Olympic participation alters NHL schedule

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Sidney Crosby's date book just got filled, and how.

The Penguins center no doubt will be considered the keystone of Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics now that there is an official agreement for NHL players to participate in Sochi, Russia.

Closely tied to that announcement Friday was the release of the full 2013-14 NHL schedule, which includes a break between Feb. 9-26 for the Winter Games. The time out means the rest of the Penguins' schedule is jammed, including 16 back-to-back games and 13 instances of three games played in four nights.

"You find out that in an Olympic year the schedule is a little more condensed, a little more intense than a typical year," Crosby said.

"You just have to take advantage of your days off because it is condensed."

And, for Olympians, quite a roller-coaster ride.

PG graphic: Penguins schedule
(Click image for larger version)

"Playing that condensed schedule and then going right into a pretty intense playoff atmosphere [at the Olympics] -- every game is like a Game 7 -- and then coming back from there, you go from that level of intensity to regular-season games," said Crosby, the host nation's hero in 2010 with an overtime goal against the United States to give Canada the gold medal in Vancouver.

"You've got to find a way to keep going and maintain that same level through the rest of the season and, hopefully, the playoffs."

The Penguins, who were a strong Stanley Cup favorite last season but got swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference final, begin their quest anew Oct. 3 when they play their season opener at home against New Jersey.

As previously announced, the Penguins will play March 1 against the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in Chicago at Soldier Field as part of a series of outdoor games.

Their schedule includes four three-game homestands and one stretch of four games in a row at Consol Energy Center in March.

Their most arduous road trip comes shortly after the Olympic break, starting with the outdoor game at Chicago and continuing to Nashville, San Jose, Anaheim and Washington over the first 10 days of March.

The NHL's realignment to four divisions kicks in this season.

The Penguins are in the newly named Metropolitan Division with the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets, who are moving from the Western to the Eastern Conference.

That is essentially the former Atlantic Division plus Washington, Carolina and Columbus. What was mostly the Northeast Division has added Detroit, Florida and Tampa Bay to become the new Atlantic Division. The Western Conference divisions are called Central and Pacific.

Each team will play every other team at home and on the road at least once.

Training camps are scheduled to open Sept. 11, and the Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 16.

Before NHL camps open, it's expected that there will be Olympic orientation/tryout camps in August now that the issue of NHL players continuing to play in the Games has been resolved. The parties to the agreement were the NHL, the NHL Players Association, the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

"I think everyone thought it was just a matter of time, working out logistics," Crosby said.

"I'm glad that we're going and, obviously, excited to kind of start the process."

While other Penguins could be chosen for their Olympic teams -- defenseman Kris Letang is likely a candidate for Canada, for instance -- Crosby is a lock for Canada, as is Penguins center Evgeni Malkin with Russia. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has been selected to coach Team USA, and Penguins general manager Ray Shero will serve as the American's assistant general manager.

That could spark some talk around Consol Energy Center.

"I'm sure it will be brought up, either by us or someone else," Crosby said. "If there's any uncomfortable situation, it seems to be brought up pretty quickly, and [we] make a joke about it.

"Having gone through playing against [Malkin] previously, and even playing against [Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik] playing for Team USA, we understand that's all part of it.

"But, yeah, it's a little different when you're walking through the athletes village and you're looking at your teammate walking by and he's on a different team. It's a little weird.

"We try to have some fun with it through the year, but, when we get there, we all know that we've got to represent our team."

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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