Penguins forward Jordan Staal has been sidlined all season due to a foot injury.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TAMPA, Fla. -- Jordan Staal looks powerful and mobile and confident when he is on the ice.
Looks a lot like a guy who could -- and should -- be in the Penguins' lineup.
But things should not always be taken at face value, as Penguins coach Dan Bylsma pointed out Tuesday.
That is why Staal, who is recovering from a foot infection, will not be playing when the Penguins face Tampa Bay at 7:38 tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum, and why no one publicly has targeted a date for him to get back in uniform.
"It's important to understand that he's had a significant amount of time not working out, waiting for his foot to heal," Bylsma said. "It's important for him to spend time getting some of that workout time in, on the ice and off the ice.
"He looks good [during practices], but there's still a ways to go before he gets close to that 100 percent range. He has to be allowed to continue to be able to work out off the ice and on the ice."
Bylsma understands, though, how people who don't have access to data like conditioning tests could feel that, on the basis of his performance during on-ice workouts, Staal is ready to go.
Bylsma called Staal's showing in his first practice of the year "one of the best practices of the year by any player we've had," and didn't dispute that he could be fairly effective if pressed into service.
"I would like Jordan to be in there tomorrow," he said. "Jordan could go out there and probably look pretty good tomorrow."
Staal and right winger Eric Godard, who is ill, are scheduled to sit out the game tonight, but the Penguins will have winger Arron Asham in the lineup for the first time this season as he returns from a shoulder injury.
The personnel outlook is considerably more blurry for the Lightning.
Center Dominic Moore (groin) and left winger Simon Gagne (neck) sat out practice Tuesday and are long shots to play tonight. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund (knee), Brett Clark (wrist) and Matt Smaby (illness) are questionable, although Ohlund seems unlikely because of conditioning concerns.
"We have a lot of guys who probably aren't going to play," coach Guy Boucher said.
Clark appeared to be seriously injured when he was struck near the right wrist by a shot from teammate Vincent Lecavalier in a 4-3 loss Sunday against Nashville, but was able to practice Tuesday, albeit with his wrist area heavily bandaged.
"It stung, but it's part of the game," Clark said. "I just couldn't get out of the way. He made a hard shot, and it just hit me in the wrong spot."
Boucher was an assistant with Sidney Crosby's major junior team in Rimouski, Quebec, and made an impression on him during their time together.
"He was always pretty intense, that's for sure," Crosby said.
Mind you, spending time with Crosby made an impression on Boucher, too.
"It's going to be a little weird for me, coaching against Sidney," he said.
Boucher downplayed the idea that having been around Crosby gives him a special insight into neutralizing him.
"I've seen a lot of people who thought they knew what to do against him, and he gets four or five points against them," Boucher said. "I certainly wouldn't pretend to know too much about Sidney."
Not crowd favorites
Tampa Bay is one of the surprise teams in the league this season -- it was tied with the Penguins and Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference going into games Tuesday night -- but that success hasn't translated to enhanced attendance yet.
The Lightning's average attendance for its first four home games has been 15,213, just 77 percent of capacity at the St. Pete Times Forum and places Tampa Bay 21st in the league.
That figure could be bumped up a bit tonight because the Penguins usually are a pretty good draw here.