On a large support column in the lounge area of the Penguins' locker room, an erase board and magnetic team names chart the Eastern and Western Conference standings.
The chart is updated every morning, and it has become a popular feature.
"A lot of guys are walking in this year and the first thing they do is look at the standings, compared to last year when they walk[ed] in and they kept going," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said yesterday before the Penguins played host to the New York Islanders.
A year ago, there was not much interest in the standings. The Penguins languished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and finished second-to-last overall in the NHL.
This season, the Penguins are in the thick of a tight Eastern Conference race, where every team except perhaps Philadelphia has a good shot at making the playoffs.
"So it's fun [to watch the standings]. That was the purpose for our season. We wanted to be one of the teams that's going to battle [for playoff spot]," Therrien said.
Penguins center and NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby said theoretically the Penguins should worry only about their games and getting as many points as possible, but ... "It's such a logjam, but, if you bank your points, you don't have to worry about it. But it's hard not to get up and want to see [the standings]."
Crosby-Ovechkin, Part II
Last season, Crosby and Washington winger Alex Ovechkin staged a season-long run for the Calder Trophy. Ovechkin won that rookie of the year award, but the two could well be in competition with one another for years to come, perhaps for the NHL scoring title.
Crosby entered the game last night with 66 points in 40 games. Ovechkin had 62 points in 45 games, tied for second with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, both of Tampa Bay.
"We're only halfway through, but I think it's good," Crosby said of him and Ovechkin being so close in the scoring race. "We're young players, and, hopefully, we can keep it going. I don't really look at it as a huge rivalry."
Oops! Wrong goalie
As of late morning, after the Penguins had their game-day skate, Therrien expected to face goaltender Rick DiPietro.
He was not thrilled about it -- "DiPietro's playing really well against us," Therrien said -- but that's what he figured would happen. It was a pretty good guess, considering DiPietro had started 17 of the previous 18 Islanders games. That's not what happened.
After the Islanders' subsequent game-day skate, coach Ted Nolan announced he would start backup Mike Dunham.
"Ricky's had a lot of play lately, and you can only ask a certain amount of the human body," Nolan said.
It's not likely that turned the Penguins on their ears, though.
"You don't have a game plan for a goalie," Therrien said. "Honest to God. That's not the way it works. There are too many games. If you played a goalie once a week, maybe you would have a plan."
Beginning last night, Penguins winger Mark Recchi is donating a Mellon Arena luxury suite for home games to local children's charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Big Brothers Big Sisters and children from the team's Pen Pal Program. ... The Penguins' Highmark players of the month for December from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League are Dylan Trombetta of Pine Richland, Chad Fritz of Richland Cambria, Rob Behling of Mt. Lebanon and Morgan Nickerson of Meadville High School.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.