Ruutu gets first crack at former teammates

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- For a second, Jarkko Ruutu forgot.

When he visited the Penguins' side of Globe Arena while his former team was practicing yesterday, he obliged some Swedish boys who were hanging over the railing begging for an autograph. He signed one and then checked himself. He had written a No. 37 next to his name.

Ruutu doesn't wear that number anymore. It was taken by Dean McAmmond when Ruutu signed with Ottawa as a free agent over the summer. He reversed it and now wears No. 73.

"Might get seven goals this year," Ruutu said later, after he practiced with the correct team, the Senators.

Seven would be a career high for Ruutu, 33, one of the league's better-known agitators who spent the past two seasons with the Penguins.

Now it's his turn to get under their skin, if the winger can, when the Penguins and Senators meet today in the first of back-to-back games. It's the regular-season opener for both clubs.

Perhaps Ruutu will start with the best player on his old team, center Sidney Crosby.

"I hope he gets emotionally involved," Ruutu said, forming a grin across a face that looks nothing like it did the last time he wore a Penguins uniform.

Gone are the black eyes, stitches and abrasions he wore like badges during the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup final last spring, although there is a noticeable scar high on his left cheek as a reminder of his days playing at Mellon Arena.

If not Crosby, then maybe center Evgeni Malkin.

"I was trying to learn some Russian over the summer," Ruutu said. "I got a couple good lines. I'm still trying to manage it."

The Penguins won't be caught unaware by the guy they used to love watching as he made opponents hate him with taunts and hits.

"We know that he's going to be gritty," Crosby said. "That's Ruuts. We had him. He did a great job at it. I'm sure he's going to try to do the same over there.

"He'll be doing his thing. We might be ready more than other teams."

That's what Ruutu is concerned about -- as well as he knows their weak spots for grilling, they're well-versed in his modus operandi.

"They probably know me way too well, too, so they probably won't fall for the old tricks," he said, flashing one of his devilish smiles.

One thing Ruutu can do is pass along a couple secrets to his new teammates.

"He's given a few hints, who to tease and whatnot," Senators winger Daniel Alfredsson said. "It probably will help."

While Ruutu will go after anyone on the ice, he has a soft spot for the Penguins and Pittsburgh on dry land.

"Obviously, there's a little bit of emotion, but, as soon as I hit the ice, there's no emotion," he said.

A free agent after last season, he signed with Ottawa for three years and $3.9 million. It's believed the Penguins were only offering a two-year contract.

The extra year was something Ruutu didn't want to turn down. He also hinted that he hoped to play more than the average of 10:12 minutes he was given by Penguins coach Michel Therrien last season.

"Obviously, I want to play as much as possible, but, in some cases, you don't always see eye to eye on ice time, but success was the biggest thing," Ruutu said.

He had six goals, a career-high 10 assists and 134 hits for the Penguins last season, then added two goals, one assist and 50 hits in 20 playoff games. Weeks later, he was gone.

"During that time period, there was a lot of pressure on teams," he said. "My head was spinning just trying to make a decision. It was a real hard decision to leave Pittsburgh, but I had to make it. I've been happy that I chose to come to Ottawa. They've been real good to me, and I think the style fits me on the ice."

For this weekend, Ruutu is glad that ice isn't Uptown but far, far away in Europe.

"It's a little different playing overseas playing against your old team," he said. "I'm sure it would be a little different playing in Pittsburgh. But I'm excited playing against my former team the first game and getting it out of the way."

NOTES -- The Penguins assigned Finnish winger Janne Pesonen to their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor league club, getting them to the 24-man roster limit for these games. ... Penguins winger Petr Sykora, who returned to practice Wednesday after an illness, missed the exhibition game Thursday in Finland and practice yesterday because of what the team described as a groin problem. ... Ottawa's Alfredsson, a native of Sweden, did not practice, citing "bumps and bruises," but is expected to play. ... Senators center Mike Fisher (groin) will be evaluated today. ... Penguins coach Michel Therrien confirmed he is starting the season with center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Brooks Orpik as alternate captains. There will be a monthly rotation, and defenseman Sergei Gonchar will resume wearing an "A" when he returns from shoulder surgery late in the season.


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