Penguins Notebook: Players applaud 'crazy' hockey town

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Usually it's the fans cheering on the Penguins at Mellon Arena. Last night, winger Colby Armstrong returned the favor.

"You guys are great fans," he told a crowd of at least 10,000 during a question-and-answer session at a town hall meeting for season ticket holders.

"We get to go to a lot of great places to play around the league. I didn't know too much about Pittsburgh before I came here, but I have to say the fans here are unbelievable. I was amazed to see how crazy a hockey town it was."

Besides Armstrong, players Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal, general manager Ray Shero, CEO Ken Sawyer and president David Morehouse spoke and answered questions.

Sawyer talked about the team's progress over the past few seasons and went over tentative plans for the new arena. Morehouse said the team will form focus groups to get input from season ticket holders on the new arena.

Morehouse also announced that just before the program, that there was a good chance more tickets will become available after next Friday to season ticket holders for the Jan. 1 AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic outdoor game, when the Penguins will play in Buffalo.

The players had some fun on stage. Armstrong did an imitation of Whitney's game preparation. Staal said his teammate and landlord, Mark Recchi, cooks a mean steak.

Fleury, asked why he became a goalie, shrugged.

"Just because I love to dive around a little bit everywhere," he said. "Also because I [am no good] at scoring goals."

Letang sent 'down'

It's a bit like having to sit at the kids' table for holidays, but defenseman Kris Letang isn't complaining about being placed with the secondary group in training camp with mostly draft choices and those who haven't cracked the NHL.

It means separate practices from the main group and using the spartan, cramped visitors' locker room.

"It's all right," Letang said. "It's camp. You have to work your way up to [the home locker] room."

Assuming he survives what should be a fairly large roster cut this weekend, he will join what is expected to be a consolidated group for the remainder of the preseason, beginning with the Penguins' visit to West Point for intense team-building exercises.

In training camp a year ago as a 19-year-old, Letang was impressive enough to start the season with the Penguins. He was returned to his junior team before a 10-game deadline, but expectations that he would stick with the team this season were set.

"Right now I think I'm getting better every day and battling for a spot," said Letang, a rare right-handed shot among Penguins defensemen who seems to be up against free agent signee Mike Weaver for a place on the roster.

Letang has been getting treatment for a hip flexor injury, but he and coach Michel Therrien said it's not something that would prevent the staff from getting a true evaluation of him.

Still, he was held out of Tuesday's preseason game at Montreal after playing Monday.

"If it would have been the regular season, he would have been able to play, but at this time of year it's not worth it," Therrien said, adding that Letang is clear to play this weekend, when the Penguins play at Detroit tonight and at home tomorrow night against the Red Wings.

Set, go!

Defenseman Ryan Whitney and winger Georges Laraque were on the ice warming up well before anyone else, and Whitney challenged Laraque to a race from a goal line to the far blue line

Several of their teammates spilled from the locker room to watch, and Therrien came out to act as the starter.

Whitney won, but barely.

Laraque made it an even longer day by staying out at practice to offer Adam Hall some pointers on fighting.

Slap shots

Winger Petr Sykora, wearing a face shield, took part in all aspects of practice, including a spot on the top power-play unit, but will miss the next few days after having his broken nose realigned today. ... Defenseman Paul Bissonnette was asked to return home rather than report to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the Penguins will attempt to trade him or find another avenue for him to play. ... Video of tomorrow's 7:30 p.m. preseason home game against Detroit will be streamed live at www.pittsburghpenguins.com, with Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey calling the plays.


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


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