The Penguins will play their first game in Consol Energy Center tonight against the Red Wings.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Preseason games, especially the first couple, do not always appeal to NHL veterans, who often would rather wait a few days and let the youngsters duke it out.
It is different this year for the Penguins, who will play Detroit tonight in their exhibition opener. The 7:08 p.m. faceoff will be the first game at Consol Energy Center.
"Sometimes, going into the preseason, you want a couple of extra days before you get your first game, but, with the first game being the first home game here, guys were more so this year hoping they were in the lineup," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
He is getting his wish.
Coach Dan Bylsma did not reveal his entire lineup, but he is giving a nod to the historic context of the night by dressing three of the team's premier players.
"I did think about the game being the first game in this building, and it did play into some of the decisions about the lineup," Bylsma said. "I think Sidney Crosby should be in that game, the first game, and Evgeni Malkin and guys like Brooks Orpik who have been in the organization for a long time.
"They are playing that game because of that reason."
Crosby, the Penguins' top center and captain, appreciates the setting -- although years from now, the regular-season opener Oct. 7 against Philadelphia surely will be the one that is recalled as the first game at the new arena -- but he is the type of player who itches for competition under just about any circumstance.
"I'd rather just get right in there," said Crosby, who has not played since the Penguins were eliminated by Montreal in the second round of the playoffs a little more than four months ago. The past two summers were a lot shorter as the club advanced to the Stanley Cup final in consecutive seasons, winning the championship in 2009.
"Especially with the long offseason, the more you can get in there and get into that game environment, get hit and give hits, I just think the better off you are," Crosby said.
For him, the added part comes with making the transition from Mellon/Civic Arena to Consol Energy Center. They are across the street from each other but worlds apart in so many ways -- from where players park and enter, to a much larger, more plush team area, to entering the ice from their bench instead of a runway on the other side, to different ice, boards and glass.
"It's a preseason game, but it's preparing and getting used to everything as much as you can," Crosby said. "We're lucky to have that opportunity, and we're happy to get things started, but I think above all that, we're just going to be trying to get ready and get used to our surroundings and start off on the right foot.
"There's a lot of things that go into it, more for some than others. At the end of the day, it's a comfort level. This is your home rink. You want to feel like you've got that edge every time you step onto the ice with the crowd, the way you prepare, all those things."
Malkin appreciates that the Penguins are facing the Red Wings, their opponent in those two recent Stanley Cup finals, something that should help pump up the first full house for a hockey game at the new venue.
"It's Detroit," Malkin said. "I don't know who's going to play for Detroit Wednesday, which good players, but we just need to win the first game in front of the fans for the fans. It's an awesome building, [seating] 18,000. I hope the fans enjoy the game. We work together."
The first two days of on-ice work, Saturday and Sunday, were open to the public, and around 6,000 showed each day.
Orpik is eager to get a feel for the arena when it is full and has its in-game features running.
"It will be interesting to see how loud it will get as opposed to Mellon," Orpik said. "At Mellon, it felt like the crowd was right on top of you all the time. [Here,] it seems like the crowds are a little further back."
After three days of scrimmaging and multiple practices, the players were given a day off Tuesday. There will be daytime practices and the game tonight.
Bylsma said the first two of the team's six exhibitions will be used to give a lot of players a chance to show what they've got, the second two will be more of the same but will include players who have earned a further look as the competition for spots accelerates, and the final two will be closer to dress rehearsals for the regular season.
There also will be that special element tonight.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing the building full and seeing a National Hockey League game in here, see the energy, see what it's going to be like," Bylsma said.