of December.”

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