Penguins Notebook: Practice doesn't make perfect on power play

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The Penguins spent 20 minutes of their Saturday practice on an intensive power-play session, but that wasn't apparent in the first period of their 4-2 victory against Boston yesterday at Mellon Arena.

Especially at the start of a five-on-three advantage 9:17 into that first period.

Just before the faceoff, the Penguins realized they had six skaters on the ice, one over the limit. Point man Sergei Gonchar started to skate off, then forward Petr Sykora skated toward the bench but stopped before Gonchar -- one of the most productive power-play point men in the NHL -- finally left the ice.

"Sometimes it happens," Gonchar said. "I guess we were confused."

All the while, captain Sidney Crosby was screaming and pointing.

"I was just trying to get us organized," Crosby said. "We had to have a guy go off. It was hard because of [Evgeni] Malkin [whose English is limited]."

Coach Michel Therrien said the problem was with defenseman Kris Letang, who had not been on the ice during the previous 43 seconds, a five-on-four power play.

"He was supposed to be on the ice, but he didn't know who to send off," Therrien said.

The Penguins didn't score on that power play, but redemption came in the second period when Malkin's blistering shot from the right circle beat Boston goaltender Alex Auld during a man-advantage to make it 2-1 and give the Penguins a lead they never relinquished.

An empty feeling

Crosby almost scored a highlight goal -- into an empty net.

With Auld pulled in the final seconds, Crosby drove down the right side of the Boston zone and shook off a checker. By then, he was at a severe angle to the net as he let go a shot.

"I'd say I could see not even a foot of the net," Crosby said, noting that the length of his stick made the aperture even smaller.

The puck bounced hard off the near post -- right to Penguins winger Gary Roberts, who planted it at 19:50 for his second goal of the game.

Attendance record

The Penguins drew 17,060 to set a club record with their 31st consecutive regular-season sellout, a number that could grow to 54 if Mellon Arena is filled the rest of this season.

"It's a possibility we could sell out the season," team president David Morehouse said. "It's a tribute to the fans and the city of Pittsburgh."

It's not bad for the bottom line, either. Each of the 18 home games in 2007-08 has drawn a standing-room crowd, adding to the club's revenue stream.

"It helps the business end," Morehouse said. "It's going to help us maintain the talent level."

Although there was a large increase in fan interest and ticket sales in Crosby's first two seasons, it has reached the point where tickets are getting tough to come by. The team now has a waiting list for season tickets.

"The sports fans in Pittsburgh are extremely loyal. I grew up here; I know," Morehouse said. "Pittsburgh, since Mario [Lemieux, the retired Hall of Fame center and team chairman], has become a hockey town. With Sid, that's growing exponentially. It's like Renaissance II."

Part of that growth now includes plans for a new arena across the street from Mellon Arena scheduled to open for 2010-11.

Slap shots

Gonchar picked up his 400th career assist in the second period. ... Sykora played his 800th game. ... In addition to Ryan Malone (leg), the Penguins scratched defenseman Brooks Orpik for the third consecutive game. ... Boston scratched winger Brandon Bochenski and defenseman Bobby Allen. ... Because of Christmas, the Penguins are off until Wednesday afternoon.


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


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