PHILADELPHIA -- There probably is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik doesn't wear a visor.
He just doesn't know what it is anymore.
"I don't have a good excuse or a good answer," Orpik said after the Penguins' game-day skate Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center. "So I'm not even going to try to make one up."
Orpik said he fully anticipates having one attached to his helmet before much longer -- "It will probably be on there by the end of the year, I can tell you that much," he said -- but he appeared in his 609th NHL game Thursday night against the Flyers and, for the 609th time, his eyes were unprotected.
The controversy over whether visors should be mandatory in the NHL flared again this week after New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was struck near the right eye by a deflected puck.
The Rangers subsequently announced that Staal is expected to make a full recovery, but several players have had their careers disrupted, if not ended, by eye injuries in recent seasons.
Nearly three-quarters of players in the NHL now wear a visor, according to NHL Players' Association research. That includes a majority of the Penguins, including some guys who haven't always.
"I didn't wear one for the first three or four years of my career," right winger Pascal Dupuis said. "Then, during the lockout in '04, I went to Switzerland, and I had to wear it over there. I put it on and kept it on."
Dupuis suggested that visors be required for players entering the league, but that current players be given the option of not wearing one.
He also noted there are some gray areas, like the one created by a rule that mandates an extra minor penalty for a visor-wearing player who instigates a fight and doesn't remove it before punches are thrown.
"The enforcers, I wouldn't want them to take their helmets off to fight, if they have a visor on," Dupuis said. "At the same time, it's pretty scary stuff when there's something close to the eyes."
And that, as Orpik noted, is something that is a constant threat.
"There's such an emphasis on players defending, going stick-on-puck," he said. "And, with the way the ice conditions are ... you couple a lot of those factors together, and it's probably a lot more dangerous now."
Realignment nearly done deal
The players union has signed off on the league's realignment proposal, which means the Penguins will be in a new division next season.
They will join Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey and Columbus in one of two eight-team divisions in the Eastern Conference.
There will be 14 teams in the Western Conference, split evenly between two divisions.
The top three finishers in each division will qualify for the playoffs, along with two wild-cards from each conference.
The plan still must be approved by the NHL Board of Governors, but that looks to be little more than a formality since the proposal came from the owners.
Kunitz turns into force
Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz has a career-high seven-game points streak after scoring in the first period Thursday against the Flyers, and also has a personal-best goal-scoring streak of five games.
He has meshed well with center Sidney Crosby -- "He's pretty easy to read," Crosby said. "He's up and down the wing and goes really hard to the net." -- and has been enough of an offensive force that opponents dare not focus solely on Crosby when their line is on the ice.
"You'd better not just have two or three guys on Sidney Crosby and not be paying attention to [Kunitz]," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, "because he's been a big weapon for us."
Kunitz was the Penguins' No. 2 scorer before facing Philadelphia, and now he has 14 goals and 17 assists in 24 games.
"Chris does a lot of little things well, to be a good complementary guy to play with," Bylsma said. "He goes hard to the net, he forces turnovers, he's a physical guy.
"And, maybe more so this year than others, he's moved into that slot area and been a weapon with his shot and being open in that area. He's done that really well."
Bryzgalov has big workload
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made his 23rd appearance in Philadelphia's first 25 games this season Thursday night.
He has held up pretty well under that workload -- Bryzgalov started the game with a 2.68 goals-against average and .903 save percentage -- but it remains to be seen whether that will continue to be the case.
Regardless, Bylsma made it clear after the game-day skate that the Penguins would not be inclined to make such demands of their No. 1 goaltender.
"That's not how much we would want Marc-Andre Fleury to play," he said.
Fleury has appeared in 17 of the Penguins' first 24 games.
Bylsma added that "Bryzgalov was brought in here to be the main goalie and the big guy, and ... he certainly has been that this year."
First Published March 8, 2013 5:00 AM