Penguins notebook: Neal, Orpik get some practice

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Winger James Neal and defenseman Brooks Orpik, both of whom have unspecified injuries, were among the 18 players who participated in the Penguins' optional practice Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum.

Neither seemed to experience any problems during the workout, but it isn't known whether either -- or both -- will return for Game 4 of the Penguins' opening-round playoff series against the New York Islanders tonight at 7:08 at Nassau Coliseum.

Coach Dan Bylsma, in keeping with the team's playoff policy, described injuries and his lineup as a "non-discussion point."

He did, however, talk about what Orpik, who has missed the past five games, contributes when he is in uniform.

Bylsma cited Orpik's "ability to play those [quality] minutes against other teams' top-six, top-line guys" as the quality missed most when he isn't playing.

"Brooks is a guy we put in a matchup situation a lot of the time, so you're missing that aspect of it," he said. "His game is a physical game, so that's a portion of playing against those top guys, playing physical against them.

"That's in addition to his ability to defend and limit time and space. His ability to skate is an underrated part of his game. His ability to skate and play defense with his feet, as well.

"I would say his puck-moving ability is underrated, too. He's not a playmaker, but he does a good job of executing and making plays with the puck to alleviate pressure."

When Orpik returns, he might well turn up alongside Paul Martin, who clearly won't object to that pairing being reunited.

"To have him back in there, a veteran leader on defense and a physical guy with a calming presence, when he's ready, will lock up the pairs," Martin said.

All about Crosby ...

With five points in two games -- not to mention drawing a penalty that led to the winning overtime power-play goal Sunday -- since returning from a broken jaw, Penguins center Sidney Crosby has gotten the Islanders' attention.

"We just have to be aware of him on the ice," New York forward Kyle Okposo said. "He's a tremendous player. He's hurt us the past couple of games."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano suggested it's more realistic to try to keep Crosby to a dull roar than to think he can be stifled.

"We're not going to eliminate him getting chances throughout the course of a 60-minute hockey game," he said. "We try to limit those chances."

Accepting the challenge

Capuano revealed that after the Islanders' 5-0 loss in the series opener, he issued an ultimatum to some of his players -- play better and be more physical or sit.

"After Game 1, we met with certain guys and we told them that for them to stay in the lineup, this is the way they were going to have to play," Capuano said. "We were going to make changes after that first game. We had some meetings with guys. And they answered the bell."

It apparently was about playing style and not just a matter of registering official hits. New York had 41 of those in Game 1, but that fell to 31 in Game 2 and 33 in Game 3.

It should probably be noted, though, that among the team's forwards in Game 3, Brad Boyes led with five hits, followed by Michael Grabner with four. Those two offense-oriented players averaged less than one hit a game in the regular season.

"Some guys, it might not be in their DNA to play [the way] that we need them to play, but I thought guys that we met with have really stepped up," Capuano said.

Martin plays and plays

The Penguins' Martin hit the ground skating after missing a month because of surgery on a broken thumb. He got back in time to play one regular-season game, then jumped into the playoffs.

He ranks second on the team this series with an average of 25 minutes, 36 seconds of ice time, but so far his conditioning has held up.

"When you don't play for a while, there's a difference between practicing and getting into games, but I feel good," Martin said. "Getting in there, playing a lot of minutes -- sometimes you feel better as you play more minutes."

Defenseman Kris Letang leads the Penguins and ranked third overall in the NHL playoffs before the Monday night games with an average ice time of 29:19.

Some quirks in old arena

Defenseman Mark Eaton had a two-year stint with the Islanders between times with the Penguins, but said he's unaware of any feature of Nassau Coliseum -- like, say, the lively backboards at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit -- that gives the Islanders a true advantage when they play there.

"It's not something we went over," he said. "When I was here, anyway."

That doesn't mean the arena is without its share of quirks.

"Like a lot of older buildings, the stanchions [between panes of glass] can play a part with [pucks shot around the boards]," Eaton said. "And the boards don't seem to be even all around the ice, so you know you're going to get some bad bounces."

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG


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