Second-year forward Jordan Staal got through his first NHL fight Saturday night unscathed, but he wasn't so lucky yesterday in practice at Mellon Arena.
Staal got clipped in the forehead with a stick about halfway through the workout and had to be sent to a hospital for stitches. He is expected to be all right to play tonight against the New York Rangers and his brother, Marc.
"Now he'll look like a hockey player," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
Staal's fight came against Washington's Matt Pettinger. It was hardly a rock 'em, sock 'em brawl.
"Well, he's not a natural fighter," Therrien said. "That's the first time I saw him fight. When you've got a young player like that, the biggest thing is to make sure he's not going to get hurt. But he did all right."
Earning his time
Center Erik Christensen played just 4:48 Friday, although he helped the Penguins beat Carolina by scoring during the shootout, making him 10 of 16 in shootout attempts (62.5 percent).
Saturday, he was a healthy scratch in the team's 2-1 win at Washington.
"We gave him a great opportunity in training camp," Therrien said. "It didn't work probably as well as we expected and we had to make some decisions. He's got to find a way to get back into the lineup. He's got to earn his spot."
Christensen, 23, had fallen to the fourth line before being scratched. He has one goal, one assist in six games.
"He's got to make sure that he's solid defensively, that he's competing for the puck," Therrien said. "He's a good shooter. He's got a lot of skill, but you can't just rely on shooting the puck. Plus, he's a young player. It's not like we've lost confidence in him.
"But you can't stay in the lineup just because you're good in the shootout."
The Rangers are 2-4-1, last in the Atlantic Division, and have scored a league-low 14 goals despite a host of talented players, including free-agent signees Chris Drury and Scott Gomez.
Therrien understands the learning curve when new players are in the mix. Last year, for example, Staal and forward Evgeni Malkin were rookies who had not played with any of the Penguins in the minor leagues.
"It's an adjustment," Therrien said. "Drury and Gomez, they've been in Buffalo and New Jersey for years. They were comfortable. Adapting to new teammates, that's something players have to go through."
The new players helped replace Michael Nylander, who clicked as a linemate with Jaromir Jagr, a five-time league scoring champion who has one goal.
"When you add some big pieces like that, sometimes it takes a few games to get things together with your new teammates," Penguins winger Mark Recchi said. "I suspect that at the end of the year they'll be a good hockey club. Let's hope they don't start it [tonight]."
Therrien said there is a parallel with one of the Penguins' new faces.
"It's the same for us with Darryl Sydor," Therrien said of the defenseman who signed in July but struggled in his first few games. "Now we really like the way he's playing the past week."
Captain Sidney Crosby, who at times has been booed when he touches the puck in road arenas, got the treatment Saturday from Capitals fans. "That's part of it," Crosby said. "I've learned to deal with it." ... Winger Georges Laraque, who returned Saturday after missing more than a week with a groin injury, left practice early. ... A fighting major Saturday for a round with Washington's Donald Brashear gave Laraque 901 career penalty minutes. ... Rangers winger and former Penguin Martin Straka broke his right index finger while blocking a shot during a penalty-killing shift Saturday. ... After practice, the players headed to Dick's Sporting Goods in Robinson to pair up with children for a Penguins Personal Shopping Day in conjunction with the Salvation Army's Project Bundle-Up Program. ... Tonight is Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night at Mellon Arena.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.