Half an hour before the Penguins' optional skate was scheduled to begin yesterday, team captain Sidney Crosby took the ice with goaltenders Ty Conklin and Dany Sabourin and assistant coach Mike Yeo.
For 25 minutes, with the goalies taking turns in the south end zone net, Crosby took feeds from Yeo and worked on specific shots, spending much of the time practicing deflections in front of the net. Except to switch sticks, he didn't take a break.
"You just want to work on -- especially in the playoffs -- being good around the net," said Crosby, who has two goals and eight assists in six playoff games but was held without a point in the Penguins' 2-0 Game 2 win Sunday against the New York Rangers.
"We've had a few chances around the net lately. I just want to be sharp."
It was a little unusual setup for Crosby, 20, who often participates with the team in optional practices. This time, he came off the ice as many of his teammates were stepping on.
Earlier in the morning, Yeo asked Crosby if he was going to skate, and Crosby suggested the private session as an alternative to participating in the full practice.
Matchup: Penguins at New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m., Madison Square Garden, New York.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.
Penguins: Have 2-0 lead in series. ... Have been short-handed on road just four times and have not allowed a goal. ... C Sidney Crosby through yesterday was tied for second in NHL playoffs with six power-play assists.
Rangers: Are 3-2 at home this postseason. ... Have top home power play, 33.3 percent, in playoffs. ... Sean Avery leads playoffs with .400 shooting percentage.
Hidden stat: Penguins defensemen Rob Scuderi (plus-6) and Ryan Whitney (plus-5) are among league playoff leaders.
"If there's something we feel that could benefit him, we'll throw that in there, and he's always receptive, but in a case like [yesterday], I'm just at his disposal," Yeo said. "Whatever he wants, whatever he feels he needs to get ready.
"With him, it's all about his preparation, and that's what makes him such an incredible player. For such a young guy, he's so mature in knowing what to do and how to prepare, and that's why he excels."
Roberts return imminent?
Rugged Penguins winger Gary Roberts probably could have played Sunday, but coach Michel Therrien opted not to change his lineup.
"We had a meeting with him [Sunday]. We had a tough call, because the game was at 2 o'clock and he was not quite, quite sure he could play," Therrien said, adding that, without a morning skate, he did not want to yank another player out of the lineup at the last minute.
"There's a lot of guys who have done a fantastic job," Therrien said.
Therrien said he will meet again after today's morning skate with Roberts, who had two goals in two games against Ottawa in the first round, including the winner in Game 1, and was a strong physical presence before leaving the lineup because of a groin injury.
Roberts participated in the optional practice but declined to talk to reporters, saying he had not had a chance to consult with the coaching staff.
Obstruction of justice
Concerned that the Rangers, perhaps specifically Brendan Shanahan, were coming close to obstructing goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Therrien got the officials' attention in Game 2.
"They tried to put pressure on Marc-Andre Fleury and tried to get in the crease," Therrien said. "We discussed it with the referee. They're not supposed to stand there, and if there's a goal with [Rangers] players in the crease, it's no goal."
Therrien said the referees agreed to keep an eye on the situation.
Defenseman Dustin Jeffrey was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he will join the Penguins' affiliate in the American Hockey League playoffs. Jeffrey was selected by the club in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL draft. He had 97 points in 56 games with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League and led the OHL with 10 game-winning goals this season. ... Weather permitting, fans can watch Games 3 and 4 on the large outdoor screen from the lawn outside Gate 3 at Mellon Arena. It's expected that the remainder of the Penguins' playoff games, home and road, will be shown there. ... The others who practiced yesterday were defensemen Darryl Sydor, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang, and forwards Jordan Staal, Kris Beech, Georges Laraque, Adam Hall, Jarkko Ruutu, Jeff Taffe and Tyler Kennedy.
First Published April 29, 2008 4:00 AM