Penguins Notebook: Staal Olympic verdict at hand

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Penguins center Jordan Staal has been wondering for months if there will be a place for him on Canada's Olympic team.

This afternoon, he'll find out.

Fellow center and teammate Sidney Crosby is a lock to make the 23-player squad, and it will be a major surprise if Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is left off the team.

Scouting report

Matchup: Penguins at New Jersey Devils, 7:08 p.m. today, Prudential Center.

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

Goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Martin Brodeur for Devils.

Penguins: Are 0-3 against Devils, with all three losses at Mellon Arena. ... C Evgeni Malkin doesn't have a point in two appearances against New Jersey this season. ... Ranked second in NHL with 1,088 hits through Monday.

Devils: Have gone 14-6 at home, where they have won four in row. ... C Travis Zajac doesn't have goal in nine games. ... Are 14-2-1 in games decided by one goal.

Hidden stat: Penguins are 3-2 in second game when playing on consecutive nights, 2-0 when game is on road.

Staal, though, belongs to a large group of players whose fates figure to be determined by precisely what kind of club Team Canada officials elect to field.

Staal allowed yesterday that he was growing "a little bit" nervous, but he also took a pretty pragmatic view of the situation.

"There's nothing more I can do," he said. "It's something you can't really control."

Regardless of who is on the roster, Canada will be among the favorites to win a gold medal during the Olympic Games in Vancouver in February.

Many observers believe that country's talent pool is so deep that it could put together two teams capable of contending for a medal, and Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman and his staff have spent countless hours evaluating personnel and debating the makeup of their club.

"They've been looking at all the players for a long time," Staal said. "For the most part, they probably have the team picked already.

"It's something special. It's going to be really exciting to see who gets on."

Not so exciting, though, that Staal figured to lose any sleep over it.

"I didn't have much trouble sleeping [before] Game 7 [of the Stanley Cup final], either," he said, smiling. "That's something I'm pretty good at."

Shake-up on the Malkin line

Mike Rupp has spent most of this season on the Penguins' fourth line but got bumped up to a unit with Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin last night.

Coach Dan Bylsma made the switch because, "we weren't happy with the way we executed" during a 4-3 loss Sunday to Toronto.

And even though he cast Rupp in a more offense-oriented role than the one he normally fills, Bylsma said he has no concerns that Rupp would stray from his roots as a scrapper.

"Mike knows exactly what his game is," he said. "He's been doing that with regularity."

Rupp agreed that he had no intention of rewriting his job description.

"We all have things that we do, that we bring, and I have to bring those things," he said. "It doesn't matter where I'm at in the lineup. I'm pretty confident in the simple aspects of the game that I can do.

"I'm still looking to get in on the forecheck, get hits, spend time in the offensive zone. That's my mindset on the fourth line, that's my mindset on any line I'm playing on."

Tight race in East

The Penguins trailed New Jersey by two points before last night's game against the Sabres, with second-place Washington sandwiched between them in the Eastern Conference standings and Buffalo not far behind.

"The East is really tight," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "There's a lot of parity. Washington has, to me, maybe the best I've seen when it comes to a team that can explode and score goals and win games. I think Pittsburgh is right next to [the Capitals].

"Maybe New Jersey is a little bit of a surprise, but we shouldn't be surprised because New Jersey is good almost every year. Those three teams have been kind of the top.

"We've pushed into that bubble a couple of times, and then we've dropped out. Our goal now is to push back in there and remain."

Same old Devils tonight

The Penguins have a pretty good idea of what to expect from New Jersey when they take on the Devils at 7:08 tonight at the Prudential Center.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, it's pretty much the same things -- stingy defense, opportunistic offense, quality goaltending, etc. -- that have allowed the Devils to win the first three games between the teams this season.

All of those games were at Mellon Arena, but Rupp, who spent most of his career in New Jersey, says the only thing the Devils change when they go from playing on the road to being at home is their jerseys.

"They play the same style [all the time]," he said. "I think that's one of their [assets]. They bring the same thing every night. We know what to expect."


The Penguins scratched winger Ruslan Fedotenko and defenseman Martin Skoula last night. ... Penguins prospect Dustin Jeffrey has been selected as a starter for the Canadian team in the Jan. 19 American Hockey League all-star game at Portland, Maine. ... Five ex-Penguins -- forwards Marian Hossa, Zigmund Palffy, Miroslav Satan and defensemen Martin Strbak and Richard Lintner -- have been named to the Slovak Olympic team.


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