When Jordan Staal plays his first game this season, it will be something of a test. After all, the Penguins' center never had missed a regular-season game before a foot infection and hand surgery forced him to sit out all 39 of his team's games so far.
Whether that test comes tonight in the outdoor Winter Classic against Washington remains to be seen -- coach Dan Bylsma called it a game-time decision, and Staal said he did not know -- but he faced a different difficult task Friday at the end of the Penguins' practice on the outdoor rink at Heinz Field.
Staal lost the team shootout competition. His penance was to climb to the top of the north end zone stands and touch a particular section number sign. He could not remember the last time he tackled an uphill hike like that.
"Definitely a long time," Staal said. "It was probably the best thing [that I was the one because] I'm probably the least in shape."
Staal said he would gather opinions and meet with team officials before a decision is made about his return to the lineup.
"It's tough to figure out when to put a guy back in who hasn't had the training camp and hasn't played," Bylsma said.
When Staal makes his season debut, the big two-way forward will center the second line with Evgeni Malkin on his wing -- something the Penguins' staff has wanted to try since the offseason.
"That is still the plan," Bylsma said. "I don't think we'll put him in a 20-minute, 19-minute role that he's been in in the past, but I could see him jumping right into 14 to 16 minutes, penalty-killing and playing center with Malkin on the wing."
Center Sidney Crosby was among several of the current Penguins who watched the Penguins-Capitals alumni game in the morning. It was pointed out to Crosby that prolific Hall of Fame Penguins center Mario Lemieux had two assists but no goals, while former rugged players Rod Buskas and Jay Caufield scored.
"He was passing a lot, though," Crosby said of Lemieux. "He passed up a few shots. He was trying to set some guys up. He looked really good out there for not skating much. [Paul] Coffey looked unbelievable, too, the way he was skating."
Crosby got some flavor of the old-timers' experience inside Heinz Field, where a temporary locker area was set up with curtains and folding chairs.
"I think the best thing is just seeing all those guys together," Crosby said. "I just walked by the room when they were getting dressed, and they don't miss a beat. They get back together, and I think they enjoy seeing one another and sharing some old stories."
Washington star winger Alex Ovechkin thought of reasons beyond expected rain to push the game back to nighttime.
"For me, it's better if it's going to be evening because it's like we have a game almost every time. So, if it's going to be at 8, it's going to be OK because you can sleep, you can eat normal food -- like, you know, steaks, spaghetti -- and take a nap before the game.
"If it's going to be at 8, you can celebrate New Year's, too."
Asked about his New Year's plans, Ovechkin just smiled slyly and said, "Yeah."
Each team posed for a team photo at the start of practice. ... After the Penguins' team photo, winger Eric Godard left the ice and watched in street clothes. He has a broken nose. ... While the Penguins warmed up on the ice, winger Pascal Dupuis wore a Steelers helmet.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com .