Penguins Notebook: Emphasis on defense in practice

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Near the end of practice yesterday at Southpointe, Penguins coach Michel Therrien and center Sidney Crosby had a long discussion along the half boards, complete with demonstrations and hand gestures.

While it looked animated at times, the two were smiling when the session ended. Crosby insisted it was strictly instructional.

"Just going over defensive zone play," said Crosby, who leads the NHL with 95 points in 56 games and is a staunch student of the game.

"Some of that came up in practice, and there was just a little misunderstanding on my part on what to do in certain situations. That was basically it. It was just making sure we were on the same page with what we were doing out there."

Therrien called the work "just a normal drill."

Winger Ryan Malone explained that the coaches are trying to get the players to tighten things up.

"We're trying to get some opportunities offensively by doing a good job defensively," Malone said. "If we take away the walls and win those little battles, the puck might bounce toward their net instead of toward ours."

Playoff ticket surge

Fifty percent of Penguins season-ticket holders, who have between Feb. 5 and March 5 to buy 12-game strips of playoff tickets, have placed their orders, team vice president of communications Tom McMillan said.

"The fan reaction has been somewhat overwhelming, to do it that quickly and since the team hasn't qualified for the playoffs at this point," McMillan said.

Playoff ticket prices in non-premium seats for season ticket-holders range from $50 in E balcony to $95 in A and B levels and won't escalate in successive rounds. F balcony seats are not available yet.

Prices could be slightly higher for non-season ticket-holders buying 12-game playoff strips beginning March 5, and for those buying individual playoff game tickets tentatively beginning March 26.

Conditioning key for Thorburn

The Penguins want rookie forward Chris Thorburn to get sharp during a conditioning assignment with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Thorburn, who has five points in 38 games, was assigned to the Baby Penguins Tuesday after being a healthy scratch the past seven games and 10 of the past 12.

"I think the best thing," said Therrien, "is for him to go down there and get some games under his belt and make sure when we need him he'll be ready to play."

Under NHL rules, Thorburn can spend no more than two weeks with Wilkes-Barre.

Ekman awaits OK for contact

Penguins winger Nils Ekman, who has been out since Dec. 29 because of a badly dislocated elbow, is traveling with the team to Florida and Tampa. He doesn't expect to play in those games, but said he could be cleared to have contact in practice by the end of the trip, which would put him close to being ready to play again.

Panthers without Auld

Florida goaltender Alexander Auld has been pulled from active duty because of a sore left knee, and Panthers coach Jacques Martin said surgery remains a possibility for the goalie. The Panthers recalled Craig Anderson from Rochester (AHL) to back up veteran Ed Belfour.

Slap shots

Crosby, somewhat superstitious, did not want to talk about the fact that he could reach 100 points during the trip to Florida or when the team returns to play New Jersey Tuesday. He had 102 points as a rookie last season. ... The Penguins have reinstalled the wooden lockers they used when Southpointe was their regular practice facility. It is likely that Southpointe will become their regular practice facility again by next season. ... Florida right winger Todd Bertuzzi, who had back surgery and has not played since mid-October, is practicing with the team. ... A large group of students from Fort Couch Middle School in Upper St. Clair skated before the Penguins at Southpointe, then watched practice. The field trip was a reward for helping to raise $12,000 for three people's medical expenses. Their Penguins contact was Malone, who attended that school.


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


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