Penguins Notebook: Therrien gets players to refocus

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Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Ryan Malone mixes it up with the Lightning's Dory Sarich Sunday. The Penguins are hoping to bounce back tonight against New Jersey at Mellon Arena.
By Shelly Anderson
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In a matter of 48 hours, the Penguins have the task of going from a somnambulant performance in Sunday's 5-1 loss at Tampa to a critical home game tonight against Atlantic Division leader New Jersey.

That transition apparently was one of the topics when the Penguins held a team meeting before their workout yesterday at Mellon Arena.

"The atmosphere is a little mellow," forward Erik Christensen said after practice. "It gives us time to think about the Tampa game. We were extremely frustrated and very disappointed in the way we came out. Like [coach Michel Therrien] said, we weren't ready to play. I don't know if it was the [warm Florida] weather or what, but we just weren't ready.

"But the attitude now, and sort of the way [Therrien] approached practice was, let's put it behind us."

Several of the players said they were grateful that the schedule has them playing a game relatively quickly so they don't have to linger on the Tampa debacle -- a game in which his players' lackluster play surprised Therrien.

"I didn't see it coming," Therrien said. "I thought we were well rested. Maybe too much."

Therrien is confident his team can rebound with a strong game against the Devils -- the team that leads the division with 84 points, nine ahead of the Penguins, whose 75 points have them just five points over the cutoff line in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs.

"There's nothing we can do about it," Therrien said of the Tampa game. "Just bounce back.

"I know that group, and their focus is going to be there [tonight]. We need a strong game, and we'll have a strong game by everyone."

Fleury to start

Saying this was the plan all along, Therrien named Marc-Andre Fleury the starting goaltender for tonight.

"We wanted to give him some time to work with [goaltending consultant] Gilles Meloche, to work on different things and look at video and to make sure that he's going to go back to his A game," Therrien said.

Therrien was critical of Fleury's recent play after a 6-5 road loss against the New York Islanders Feb. 19. He then started backup Jocelyn Thibault in the Penguins' games at Florida and Tampa Bay.

Fleury replaced Thibault Sunday in the loss at Tampa.

A different scenario

It was nearly a year ago -- March 9, 2006 -- when veteran winger Mark Recchi was shipped by the Penguins to Carolina for Niklas Nordgren, Krystofer Kolanos and a 2007 second-round draft pick.

As the trade deadline approached last year and with the Penguins deep in the standings, Recchi wanted to go to a team that was a Stanley Cup contender. He got his wish when he lifted the Cup with the Hurricanes.

"It was still hard to leave," he said. "It's never an easy decision to make. You have to talk to your family and figure out what's best. I just thought it was an opportunity to take one more crack at it. Obviously, things worked out. A lot of times, they don't work out."

Recchi re-signed with the Penguins in the summer, and the trade deadline is here again, coming at 3 p.m. today.

This time, he's eager to remain with the Penguins and see if they can become a contender before he decides to retire.

"We like what's here," Recchi said. "It's been great from day one at training camp."

A changeup

The Devils got their first win without goaltender Martin Brodeur in net with a 3-2 victory at Washington Sunday, when Scott Clemmensen made his first start since Dec. 14.

There is little likelihood that Devils coach Claude Julien will follow the formula Therrien used last week and stick with the hot hand and Clemmensen for the game today.

Brodeur had started the previous 32 games for New Jersey. He leads the NHL in wins (38) and shutouts (11) and is second in goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.925).

Starting from scratch

After he frequently became a regular scratch from the Penguins' lineup, forward Chris Thorburn had no problem with the team's decision to send him to its Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor-league club for a week on a conditioning assignment.

What was more difficult was shaking off the rust.

"I had three games down there," said Thorburn, who had an assist and two penalty minutes before being recalled Sunday. "You can practice all you want, but you've got to get some games in once in a while.

"It was tough at first. That first game, the first period, until I got hit and threw a hit, my head was spinning. Then the next two periods and two games went really well."

Slap shots

Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney skipped practice because of a sore wrist, but he is expected to be available to play tonight. ... Winger Nils Ekman (elbow) no longer wears the no-contact jersey in practice but isn't quite ready to play. ... If center Sidney Crosby gets a goal or assist tonight, he will become the youngest player and second teenager to reach 200 career points in the NHL at 19 years, 204 days. Wayne Gretzky was 19 years, 347 days when he got his 200th point. ... Crosby, the league's leading scorer, also is three points away from reaching the 100-point level for the second time in as many pro seasons. ... Center Brad Richards' goal and three assists in Tampa Bay's 5-1 win against the Penguins helped him earn the league's third star for last week.


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


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