TAMPA, Fla. -- Ryan Stone tried to explain to his parents that he wasn't likely to get into a game during the Penguins' Southern swing this weekend, that he had been called up Sunday from their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre mostly as insurance against an injury.
His mother and father listened. They understood. They just didn't care.
And with good reason.
The worst-case scenario about following the Penguins around this week, they figured, was that they would spend four or five days in Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, which is hardly a terrible thing for people from the Canadian prairies to do at this time of year.
"I told them I didn't know if I'm going to play, that [the Penguins] have been on a winning streak here and everyone's playing well," Stone said yesterday. "And they were like, 'Ah, it's Florida. If you don't play, it's a little holiday for us.' "
The Stones, along with a couple Stone lived with when he played junior hockey, got to bask in the sunshine and warm temperatures. Then, more important, they got to watch their son make his NHL debut when the Penguins faced Tampa Bay last night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Stone and center Maxime Talbot, who had missed the previous 13 games because of a recurrence of a high ankle sprain, were in the lineup because forwards Erik Christensen and Tyler Kennedy were unable to play because of illness.
After the game-day skate, Stone said he was "really excited," but not particularly nervous, about appearing in his first game at this level.
"I was nervous when I first got the call [that he was being promoted]" he said. "But now that I've been around for a couple of days, I think the nerves are gone."
Although Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella is an outspoken proponent of aggressive, attacking hockey, he acknowledged yesterday that he has had to become a bit more conservative while the Lightning are going through a rebuilding phase.
"We still are going to go, we're still going to try to press, we're not going to trap -- I don't know how to teach the trap -- but it is my job to understand the makeup of our club and where we're at mentally," he said.
"I hate it -- I don't think it's the proper way to play the game -- but I also understand the limitations of our hockey club, and we're trying to find ways to win.
"I believe in the system we've been playing here; I have very strong convictions about it. But, as a coach, you can't get too stubborn and not adapt, as far as where your team is."
It's no secret that Sidney Crosby is widely regarded as the face of the NHL.
And, based on the league's latest marketing report, perhaps the league should put his face on its currency if it ever decides to print some.
Crosby's replica sweater was the most popular one among buyers on the NHL's Web site in December (Evgeni Malkin's ranked eighth) and Crosby T-shirts placed sixth and eighth on the list of most frequently purchased items there.
A 10-game DVD set of the Penguins' greatest games was the No. 1 item overall, while a hooded Penguins sweatshirt touting the Jan. 1 outdoor game against Buffalo placed fifth.
Overall, sales of Penguins items on NHL.com in December were up a league-best 164 percent over a year ago.
Forward Jeff Taffe, who played in his 10th game with the Penguins last night, was named to the PlanetUSA team for the American Hockey League All-Star Game. He had 11 goals and 10 assists in 27 games with Wilkes-Barre. ... Baby Penguins defenseman Paul Bissonnette has been replaced in the ECHL All-Star Game by Wheeling's Jon D'Aversa.