Penguins Notebook: Playing on Thanksgiving night no big deal

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For most Americans, today is a major holiday, a chance to spend some quality time with their families. And their forks.

But for the six U.S.-born players on the Penguins' roster, it's just another workday.

While turkeys are cooking across this country, they will be participating in a game-day skate at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. And by the time people have had their fill of food and football as early evening rolls around, the Penguins will be gearing up for a 7:38 game against the Senators.

Because this is not a holiday in Canada, where Thanksgiving is celebrated in October, the game tonight will be like any other on the road. There won't even be any turkey served at the team meal -- "I think turkey actually slows you down, so it wouldn't be good for me," forward Ryan Malone said -- although it's on the menu for their postgame flight home.

The holiday really is an afterthought, at most, for the players, in part because they generally play or practice on Thanksgiving every season and have since they were kids.

"I don't think too many guys are disappointed that we have to play," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Christmas is one thing, but Thanksgiving is kind of ... whatever.

"I'm not a big Thanksgiving-food guy, so I won't really miss that part of it. But the football, it's kind of nice to have a day off to sit back and relax and watch that."

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement prevents teams from playing on Dec. 24 or 25, but every other date between the start of the season and its finale (aside from those during the All-Star break) is fair game, and the league does not go dark on Thanksgiving. The Penguins-Ottawa game is one of four on the schedule tonight.

"As a hockey player, you get used to it," Malone said. "It just kind of comes with the job."

Armstrong returns

Right winger Colby Armstrong, a healthy scratch for six of the previous eight games, reclaimed a place in the lineup when the Penguins faced New Jersey at Mellon Arena last night.

"He took [being scratched] hard at the beginning," coach Michel Therrien said. "It's probably the first time in his career that he was facing that. I've known Colby for a long time ... and I know when he's at his best.

"The last week, his practices were upbeat. To be able to play his game, he has to be an upbeat guy. He has to have the right attitude and he has to be in a good frame of mind. That's how he was the last week."

With Armstrong back in uniform, the Penguins scratched forwards Maxime Talbot (ankle) and Mark Recchi and defenseman Darryl Sydor.

Not to worry

Although Ottawa has some of the league's most-skilled players, that talent is not reflected in the Senators' power play, which ranked 17th in the NHL before last night.

Not that anyone associated with the team seems terribly concerned about it, presumably because the Senators remain atop the overall standings; they were 16-3 before visiting Buffalo last night.

"You always want to be good at everything you do, but the most important thing is, do you win games or not?" captain Daniel Alfredsson told The Ottawa Sun. "I don't think it matters if your power play is first and your penalty-killing is first if you're a .500 club.

"There's so many stats to look at and turn inside out, if you want. I think the most important thing is, does your team find ways to win?"

An honor for two ex-Penguins

Former Penguins Paul Coffey and Rod Schutt have been named honorary captains for the Ontario Hockey League games in the upcoming Canada-Russia Challenge, a junior hockey competition.

Coffey will fill that role for a game in Kitchener, where he played as a junior, tonight and Schutt will do it four nights later in Sudbury, where he played.

The Canada-Russia Challenge is a six-game event pitting a junior-hockey all-star team against the Russian national junior team. Canada has won the past three Challenges, including a 6-0 sweep last winter.

Not playing ratings game

Therrien declined to say whether he believes Patrick Roy, who retired with 551 career victories, or New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who got his 500th last Saturday, was the better goaltender.

"They're both great athletes," he said. "It's tough to say who's first or who's second. I think they're [even]."



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