Penguins Notebook: Taffe gets another opportunity

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NEWARK, N.J. -- Never let it be said that the Penguins didn't give Jeff Taffe a chance earlier this season to prove he deserved to stick in the NHL, because they did.

Yes, a chance. One.

Taffe logged five minutes, 57 seconds of ice time in their season-opening victory against Ottawa in Stockholm Oct. 4, was a healthy scratch for another game against the Senators the following day and then was assigned to the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre shortly after the club returned to North America.

Which means Taffe finished October with barely more NHL shifts (11) than trans-Atlantic flights.

Taffe stayed with the Baby Penguins until Tuesday, when he and fellow forward Tim Wallace were summoned for the Penguins' game against New Jersey at the Prudential Center last night.

And while he certainly would have preferred to be working in the NHL, Taffe did not let the demotion sour his season. He teamed with Chris Minard and Janne Pesonen on one of the most productive lines in the American Hockey League and had piled up 14 goals and 15 assists in 24 games at the time of his recall.

"[Demotions are] part of the game," he said yesterday. "There's not much I can do about it except to play hard [in the minors]. It's always tough, but you have to go down there with the right approach."

Wallace, meanwhile, was hoping his parents would be successful in their effort to travel from their hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, to New Jersey so they could witness his NHL debut.

Wallace volunteered after the game-day skate that preparing for his first game at this level had been "pretty nerve-wracking," but he obviously didn't mind.

"It's a neat experience," Wallace said. "I'm having a great time."

Homegrown talent

Five of the Penguins' six defensemen last night were born in the United States.

They are Rob Scuderi (Bethpage, N.Y.), Brooks Orpik (San Francisco), Mark Eaton (Wilmington, Del.), Alex Goligoski (Grand Rapids, Minn.) and Ben Lovejoy (Canaan, N.H.). The lone exception was Kris Letang, who hails from Montreal.

How long that group will remain intact isn't clear, because Ryan Whitney (Scituate, Mass., foot surgery) and Philippe Boucher (St. Apollinaire, Quebec, apparent concussion-type injury) figure to be back in the lineup relatively soon. Whitney said he hopes to return in 7 to 14 days, and Boucher might be back sooner.

The Devils also have a healthy contingent of U.S.-born players. Ten members of their 22-man active roster -- and nine who were in uniform last night -- are U.S. natives.

Weighty matters

New York Islanders center Doug Weight, whose team will visit Mellon Arena at 7:38 tonight, needs five points to become the 73rd player in NHL history to get 1,000.

Weight is 37 and not quite the force he was earlier in his career, but still leads New York in points (26) and assists (20) and has been a stabilizing influence for a franchise trying to right itself under difficult circumstances. He broke into the league with the New York Rangers in the 1991 playoffs and, acknowledged, "I'd probably be lying if I said I thought I'd play this long."

h

Penguins centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have surged to the top of the Eastern Conference all-star voting. By late yesterday afternoon, Crosby was the top vote-getter in the league with 652,610, followed in balloting for Eastern forwards by Malkin (580,655) and Montreal's Alex Kovalev (566,348). ... Penguins right winger Eric Godard was a healthy scratch for the first time this season.



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