On the Penguins: Ice still a work in progress at Consol Energy Center

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It is, like so many things associated with the Penguins this season, a work in progress.

And, also like so many of those things, it is getting better.

The quality of the ice at Consol Energy Center has been a frequent topic of discussion -- none of it flattering -- since the earliest days of training camp, but the consensus among players is that it's improving, in part because of a recent visit by Dan Craig, the NHL's guru for all things ice.

"It was time well spent," general manager Ray Shero said.

Certainly, the reviews from the guys who earn their livings on it are getting better, although they're hardly raves at this point.

"At the start of the year, it was pretty tough," defenseman Alex Goligoski said a few days ago. "But I'd say it's pretty much normal now. I'm not sure exactly when [it began to improve], but it definitely seems to have gotten better."

Shero said arena staffers are "working hard at it" and paying close attention to everything from the temperature of the ice -- "It has to be 21-22 degrees" -- to how it is resurfaced to air flow in the building.

"You're trying to find the right balance," he said.

The playing surface has been removed twice this fall because of non-hockey events in the building.

Mother Nature wouldn't be only one crying

Looking for a worst-case scenario for the Winter Classic between the Penguins and Washington Jan. 1 at Heinz Field?

Worse, even, than a five-goal game by Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin would be for the Penguins?

Try this: A rainstorm.

While things like wind and snow could seriously affect the quality of play, rain could make the rink unplayable, and quite possibly lead to the game being postponed.

League officials say privately that rain is probably their greatest worry, and they've taken at least one precaution in case rain -- or any other issue -- makes it impossible to stage the game on New Year's Day: They've reserved Heinz Field for Jan. 2, as well.

If the Penguins-Capitals game couldn't be played on either of those days, it apparently would be rescheduled for Consol Energy Center at a still-undetermined date.

The "rainout" date not only would have to fit into both teams' schedules, but it would have to take the availability of Consol Energy Center into consideration.

It began like any other night ...

Former Penguins forward Eric Meloche is going into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Well, his signed Straubing Tigers sweater is, anyway.

Meloche scored the deciding goal in what the International Ice Hockey Federation has deemed to be the longest shootout in top-level hockey history when he beat EHC Munich goalie Sebastien Elwing in the 21st round during a Deutsche Eishockey Liga game a week ago.

Straubing actually didn't clinch its 5-4 victory until, in the wake of Meloche's goal, ex-San Jose goalie Dimitri Patzold denied Stephane Julien of Munich.

The Hall of Fame asked Meloche, son of Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, to autograph the sweater he was wearing and pass it along, and he agreed.

Forty-two shots were taken during the Straubing-Munich shootout; Meloche was one of only seven shooters to get a goal.

A Ruff perspective on time

There have been 156 coaching changes in the NHL since Lindy Ruff, pictured at right, was hired to run Buffalo's bench July 21, 1997.

Roughly half of them have been made by the Penguins.

OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but consider this:

When Ruff took over, Kevin Constantine was a few months away from making his debut as coach. Since Constantine was fired Dec. 9, 1999, they have been led by Herb Brooks, Ivan Hlinka, Rick Kehoe, Eddie Olczyk, Michel Therrien and Dan Bylsma.


Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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