Iginla all smiles before, after his Penguins debut

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One shift. That's all Jarome Iginla, the incoming star, got to play in his Penguins debut before seeing the club's incumbent biggest star leave the game.

"Very, very tough," Iginla said of seeing center Sidney Crosby take a puck to the mouth and leave the game Saturday against the New York Islanders.

"It was a very unfortunate play. Seeing it on the replay, he didn't see it coming at all. It was deflected up. The guys were checking on how he was doing after the first [period]. It was really tough."

It was a tight, tense game, but Crosby's injury, which resulted in him losing teeth and needing oral surgery, was about the only downer for Iginla, who arrived in Pittsburgh late Friday night and got into the lineup for a 2-0 win against the Islanders at Consol Energy Center. It was the Penguins' 15th win in a row.

Afterward, Iginla smiled a lot, something that Crosby might not be able to do much for a while.

"The whole experience ... coming here and being part of the win," Iginla said. "The crowd was into it. It was a great experience."

Iginla, who has more than 500 goals and 1,000 points in his career, was arguably the biggest name among "rental players" available leading into the NHL trade deadline Wednesday, and the Penguins snagged him from Calgary early Thursday morning for two college prospects and their 2013 first-round draft pick.

He said he hasn't given any thought to the future beyond the expiration of his contract in July, preferring to focus on the prospects of his new club.

"I don't know how old he is, but he definitely still has game in him," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Iginla is 35, but he felt like a kid -- or at least like he did for his first NHL game when he was 18, he said -- Saturday.

He didn't get any points but had three shots and two hits in 17 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time against the Islanders.

Iginla, a right winger most of his career, played on the left side of the second line with center Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

At least, that was the plan. At times, the two wingers switched, apparently at Neal's suggestion.

"I think he was feeling bad for me in the first [period]," Iginla said.

"I was a little lost as far as left wing and trying to adjust to different stuff. He was trying to make it easier on me."

Bylsma confirmed it was not a switch the coaches orchestrated, but he hardly was upset.

"In the first period, they were working that out on their own a little bit," Bylsma said. "And some of it was just circumstances in the game a little bit as we tracked back."

Neal, a decade younger than Iginla, seemed a bit starstruck.

"I can't say enough about a guy like 'Iggy,' a guy I looked up to when I was playing hockey growing up," Neal said.

"Having him sit next to me in the locker room and having him next to me on a line, that's pretty special.

"He looked good. He was physical, going to the net hard. ... We're going to continue to get better."

Which one would play which wing wasn't the only topic of discussion between them on the bench.

"It's a new system for him, so I'm just trying to make him feel as comfortable as possible," Neal said, adding that they talked about "wall play, going in on the forecheck, where I like the puck, where he likes the puck -- all those little things that help guys build chemistry."

Iginla had a chance to catch some sleep but not a practice with his new team before he jumped into the lineup.

Once some immigration issues in switching from a Canadian to an American employer were resolved Friday, he began a journey that only made it as far as the Calgary airport before it got delayed.

That forced him to miss his connection out of Chicago.

"I thought I might be staying and missing the game," he said.

He was able to rebook and arrived in town around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, not much more than 12 hours before the start of the game.

Iginla didn't have all his bags -- he said he sneaked into the locker room early because he didn't have a suit to wear -- or all his bearings, but he wanted to play.

"It would be tough [to watch]," he said.

"It's felt a little bit weird the last few days of transition and being in limbo and waiting. It's great to get here and be part of the team."

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First Published March 31, 2013 4:00 AM


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