The days are starting to look the same for the Penguins who are skating together at Southpointe some weekdays during the NHL lockout, so a couple of wrinkles Friday were welcome.
Team alum Jay Caufield, who has been overseeing drills, had a conflict and could not attend, so center and captain Sidney Crosby became a player-coach. He set up pylons, called out instructions for drills, addressed the others during the stretch at center ice, even ordered some sprints.
"He was great," said center Joe Vitale, one of 15 Penguins on the ice.
One other difference came in some of the drills. There was a little bumping, some more strenuous puck battles than there had been.
"We've started to instill a little bit of contact, some one-on-ones, two-on-ones, stuff [coming] out of the corners two-on-two, just because those are real-game situations that you need to work on," winger Matt Cooke said.
Training camp was scheduled to open this weekend, but there is no telling how long the lockout imposed by league owners will last.
Usually, players tailor their summer workouts so that they build to a crescendo in fitness level for the start of camp, which usually includes physical testing.
"If any one of us went and got tested now, we'd be more than fine," Cooke said.
That's because until recently, the players held out hope they might start camp on time or shortly afterward. So, they did not change their routines.
During NHL Players' Association meetings Sept. 12-13 in New York, attended by nearly 300 players, it became clear that there would be lockout when the previous collective bargaining agreement expired Sept. 15 and that the schedule for camp and perhaps the start of the season likely would be put on hold.
So now what?
"Now that we've gotten to this point, guys will probably take a look at what they plan to do individually," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We're all camp-ready right now. If we need, we can tone it down just a little.
"We just want to maintain. Once we get an idea when we're playing, then we can crank it up and get back up to full speed."
Niskanen said that if there are no real signs of progress, some of those skating in town might take a little time off, perhaps visit family or just get away. While they're here, they will push each other.
"You try to stay sharp, and I'm sure as it goes on, guys are going to get a little more chippy with one another, get sick of skating just with each other," defenseman Deryk Engelland said.
If anyone begins to lose interest, he will get a push.
"I think the biggest thing for us is to keep in shape, keep the tempo up, keep game-ready," Vitale said. "It comes down to the leaders on the team -- the older guys and, obviously, Sid leading the way. Practices have been highly up-tempo, great skates. We mix some skill with conditioning.
"We'll continue that, and whenever we get this thing going, we'll be ready to go."
Vitale was impressed with Crosby's transition to player-coach.
"He's great," he said. "Guys follow his lead. He's a special player, a special person. All the guys respond well to him. He's got a lot of knowledge of the game. You just kind of follow his lead, and you're good to go."
Crosby seemed to take to his added role. Coming off the ice, he jokingly dubbed himself "Reg Dunlop," the player-coach portrayed by Paul Newman in the classic hockey movie, "Slap Shot." The reference was enhanced by the fact that the one non-Penguins player who has been part of the group lately is Boston's Christian Hanson, a Peters native and son of Dave Hanson of the movie's Hanson brothers.
Crosby might be back in that dual role Monday because Caufield is not expected to be able to return until later in the week.
"He did a good job," Cooke said of Crosby. "I'd invite him back to coach Monday. He was on probation, but he did a good job."penguins