Alex Goligoski is, in some ways, being eased into the National Hockey League.
He is averaging just 17 minutes, 49 seconds of playing time per game, the fifth-lowest total among Penguins defensemen, and hasn't spent a second on the ice while his team is short-handed.
Stats like those suggest the Penguins want to avoid force-feeding the league to a 23-year-old who had just three NHL appearances on his resume before this season.
But things change -- dramatically -- when the Penguins have a power play.
Goligoski doesn't just get some work when the Penguins have a man-advantage; he mans the left point on their No. 1 unit.
Filling that role has translated to an average of five minutes and 54 seconds of power-play time per game, more than any Penguin except Sidney Crosby, who averages 6:12, through his first six appearances of the season.
- Matchup: Carolina Hurricanes at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Michael Leighton for Hurricanes.
- Penguins: Have not won season series against Carolina since going 2-1-1 in 1998-99. ... RW Miroslav Satan has goal in three consecutive games. ... Have gone to overtime four times in their first seven games.
- Hurricanes: Are making third stop on six-game road trip. ... Power play is 0 for 13 in past three games. ... RW Ray Whitney has a five-game points streak.
- Hidden stat: Carolina's Peter Laviollete has 235 career victories, four shy of John Tortorella's record for a U.S.-born coach.
And he isn't likely to lose that job anytime soon. Going into the Penguins' game against Carolina at 7:38 tonight at Mellon Arena, Goligoski has scored two of the team's eight power-play goals and has, for the most part, distributed the puck effectively.
The only surprise, at least to this point, is that Goligoski hasn't picked up an assist. Assistant coach Andre Savard, who oversees the defense, shrugs that off as an early season anomaly
"He'll get his assists," Savard said. "I'm not worried at all about that. ... Once he gets going, he'll get some assists. He'll have more assists than goals."
History supports Savard's contention, because Goligoski's assist total has surpassed his goals every season since his days at Grand Rapids (Minn.) High School.
Truth be told, though, there never have been any questions about any facet of Goligoski's offensive game. What matters is that any lingering ones about how well he could play in his own end of the ice are disappearing.
Although Goligoski doesn't overwhelm anyone with his size (5 feet 11, 180 pounds), he positions himself well and uses his stick effectively.
And, most important of all, according to Savard, Goligoski genuinely cares about his performance in the defensive zone.
"He wants to learn, he's willing to correct a few [bad] habits and he's competing," Savard said. "He's got a good stick. The big thing with him, what we've been working on, is puck awareness in the defensive zone.
"He's improving in that. Defensively, he's gained a lot of confidence, and the coaching staff has gained a lot of confidence [in him]."
So has Mark Eaton, Goligoski's partner most of the season.
"He's played well," Eaton said. "He's gotten stronger every game."
Goligoski acknowledged the differences in the game at this level, not just obvious ones like overall skill level, but how there is less down time than in college or the American Hockey League, where games are played primarily on weekends -- but doesn't seem to be unsettled by any of them. He also isn't fazed that Savard, who works with the penalty-killers, relies primarily on veterans Eaton, Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik when the Penguins are down a man.
"Obviously, we have a lot of defensemen who can kill penalties," Goligoski said. "I'd say they're probably better at it than I am. Hopefully, I can work my way in."
That will happen, Savard said, although he did not predict when.
"He'll kill penalties," Savard said. "He won't be strictly an offensive player because he cares defensively. That's where it starts."
First Published October 23, 2008 4:00 AM