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Pens Head Home From Europe

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins’ European adventure ended Monday, as the team prepared to head home after 10 days in Stockholm, Sweden as a part of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere.

For the NHL, the first-ever regular-season venture in Sweden was a success, evidenced by back-to-back sellouts of 13,699 at Globe Arena, brisk merchandise sales in Stockholm and international television coverage.

For the Penguins, the results on the ice were mixed – one win, one loss, some exclamation points, some question marks – but they once again fulfilled their role in carrying the NHL banner in a unique event, and the team-bonding experience is likely to pay dividends over a challenging seven-month season.

“It’s a long season; it was a short camp,” Coach Michel Therrien said after a 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in the second game Sunday. “We’re going to get better.”

The Penguins won the opener here Saturday, beating Ottawa, 4-3, on Tyler Kennedy’s second goal of the game in overtime, and it seemed like some of the magic from last season’s Stanley Cup finals run was still alive. Defensive defensemen Rob Scuderi scored his first goal in 95 games. Marc-Andre Fleury was clutch in the net. Evgeni Malkin had a short-handed goal and Sidney Crosby had a dominant third period. The Penguins even won despite the fact that they went 0-for-7 on the power play.

But special teams struggles spelled their downfall in the second game Sunday. Although Therrien reshuffled some of the lineup in an effort to provide a spark, the Penguins were 0-for-6 on the power play until Alex Goligoski scored with two seconds remaining, and Ottawa scored two goals with a man-advantage. The Penguins’ 1-for-14 power play performance in Stockholm will be part of the main focus when the team returns to practice at Mellon Arena this week.

Even with Crosby and Malkin in the arsenal, some of the power-play hiccups probably should have been expected. Power play quarterback Sergie Gonchar is out 4-6 months following shoulder surgery and skilled defenseman Ryan Whitney is sidelined following foot surgery, leaving a gap on the blue line. And winger Petr Sykora, who scored 15 power-play goals last season, had to sit out both games against Ottawa with a sore groin. That’s a lot of firepower on the injured list.

And give credit to Ottawa. The big line of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza played well, and Alfredsson clearly was energized by playing in his native Sweden. Beyond that, goaltender Alex Auld was a fortress on Sunday.

Nonetheless, the Penguins will have to regroup and find some solutions – and they’ll get a chance to do it in the comforts of home. They return to action Saturday in their home opener against New Jersey at Mellon Arena (7:30 p.m.), beginning a stretch of four home games in eight days.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Penguins’ also were 1-1 in their only previous international trip, splitting two games with the Nashville Predators in Tokyo, Japan in 1999 … Fox Chapel native Bill Thomas made his Penguins’ debut Sunday, playing 5:34 in the loss to Ottawa. Thomas is the second Pittsburgh-trained player to play for his hometown team, following Ryan Malone. … Goligoski’s goal was the first of his NHL career and came in his fourth NHL game … Brooks Orpik and Matt Cooke each had eight hits in Sunday’s game … Max Talbot was 10-4 on faceoffs.

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