A few hours before the deadline for submitting the 23-man regular-season roster to the league office Wednesday afternoon, a Penguins executive suggested rather cryptically that simply because a player turned up on that list didn't guarantee he'd be around for the opener tonight against Philadelphia at Consol Energy Center.
A few hours later, the Penguins made a couple of personnel moves that seemed to reinforce that idea.
Left winger Eric Tangradi, who has been playing on the No. 2 line with Evgeni Malkin and Mike Comrie, was assigned to the Penguins' ECHL affiliate in Wheeling, while goalie Patrick Killeen was summoned from the Nailers to the Penguins.
Indications are that Tangradi will rejoin the Penguins today.
Goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson participated in Wednesday's practice and seemed fine afterward, which suggests there is no need for a third goalie. What's more, Killeen is no higher than fifth on the organizational depth chart.
Attempts to contact general manager Ray Shero for an explanation were unsuccessful. A team spokeswoman said no one from the team would be available to discuss the moves until today.
One club official covertly confirmed that Tangradi's demotion did not indicate any "red flags" had been raised about him.
Earlier, the Penguins trimmed their roster to 23 by returning defenseman Simon Despres to his junior team, placing forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel and defenseman Alex Grant on injured reserve and putting center Jordan Staal on the Injured-Non Roster list, for which he apparently qualified by not passing the initial training camp physical because of his infected foot.
The peculiar moves with Tangradi and Killeen somewhat overshadowed the fact that right winger Arron Asham, a former Flyer who was hurt Friday in Chicago, ended up on the 23-man roster, not injured reserve, after being examined again Wednesday afternoon. Asham's availability for the game tonight isn't known.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Despres, the first-round draft choice in 2009, "could play in the National Hockey League right now."
Despres, though, was sent back to Saint John, his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team.
There had been indications that the Penguins were considering keeping Despres around for nine regular-season games -- any more than that, and it would have triggered the first year of his entry-level contract -- because of his strong showing in training camp, but Bylsma said it was determined that Despres' long-term interests will be better served by having him back in junior.
"Given our opening-night roster and given the makeup of our defense, there's not a lot of minutes available for Simon," Bylsma said. "He's done a lot of good things, but making a mistake would create a situation where I'm not sure that was the best for Simon's development."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik and Staal will share the alternate captaincy held by Sergei Gonchar last season.
Bylsma said that one would wear the "A" at home and the other on the road after Staal returns from a foot infection, but did not elaborate.
Sidney Crosby is the Penguins' captain, and Evgeni Malkin is a full-time alternate.
The Flyers are hoping winger Nikolay Zherdev, a first-round draft choice in 2003 who never performed to expectations with Columbus and the New York Rangers, is a new man after spending the 2009-10 season playing in Russia.
At the very least, he has a new name.
The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Zherdev, who used to spell his first name with an "i," not a "y," at the end, made the switch because it is spelled "Nikolay" on his Ukrainian passport.
A problem arose when he tried to cash his first paycheck, which was made out to "Nikolai" and thus did not match the one on his passport, prompting team officials to adjust their records to mesh with the passport version.
Tonight's game will be the 167th consecutive sellout for the Penguins. Seating capacity in Consol Energy Center is 18,087, and more than 100 standing-room tickets are scheduled to be sold. ... Bylsma said there is a "50-50 chance" he will send out a line that was not used during the preseason for the start of the game tonight.
Dave Molinari: email@example.com .