Bus trip to Buffalo allows for deeper reflection by Penguins

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A day after the Penguins trotted out their throwback blue uniforms, they climbed into something even closer to a time machine yesterday.

With a lake-effect snowstorm threatening their flight to Buffalo for tonight's game against the Sabres, the team opted to bus to western New York after practice at Mellon Arena.

That set the Penguins up not only for a nostalgia trip -- riding buses in junior hockey and the minor leagues serves as a rite of passage -- but also for a block of several hours in a confined space to reflect on one of the more embarrassing performances in recent team history, a 7-3 loss Saturday at home to Toronto.


Today

Game: Penguins at Sabres, 7 p.m.

TV: Versus.


"You kind of have to talk to each other after a while, so it's a good thing," center and captain Sidney Crosby said shortly before boarding the bus. "It's usually pretty quiet after a game like that, but you're kind of forced together, and that's not ever a bad thing."

The ride to Buffalo might not have been long enough to cover all aspects of the collapse against the Maple Leafs -- one seen across the home country of many of the Penguins on "Hockey Night in Canada."

The loss was the Penguins' fifth in their past seven games, a slide that, through yesterday, had plunked them into fourth place in the Atlantic Division, seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 38 points in 32 games. Buffalo, which entered last night in the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference, can equal the Penguins in points with a regulation win.

Against Toronto, it wasn't one, two or even three areas that were deficient. It was all zones, all positions, all facets. The only bright spots were a spectacular goal by Evgeni Malkin and two goals from Petr Sykora -- and, maybe, the final buzzer.

"It's too far along in the season for this to happen," said winger and alternate captain Matt Cooke, who after the game took out some frustrations with boxing gloves and a heavy bag.

"Frankly, from my standpoint, this can't happen again."

The anger from Saturday night had mellowed a bit by yesterday. The atmosphere at the arena was relatively relaxed as players had time to participate in an optional practice, maybe have an off-ice workout, perhaps grab some lunch and head for the bus.

"It was a tough night, very frustrating, but at the same time we have to see what we've done wrong, see what we have to improve on," said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who got pulled after the second period after giving up five goals on 33 shots.

"You just forget about it, move on and start over. We'll be fine. It will be good to be all together."

Cooke and others lamented the fact the Penguins didn't have a game last night, which would have been an opportunity to get right back on the horse.

But they'll settle for games tonight in Buffalo and back home tomorrow night against Tampa Bay before the NHL-mandated two-day holiday break.

"You think about it in terms of our effort, and we were not satisfied," forward Max Talbot said. "Yes, we think about it, but it's good we get to play again right away, two quick games before the break when we get to spend some time with our families."

It's a chance to let two rights help make a wrong go away, or at least sting a little less.

"If we can get two wins here, who's really going to think about [the Toronto game] all that much?" defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

Scuderi is among those who were looking forward to the bus ride.

"Since it's different, it's kind of fun to do," he said. "Usually the plane ride to Buffalo is fairly short. Hop on the bus, be with the guys. It's a good time to just sit around and be with the team in a light atmosphere, which might help us after the way we played [Saturday] night.

"It's certainly one that we'd like to forget. Sometimes just being around each other in a light atmosphere is the best thing."

Although the Penguins had a few moderate-length bus trips during their training camp trip to the Canadian Maritimes in 2006, they rarely travel from city to city in anything other than comfortable charter jets these days.

"It's different," Talbot said of the bus ride to Buffalo. "Change it up. It brings you back to your roots. In junior, we were busing everywhere and we never used to complain, and talking for myself, we had some 20-hour bus rides."


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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