Penguins Notebook: Scuderi's return will cause juggling act

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Penguins coach Michel Therrien said yesterday he wasn't going to think about how to manage his flock of defensemen when Rob Scuderi is ready to return because, well, he didn't have to.

Yet.

Scuderi, who missed his 10th game last night when the Penguins played Tampa Bay at Mellon Arena, is close to returning from a badly broken left little finger.

"It's been kind of a slow road so far, but it feels a little bit better each day," said Scuderi, who participated in the team's morning skate and pregame warm-up after having a pin removed Wednesday from the surgically repaired finger.

"Your timing's a little off, but the finger feels OK. My conditioning's pretty good. I was surprised. The coaches did a great job keeping me in shape."

He could return as soon as tomorrow, when the Penguins play host to New Jersey.

"That would be my best-case scenario, but we'll have to wait and see," Scuderi said. "It's frustrating because it's the most exciting time of the year to play. You're trying to get set for the playoffs."

Scuderi had been playing on the top defensive tandem with Sergei Gonchar after Mark Eaton went out with a knee injury in late December.

When Scuderi returns, the team will have seven healthy defensemen.

Fleury No. 1?

Marc-Andre Fleury, who started last night, continued to hedge over whether he thinks he has won back the No. 1 goaltending job, although he did point out that he feels he has regained his form from before a high ankle sprain sidelined him in early December. He had won his previous four starts when he got hurt.

"I feel all right," he said. "I feel like when I left."

Therrien once again sounded as if he's becoming convinced Fleury will be the top goalie heading into the playoffs.

He said that while Ty Conklin played very well in December and January, he has struggled some lately, which doesn't earn him points with a coach whose mantra is to reward recent good performance with playing time.

"It's not the way you drive; it's the way you arrive," Therrien said.

Battling for home ice

Going into last night's games, the Penguins were in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, which would give them a home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

Therrien was coy about whether it's critical to finish with a high enough seed for home ice.

"At this time of the year, I would say yes," Therrien said. "In three weeks if we don't [get home ice] I would say no. So we'll see."

Roy scratched

Former Penguins winger Andre Roy was a healthy scratch for Tampa Bay three days after he returned from a 10-day leave of absence for an outburst March 6 at Philadelphia.

After being taunted about an earlier fight with Riley Cote, Roy had to be restrained on the Lightning bench and made throat-slashing motions and pointing gestures at the Flyers.

Roy told the St. Petersburg Times he overreacted.

Slap shots

As expected, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skated -- before the team's morning skate -- for the first time in a week. He is taking time off to rest his sore right ankle. ... The Penguins nominated winger Georges Laraque for the 2007-08 NHL Foundation Player Award for his work in the community and with charities. ... The Penguins' morning skate was optional, with forwards Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Petr Sykora, Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts and defenseman Sergei Gonchar staying off the ice. ... Laraque served the third and last game of his suspension for an elbow that knocked Buffalo's Nathan Paetsch unconscious. ... The Penguins scratched goaltender Dany Sabourin. Besides Roy, the Lightning scratched winger Jason Ward and defenseman Paul Ranger.



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