Penguins Notebook: Gonchar gets OK, but only for skating, practice

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Sergei Gonchar's broken left wrist will not keep him off the ice.

With a hockey glove over his cast, wearing a red non-contact jersey and using only his right (non-shooting) hand on his stick, the Penguins' top defenseman took part in the team's optional morning skate yesterday.

Gonchar, of course, did not play last night against New Jersey at Mellon Arena and will not play again for something near a month, but said he plans on continuing to practice.

"The doctor told me that's what I can do," he said.

It's a good thing Gonchar isn't overly superstitious, as many of his teammates are. Otherwise, he might wonder if he helped bring the injury on himself.

After the morning skate Tuesday, he was talking about going out early for practices to work on his mental game. He said it was something he liked to do early in every season. It was pointed out that, at the most recent skates to that point, he had been on the ice not in solitude but with outgoing forward Max Talbot, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Gonchar smiled and said Talbot being on the ice always makes things more interesting, "especially when he's wearing the red jersey."

Players despise the alternate-color non-contact jerseys, so that was a rare dig at a teammate from Gonchar.

Yesterday, he was reminded of his comments and the fact that they came on the morning of the game in which he got hurt when he went into the boards awkwardly on a clean hit by St. Louis' David Backes. And it was pointed out that now he is obligated to wear the dreaded red jersey.

"I never thought about it," he said of karma catching up to him, "but maybe now I will."

Unusual, but nice

Games on back-to-back nights are a fact of life in the NHL. The Penguins just had their third one of a season that is not a month old. This one, though, was unusual. Both games were at home -- a 3-2 shootout win Friday against Florida and the game last night against the Devils.

"It's a little unusual, but it's nice to stay at home and sleep in your own bed," said winger Ruslan Fedotenko. "But, after a game, I can't sleep until 3 in the morning anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter if you're on the plane or at home."

Most back-to-back games involve travel after the first game, with one or both games on the road.

"It's nicer" when they're both at home, center Sidney Crosby said. "You're more familiar with your surroundings."

With both games this weekend at home, the Penguins had 14 players take the ice for the optional morning skate yesterday, with others in the building but not skating.

This is the only time this season they will have home games on consecutive days. Last season, it happened once -- a 4-3 shootout win against Ottawa March 14 and a 6-4 win against Boston March 15. Both were afternoon weekend games.

Crosby pointed out that even when the team does travel on the night between back-to-back games, it's often a short flight.

"Usually, with our division, we're pretty close, so we can play back-to-backs and travel and it's not that big a deal," he said.

A good feeling

Winger Mike Rupp won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey as a rookie in 2003, so he knows what a winner looks like.

While he was looking forward to playing against his former team last night, Rupp, who signed with the Penguins during the summer, is starting to sense a familiar feel with his new team. One he likes.

"I think there are early signs of a lot of promise here," Rupp said after the Penguins' morning skate. "We, over the course of the first 10 games, haven't played a full 60 minutes except maybe a couple games, but we keep finding ways to win hockey games, and I think that's something special."

Tip-ins

New Jersey, which did not play Friday night, also had an optional morning skate, with 16 players participating, not including goaltender Martin Brodeur. ... The Penguins scratched forward Chris Bourque. ... The Devils scratched forwards Rod Pelley and Andrew Peters and defenseman Mike Mottau.


For more on the Penguins, read the new Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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