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Ruhwedel solid in return to the lineup

by Mark Madden / Pittsburgh Penguins

Twenty-seven games and sixty-five days: An opportunity to play was a long time coming for Chad Ruhwedel.

But when the chance came, Ruhwedel was ready.

Ruhwedel made his return to the Penguins' lineup in Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over the visiting New York Islanders. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound defenseman played 13:55 and was plus-1. Hardly spectacular, but Ruhwedel knows that escaping notice can be a good thing.

"First and foremost, I'm trying to keep it simple," Ruhwedel said.

Ruhwedel did just that against the Islanders, forming a strong defensive tandem with Olli Maatta as the Penguins eked out the OT victory.

Coach Mike Sullivan was pleased.

"Chad is a guy we know we're going to need moving forward," Sullivan said after the Pens vanquished the Islanders. "I've been concerned for a while that I haven't got him in any games. I thought he had a real good game.

"Chad's a good player. He's been a valuable player for us. He plays that 6-7 defenseman role for us extremely well. When he comes in the lineup, he does a good job. He understands what his role is and plays within himself."

Ruhwedel admits to occasionally being discouraged by his inactivity. He had last played Dec. 27 in a 5-4 shootout win over visiting Columbus.

"There's definitely frustration, but the team was pretty hot all through January and February," Ruhwedel said. "When the team's doing well, everybody's in a good mood. So I just waited for my shot, and I got it tonight."

Not playing doesn't mean not working.

"I did a lot of work when I wasn't in the lineup to be ready for that moment," said Ruhwedel, 27. "We've got a really good strength and conditioning staff. They do a great job keeping us in shape: Tons of cardio, and lots of lifting.

"And, obviously, practicing keeps you in shape. But practices aren't normally too long right now. So most of it is in the gym."

Ruhwedel had previously paired with Maatta, and so was very comfortable skating alongside the Finnish defenseman again.

"[Maatta is] a good skater, and we always seem to be on the same page," Ruhwedel said. "We were getting out of our own end pretty good tonight."

The Penguins had to go to OT to beat the Islanders, getting the extra point on Sidney Crosby's goal 3:48 into extra play.

But the Penguins were worthy winners. They ended a three-game losing streak by outshooting the Islanders 50-27 and efficiently managing the puck.

"We were getting out of our zone quicker," Ruhwedel said. "They didn't hem us in too long. We were playing offense as much as we could. Once you start playing like that, it's a lot more fun. Guys have more juice in their legs."

Despite not playing for over two months, it didn't take Ruhwedel long to feel comfortable.

"After my first or second shift, it just kind of came back," Ruhwedel said.

Ruhwedel, a San Diego native, has one goal and two assists in 31 games this season. The UMass-Lowell product proved his mettle in last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, playing in six games including the Penguins' 2-0 win over Washington in Game 7 of that second-round series.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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