Penguins notebook: Abundance of early road games 'simpler' than what could've been

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NEW YORK -- The Penguins are playing four of their first five games this season on the road, including the one Sunday night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Five of the first seven, too.

And eight of the first 12.

They aren't really complaining about it, though. Perhaps because they realize it could have been worse.

One of the early versions of their schedule, you see, had them playing no fewer than eight of the first 10 away from Consol Energy Center.

"They always have a first or second draft of the schedule," general manager Ray Shero said. "Then they end up changing. It changed a bit for the final version."

The Penguins will return home to face Toronto Wednesday before traveling to Winnipeg Friday and Ottawa Saturday.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen suggested Sunday there might even be a positive aspect to the Penguins doing so much traveling near the start of the season.

"Early on, it doesn't make as much of a difference," he said. "I think it has some advantages. It sounds cliche, but we're all together on the road.

"It's a good challenge, but at the same time, we might play a little simpler [in away games], and that might be good with this kind of weird start to the season.

"I think that showed [in a 3-1 victory Saturday in Philadelphia]. The times we tried to get fancy, we got in trouble."

Shero noted that "teams in the [Western Conference] certainly have more onerous travel" and that, because the NHL is using an intra-conference schedule in this lockout-shortened season, the Penguins won't be out of town for any truly protracted stretches.

"Sometimes in the middle of the season, you go on the road for an extended period," he said. "So we're going to make the best of it, hopefully."

Vitale bumps Jeffrey

Center Joe Vitale, a healthy scratch for the game in Philadelphia, was back in uniform Sunday night, bumping Dustin Jeffrey from the lineup.

Vitale acknowledged that he was a bit surprised to learn Friday that he wouldn't dress against the Flyers.

"I was a little disappointed," he said. "Obviously, you want to be out there, you want to play, especially with the long break [because of the NHL lockout] that we had.

"But it's obviously an organizational decision and you stand by it. You just focus on the positive."

For Jeffrey, who centered the fourth line against the Flyers, losing his place in the lineup against New York doesn't mean he's dropping out of the team's plans.

"Dustin is a guy who can do a lot of different things," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He can play up [on a top line], he can play on the power play, he can play penalty-kill, he's a left-handed shot [faceoff] guy.

"He adds some skill, but he's also a guy who ... in the American Hockey League, was a shutdown-type of centerman. He can do a lot of different things.

"Dustin Jeffrey is the type of guy who can be out of the lineup one night and then play on the second line when he does come in."

In addition to Jeffrey, the Penguins scratched defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Robert Bortuzzo for the second game in a row.

Nash in New York

The Penguins got their first look at Rick Nash as a Rangers player, but had a pretty good idea of what to expect: He's big, skilled and a strong skater, which is a pretty formidable package.

"He's unique, just because of his size, combined with his skill level," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "That's something you don't see a lot in the league, that kind of size and skating ability and skill."

New York acquired him from Columbus in the offseason, and has him working alongside Brad Richards, a gifted playmaker.

"No disrespect to the guys he was playing with in Columbus," Orpik said. "But I don't know if he's ever played with a guy as good as Richards, in terms of a guy who gets the puck to other guys."



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