Jordan Staal is a pretty durable guy, so it was noteworthy when he left the ice during the second period of the Penguins' game against New Jersey at Mellon Arena last Saturday.
Especially when, a minute or so later, Dr. Charles Burke, the team physician, hustled down the steps from his seat and went into the dressing room to assess whatever it was that caused Staal to depart.
After the game, though, Staal referred to his issue as "a skate problem." That seemed, at best, a bit disingenuous, considering that Burke doesn't double as an equipment manager.
Turns out, though, that it was a clever way of characterizing the reason Staal had been forced to leave of the game -- he'd been struck in the leg by an opponent's skate.
Staal, who returned early in the third period, acknowledged a few days later that he initially feared he had a lost-time injury, which would have been his first in the NHL.
"That (New Jersey game), I got pretty lucky," he said.
Last night's game against Minnesota marked Staal's 234th consecutive appearance, the fifth-longest streak in franchise history. If he dresses for the game in Anaheim Tuesday night, he will tie Ron Stackhouse for fourth place on that list.
Staal owns the longest active streak on the Penguins; until a few days ago, that distinction belonged to Evgeni Malkin, who played in 254 games in a row before sitting out the Penguins' game in Columbus Friday because of a strained right shoulder that's expected to prevent him from playing for about two weeks.
Malkin owns the third-longest streak in franchise history, his run having been surpassed only by Ron Schock (313) and Nick Harbaruk (276).
Until Friday, Malkin had not missed a game since sitting out the first four in 2006-07, his rookie season, because of a left-shoulder injury sustained in a collision with teammate John LeClair during an exhibition game in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Staal, meanwhile, missed his only game as a pro during that same season, when he was scratched because of illness.
Staal's size -- he's 6 feet 4, 220 pounds and figures to continue growing for a while, since he turned 21 less than two months ago -- no doubt helps him to handle the rigors of his job, but he figures there might be other forces at work.
"Someone up there is looking out for me, I guess," he said.
And no, Staal didn't seem to be talking about Dr. Burke.
Anze Kopitar is the finest hockey player ever produced by Slovenia.
Which is a lot like being the finest downhill skier to come out of Cuba.
But Kopitar, a center with Los Angeles, is starting to be known for more than just the only guy from his homeland to reach the NHL.
Like spending most of the past week on top of the NHL scoring race, ahead of more prominent players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Malkin, although Ovechkin overtook him for the lead Thursday night.
But while Kopitar might not be all that well-known by casual fans, especially those in Eastern Conference cities, he's hardly a secret to the Penguins, who will have to try to contain him when they visit the Staples Center Thursday night.
That's particularly true of guys who used to play in the West, and saw more of Kopitar than a lot of the Penguins have.
"I got to see him a bunch of times when I was in St. Louis," defenseman Jay McKee said. "He can change a game in one shift. He has great hands, speed, everything."
Along with 10 goals and 11 assists in 14 games going into the Kings' game at Phoenix tomorrow night."He's a really talented player," said left winger Matt Cooke, formerly of Vancouver.
And, Cooke noted, part of a team with a bounty of gifted young players.
"That team is making strides, going in the right direction," he said. "(Kopitar) has been a dynamic player, but when you get a supporting cast and teams can't just put their top checkers against one line, it makes it easier for a guy like that to get points."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published November 1, 2009 4:00 AM