Penguins' Orpik hopes to keep health in check

Fans will remember the Penguins' previous visit to Madison Square Garden for the team's third-period collapse, after building a 2-0 lead, and shootout loss.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik has another reason to recall that game as the Penguins get ready to face the New York Rangers on the road again tonight: The Oct. 25 game marked the beginning of a long period of frustration and physical suffering.

It was just before that game that Orpik fell ill with what eventually was diagnosed as walking pneumonia. "Whatever that is," he said yesterday.

Scouting Report

Matchup: Penguins at New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m., Madison Square Garden, New York.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Dany Sabourin for Penguins. Henrik Lundqvist for Rangers.

Penguins: Are 5-0-2 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Have worst road power play, 8.5 percent. ... Sabourin led NHL through Monday with 1.84 goals-against average.

Rangers: Are 14-6 vs. Eastern Conference. ... Have top penalty killing in NHL, 89.5 percent. ... Lundqvist led NHL through Monday with 15 wins.

Hidden stat: Rangers have given up seven short-handed goals, most in NHL going into last night, including league-high five at home.

More than five weeks later, he still isn't completely rid of it, but it's not dragging him down as it had been.

"It was only really, really bad for about a week, week and a half," he said. "There were times where you had breathing problems on the bench, but the biggest problem was feeling rundown, just no energy. I'd get about halfway through a practice or a game and just [hit a wall]. You had to conserve your energy as much as you could."

Energy conservation did not translate into a dip in his play.

Orpik did not miss a shift, and in the 15 games since he got sick, he has a goal and three assists -- and he's not an offensive defenseman by any stretch -- and a plus-minus rating of plus-3. He continues to pile up the hits (87, second in the NHL through Monday) and blocked shots (49).

While he might struggle to remember what it was like to have clear airways, Orpik has no problem recalling the days in his Penguins career when halfway through games it was the fans who were left, well, sick.

Among the team's longest-tenured players, Orpik, 28, was a first-round draft pick in 2000 and made it to the NHL in 2003-04, playing in 79 games and finishing with a goal, nine assists and a plus-minus rating of minus-36 -- and that was not the worst number on a team that finished last in the league with 58 points.

The only other current players on that squad were defenseman Rob Scuderi (13 games) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (21 games).

"I think I appreciate what's happening here more so than a lot of other guys just because I was here when we were on the complete other side of the spectrum," Orpik said.

"When you look at that team to this team, it's a lot of different personnel, but it's a completely different mind-set in the locker room, in the organization. It definitely wasn't very fun to experience the first couple years."

He probably solidified his place in Penguins history in late May when the resurgent Penguins were playing Detroit in the Stanley Cup final. During the third period of Game 3 at Mellon Arena, Orpik dished out four big hits on one shift.

In July, against the odds, he re-signed with the Penguins -- a six-year deal worth $3.75 million per season when he could have received more elsewhere.

"He's been through a lot," said his defense partner, Kris Letang. "He's been through bad years and good years. He brings it every night.

"He's a safe player. He's never going to put you in trouble. He's always in a good spot. He's a good example for everybody."

Orpik has become somewhat of a mentor for Letang, himself an offensive defenseman who is looking for his first goal this season, while Orpik already has a career high of two.

Orpik suggested that the way he approaches hits is a good way for Letang to approach goals.

"When you go looking for that kind stuff, it seems like you can never find it," Orpik said. "When I was young in the league, you go looking for hits all the time, and you run out of position, and other parts of your game are sacrificed.

"Sometimes it comes, and sometimes it doesn't. As long as you're playing well, those opportunities come."

Even if your lungs are working against you every bit as much as opponents.

Orpik doesn't know how he got pneumonia. Winger Eric Godard has been dealing with something similar, but most of the players have escaped, so far.

"I've never had anything to this extreme," Orpik said.

He lived with it as long as he could, figuring it would clear up, before he sought treatment.

"I hate going to doctors. I hate taking medicine," he said. "I usually just try to have a good diet, get enough sleep. You get a cold once in while and it goes away in a couple days. After about three, three and a half weeks with this, I finally had to do something about it."

Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721. First Published December 3, 2008 5:00 AM


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