Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby has been an integral part of almost every aspect of his team's games, except one. Now, going into his eighth NHL season, he can add penalty-killing to his resume.
At times, he has gotten on the ice briefly in short-handed situations, most often to take a faceoff in the final seconds of an opponent's power play. He took some regular shifts on the penalty kill in the scrimmage Wednesday night, and apparently that wasn't just for show. Expect to see him there today in the season opener at Philadelphia.
"It will be based on how many penalty kills we have in the game, but [Crosby] is definitely in the mix of our top six [forward] penalty-killers," coach Dan Bylsma said Friday after the final camp practice, adding that the site of the faceoff will help to determine when Crosby is used in such a role.
The Penguins were effective on the penalty kill in the regular season last year, ranking third in the league (87.8 percent). In their first-round playoff loss against Philadelphia, they fell precipitously to 47.8 percent, easily last among the 16 postseason teams.
Partly because of that and partly based on the opponent, the Penguins have made some tweaks besides having Crosby kill penalties.
"We will have a different look and a different mindset in some aspects of our penalty kill," Bylsma said. "There will be some that is the same -- some of what we do and do well -- and some of the things [will be] what we've focused on on teams that do certain things. Philly is one of those teams that kind of does give a different look and a different setup."
Welcome to the rivalry
Forwards Brandon Sutter and Tanner Glass, who will be playing their first game as Penguins, boarded the team jet headed for Philadelphia with different thoughts on the Penguins-Flyers rivalry.
"It's legendary in hockey," Glass said. "You watch a game or two, and you can tell the guys don't like each other. The signs that are in the [Wells Fargo Center] crowd and the fans yelling and screaming -- it looks to be a pretty cool rivalry, and I'm excited to be a part of it."
Glass didn't ask his new teammates for a description.
"I don't want to hear it," he said. "I'll find out firsthand."
So will Sutter, who might be taken aback considering he described his knowledge of it as not much different from other rivalries.
Perhaps, he hasn't heard the incessant vulgar chants aimed at Crosby or the team organist who eggs on that chant or gotten word of the Philadelphia fans who wait with obscenities when the Penguins bus is arriving or departing Wells Fargo Center.
"I think it's probably gone on for a long time," Sutter offered. "It will be fun to be a part of it."
Bylsma had to be indoctrinated, too, but he doesn't reach out to new players about it.
"I don't necessarily give them an education on how big this game is, how big the rivalry is and some of the history of why that is the case," Bylsma said. "I think you figure it out pretty quickly."
Islanders claims Strait
The Penguins took a risk by exposing defenseman Brian Strait to waivers with the hope of reassigning him to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, and before the noon deadline Friday the New York Islanders claimed Strait, 25.
Strait, a third-round pick in 2006 who seems to be on track to be a steady stay-at-home defenseman, was lost in part because, in getting to their 23-man roster Thursday, the Penguins kept 2009 first-round pick Simon Despres, the only defenseman in camp who did not need to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL.
There were reports that Despres did not play quite up to the Penguins' expectations the first half of the season in Wilkes-Barre. Bylsma nixed any notion that Despres, 21, is on the roster in an unofficial extended training camp-type move.
"It's not to take a look at him; it's not to give it a try," Bylsma said. "He's played 18 games in the National Hockey League. We've taken a look at Simon in those games."
Despres was part of the third pairing with Deryk Engelland in practice Friday.
The Penguins go into the opener with eight defensemen, one more than most clubs like to carry.
"I don't necessarily think that's the most ideal situation, carrying eight guys and thinking that we're going to rotate guys in and out of the lineup through that eight," Bylsma said. "It's mostly a situation of waivers, and we think the eight defensemen are going to play and are NHL defensemen and are going to give us the best chance to win."
Bylsma on 2010 first-round pick Beau Bennett, a first-year pro who was assigned Thursday to Wilkes-Barre: "He's probably further along than I anticipated." Bylsma said the expectation is that Bennett will be a big-impact player in the AHL. ... Flyers winger Danny Briere (wrist) is not expected to play.
First Published January 19, 2013 5:00 AM