Penguins forward Sidney Crosby checks Hurricanes forward Eric Staal off the puck in the first period.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penguins center Jordan Staal's season thus far has been gutted by freak physical problems -- an infection in his right foot, then surgery after his right hand was broken by a puck in practice. But things got better the past week.
He went to North Carolina to visit his oldest brother, Eric, then returned to Pittsburgh in time to see another older brother, Marc, a defenseman for the New York Rangers, play here. He saw Eric again when the Carolina Hurricanes came to town for a game Friday night at Consol Energy Center.
To top it off, Jordan Staal skated on his own before the Penguins' morning skate Friday.
"He said he didn't feel the greatest [on the ice], but he doesn't need to feel great right now," Eric Staal said. "He's got to slowly work his way back."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Jordan Staal was instructed not to work out for about two weeks after his Nov. 2 hand surgery.
"We're pretty happy to get him on the ice," Bylsma said. "He's starting to work out now, and he's in good spirits because he's heading down the right road."
And because he had a chance to be around his brothers.
"He's got to stay positive," Eric Staal said. "That's all he can do. That's what family's for, and we've been doing as best we can to keep him up.
"It was nice to have him at our house for a couple of days. He got to have some fun with my son and spend some time relaxing and refreshing. I think he feels a lot better now."
Many good connections
A man with many ties to the Penguins and hockey visited Consol Energy Center.
Mark Johnson and his No. 1-ranked Wisconsin women's team watched the Penguins' morning skate before they beat Robert Morris, 7-1, in the afternoon. They have a rematch today.
"It's crazy nice," Johnson said of the Penguins' new arena.
Johnson was a member of the 1980 United States Olympic gold-medal team -- Bylsma, who was 10, said Johnson was his favorite player on that team -- and began his NHL career with the Penguins. His father, Badger Bob Johnson, later coached the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup in 1991.
Besides coaching the Badgers, Mark Johnson guided the U.S. women to the silver medal a the 2010 Olympics.
In another potential connection between Johnson and the Penguins, Wisconsin might one day recruit Stephanie Lemieux, the 15-year-old daughter of Penguins Hall of Famer and co-owner Mario Lemieux, who plays forward.
"We're watching her," Johnson said.
Stephanie Lemieux is back in Western Pennsylvania this season. She played at hockey powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary's, a boarding school in Minnesota, last season but got homesick.
"She's got the tools," Johnson said. "If she works at it, she's going to be a pretty good player. Maybe she'll be playing for me one day."
There's also a first-year goaltender at Shattuck with a Penguins connection who could draw some attention from Johnson and the Badgers, 14-year-old Taylor Crosby, sister of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
Penguins rookie Mark Letestu got to chat briefly with Wisconsin women's defenseman Paige Pacholok. They work out at the same gym in Edmonton in the offseason. ... For the second consecutive game-day skate, the Penguins had full attendance, minus Jordan Staal. ... The Penguins scratched forwards Mike Comrie and Eric Godard and defenseman Ben Lovejoy. ... The Hurricanes scratched forward Jiri Tlusty.