Penguins Notebook: Players say rare bus trip refreshing

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Ride a bus to every away game, and it gets to be real tedious, real fast.

Just ask any guy who spent significant time in junior hockey or the minor leagues.

But do it once -- and for less than four hours -- in a season and it's more like an impromptu team outing.

Scouting Report

Matchup: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Mike Smith for Lightning.

Penguins: Won three of four games against Lightning last season after losing 12 in row to them. ... LW Ruslan Fedotenko has five goals in 10 career games against Tampa Bay, his former team. ... Are 3-1 in second game when playing on consecutive days.

Lightning: Has gone 4-15 in games decided by one goal. ... RW Mark Recchi's next point will be his 1,400th in NHL. ... Is 0-13-5 when giving up three or more goals.

Hidden stat: Tampa Bay has been outscored, 31-20, in third period this season.

Which is pretty much how the Penguins seemed to view their trip to Buffalo Sunday for a game against the Sabres last night.

They normally fly everywhere by chartered aircraft, but were forced to bus because of the winter storms that were lashing the Niagara Frontier and make air travel dicey, and sometimes impossible.

And didn't seem to mind at all.

"That was awesome," right winger Petr Sykora said. "It was like old-time hockey. You remember those times when you were a kid and you bused to a tournament and played three games, kept your gear on for the whole day. It was cool."

Much of the trip was consumed by conversation and card games, with time set aside for a brief screening of a Sidney Crosby video ("It lasted about 20 seconds," one player said, smiling) and a full showing of the comedy film "Tropic Thunder."

Sweat suits, not coats and ties, were the outfit of choice for the ride, and the relaxed setting probably contributed to the bonding that occurred.

"It was good for the boys, good to hang out like that," winger Pascal Dupuis said.

So good that a few players volunteered yesterday that they wouldn't mind busing to cities that are relatively close to Pittsburgh in the future, even if conditions don't mandate doing so. After all, pretty much all of them traveled extensively that way at some point in their careers.

"I got used to it in juniors," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We did [trips of] 20 hours, 15 hours, a lot. So that was a piece of cake."

Even so, barring a last-minute deterioration in weather conditions, the Penguins were scheduled to fly, not bus, back to Pittsburgh after the game.

Hello, old friends

It is Game No. 500 on the NHL's 2008-09 schedule, the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Penguins at Mellon Arena.

Some fans are to be forgiven tonight, however, if they confuse what goes on at Mellon Arena this evening with a Penguins intrasquad scrimmage from 2007-08.

Three members of the Lightning -- Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Adam Hall -- were part of the Penguins' surge to the Stanley Cup final in June and Mark Recchi played 19 games with them at the start of the season before going to Atlanta on re-entry waivers.

Penguins forward Max Talbot allowed that it "may be a little bit" strange to be facing so many former teammates, but added quickly that, "you try not to think too much about it."

There's one other Penguins alum of note (not counting Jamie Heward or David Koci) on the Lightning payroll: Rick Tocchet, who is 2-9-5 since replacing Barry Melrose as coach.

Team thinking

Crosby entered the Sabres game with no goals in the previous nine, and coach Michel Therrien acknowledged that he has been "encouraging him to shoot the puck more."

Of course, Crosby's goal-less run would have ended Thursday if, when presented with the opportunity to score into an empty net late in the Penguins' 6-3 victory in Atlanta, he hadn't opted to give the puck to Evgeni Malkin.

Predictably, Therrien did not second-guess Crosby's decision to pass up an almost-guaranteed goal for the sake of padding a teammate's total.

"I thought he did the right thing," Therrien said. "He's a captain, and that was the play he was supposed to make. He could have put the puck in, but that's the way you want your leaders to act. That play showed he's thinking more about the team, and doing the right things."


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