Penguins keep busy, keep waiting

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It's not that Penguins players didn't have anything to keep them occupied over the weekend.

There were games to watch, leaves to rake, playgrounds to visit, errands to run.

They could have used up a nice chunk of the past few days just putting together a comprehensive list of their options for staying busy.

Nonetheless, spending the weekend the way they really wanted -- by playing the 2012-13 home opener Friday night at Consol Energy Center, then traveling to Buffalo the next day for the first road game of the season -- wasn't one of the possibilities.

"That's where we'd be," left winger Matt Cooke said, "if we weren't locked out."

The NHL season has, of course, been on hold since the league's collective bargaining agreement with its Players' Association expired a month ago.

Negotiations are expected to resume Tuesday, but there is no indication the sides have found common ground on the core financial issues that pose the biggest barrier to a settlement.

Money matters apparently received only cursory attention, if that, during meetings last week.

Thus, rather than being immersed today in the kind of formal training camp that will precede the start of play, a group of players will hold the latest session in a series of self-run workouts at Southpointe.

Participation in those four-days-per-week sessions is voluntary, and the turnout of Penguins players since they began several weeks before the lockout has fluctuated from as many as 16 to as few as three.

Those who show up spend between 90 minutes and two hours on the ice on a typical day and most, if not all, have made extensive off-ice workouts part of their regimen.

Fact is, their training actually consumes significantly more time than it would under normal circumstances this time of year.

"We skate and work out now a lot longer than we do when the season [is under way]," said defenseman Ben Lovejoy, a Southpointe regular. "We're only on the ice for an hour and 15 minutes during the season.

"Right now, we're on a for a lot longer and we spend an hour and a half or two hours in the gym, on top of that."

All that time spent doing drills surely gets tedious at times, although center Joe Vitale said that having time to fine-tune various elements of his game is a benefit, however unwanted, of not being involved in games.

"It's been one thing I've been able to take advantage of," he said. "It's not where you want to be, but I'm trying to find some positives out of it."

Whether the lockout has translated to more free time in early autumn seems to vary by the individual.

Cooke said, "I have way less" because he has become a fixture at his son's baseball practices and games, as well as his daughter's soccer workouts and games.

Perhaps Cooke could ask to borrow a bit of down time from Vitale, who said he finds himself with "a lot" of it, compared to the norm for mid-October.

"Every day is a new adventure," Vitale said. "Just wake up and kind of go from there."

Lovejoy, meanwhile, splits the difference, noting that while he generally has been more busy than he would be if the NHL were operating, "we certainly have free time at night that we're not used to."

Cooke spent much of the weekend in Stirling, Ontario, where he participated in a youth hockey event organized by the NHLPA, while Vitale, a St. Louis native, intended to devote at least a few hours to watching the Cardinals in the National League playoffs.

Lovejoy, who grew up in New Hampshire, said he was looking forward to watching the New England Patriots Sunday, though he would have rather been preparing for a visit from the Ottawa Senators Tuesday.

"Everybody's disappointed [about the lockout]," he said. "The city's disappointed. [Friday] was a date that was circled on our calendars since we lost to Philly [in the 2012 playoffs].

"I think -- I know -- everybody is dying to play. Hopefully, we can get this thing resolved soon."


Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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