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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

The birds are back.

On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins stepped on the ice together for the first time since a 6-3 win in Washington on Feb. 11 because of the Olympic break. The Penguins held an intense hour-long practice at the RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island to shake off the rust of their layoff.

“It was nice to see the guys again. It was a little tough being off for 10 days, but it’s nice to get back in a routine,” rookie Sidney Crosby said. “I got away from [hockey] for about eight days. I went to skate a couple times; it’s not a fun feeling coming back here after not skating for a while. I just tried to prepare a little bit. I got away enough, but I am happy to be back.”

The Penguins, who were without Olympians Sergei Gonchar (Russia) and Tomas Surovy (Slovakia), seemed winded, but made it through the workout.

“The break was fantastic – it was great,” winger John LeClair said. “I think everyone came back here refreshed. Everybody was in a good mood in the locker room. Hopefully, we can continue where we left behind.”

Pittsburgh closed their pre-Olympic schedule with two key road wins. The Penguins beat Eastern Conference leader Carolina, 4-3, on Feb. 10 and followed it with the triumph in Washington.

“We beat the best team in the league and had another good game against Washington,” Crosby said. “We don’t want to stop the momentum. I think it’s important to keep that mindset and keep that going and try to prepare for our next game.”

Penguins coach Michel Therrien believes the momentum sparked his team to prepare for the final 23 games.

“Definitely. We beat the best team in Carolina. We were solid there,” he said. “The next day we went into Washington. Definitely it was a boost of confidence to win in Carolina and Washington.”

Therrien feels fortunate to have a week to work with his team before the Penguins resume play next Wednesday at home against Ottawa.

“It’s a luxury for a coach to be able to have some quality time to practice during the season like this. Especially with us, we’re only missing two guys. Everyday we want to work on things that will help us work with out systems,” he said. “As a coach, you want to work on your systems. With this season, the schedule is so combined and we’re playing so many games in such a short period of time that quality practices are not there often. It’s like a mini training camp and that’s the way we’ll approach it.”

In addition, Therrien thought his team remained in pretty good physical shape.

“They looked rusty; it’s normal. It was a good atmosphere. When I say rusty, I mean the play with the puck. Guys have not been on the ice for almost nine days, so it’s normal,” he said. “The more the week goes on, I am confident we’ll be ready for our first game.”

The Penguins will not take the ice Thursday. Instead, they will conduct a series of off-ice workouts at Mellon Arena.

“[Thursday] we are going to work with our players with off-ice testing. We want to know where they are right now and it’s a luxury,” Therrien said. “[Their conditioning] is not bad. The players knew they were going to get tested when they came back. We let them know. That’s why I am anxious [Thursday] to see the results of their tests and where they are at this time of the year through hockey season. They were on the break and I am convinced they were serious about [staying in shape].”

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