Penguins Notebook: Defensemen anything but soft


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You could describe the Penguins' defense corps as being on the smaller side, with Brooks Orpik the only bruising hit machine.

You could say their defense usually is more interested in thwarting an opponents' forecheck and getting the puck moving in other direction than it is in physically punishing the other team.

Just don't call that group soft in front of team captain Sidney Crosby.

"They're probably not the biggest, meanest group, but you know what? They play with a lot of guts, and that's what you need this time of year," he said Thursday before the Penguins met Ottawa at Mellon Arena in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.

The Penguins were tied for second among playoff teams with 163 hits going into last night, but that was mostly on the strength of forwards. The exception was Orpik, who had 18, which was twice as many as the next defenseman, Kris Letang.

"You look at [Orpik]. He obviously has that presence, being a real physical player," Crosby said.

"As far as guys being really mean, going out there and really looking for it, probably not.

"But, at the same time, they've shown a lot of guts in going back for pucks, being willing to take hits and playing well positionally -- and definitely making a hit when it's there to be made, but not necessarily looking for it."

The return of Fedotenko

Penguins winger Ruslan Fedotenko has a reputation for elevating his game in the playoffs, but did not get much of a chance to do it in the early part of the first round.

After dressing for Game 1 against Ottawa, Fedotenko spent the next three games in street clothes as a healthy scratch, but he got back into the lineup Thursday night when Tyler Kennedy was unable to play because of an apparent right leg/knee injury in Game 3.

Coach Dan Bylsma plugged Fedotenko into Kennedy's spot on the third line, alongside Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke.

"I see him being very similar to [Kennedy]," Bylsma said. "A little more of a physical presence, but a shooter and a guy who's going to be responsible defensively, but also a guy who can play in the offensive zone.

"Last year, Fedotenko did play on a line with Staal for nine games, and was effective on that unit, so we're looking for more of the same."

Fedotenko said he was feeling "a little bit" of extra pressure to produce because of his playoff history but did not seem to be carrying a serious grudge over being removed from the lineup.

"You're not happy, but it's a part of the business and you just need to deal with it," he said. "I was surprised, but it's up to the coaches.

"That's their job, to pick the lineup. There's nothing I can do about that. Just work hard and get ready when you have a chance."

The Penguins' other scratches were winger Eric Godard and defenseman Jordan Leopold (head injury).

Surprise! It's Leclaire

It came as something of a surprise when Ottawa coach Cory Clouston chose to start Pascal Leclaire in Game 5.

Leclaire started the season as the No. 1 goaltender, but, by the end of the regular season Clouston seemed to have a lot more confidence in Brian Elliott.

"Obviously, Brian struggled," Clouston said of Elliott, who was pulled in the second period of Game 4 after giving up four goals on 19 shots.

One option Clouston didn't explore for Game 5 was Mike Brodeur, who was impressive as an in-season injury call-up, going 3-0 with a shutout, a 1.00 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage.

"People brought up Brodeur, who played in the American [Hockey] League for us and who played well for us earlier, but people have to do their homework," Clouston said. "He was in and out of the lineup with injuries the last month and a half.

"He's had hip, back and groin problems."

The Senators made one other change, dressing winger Shean Donovan instead of winger Jonathan Cheechoo.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721. Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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