UNIONDALE. N.Y. -- John Curry didn't need to see the other players in training camp to realize that the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre could be a major force in the American Hockey League this season.
He had just to monitor the transactions in his morning newspaper during the offseason, and notice that free agents Ryan Craig, Brett Sterling, Andrew Hutchinson, Corey Potter and Steve Wagner were coming into the organization.
"I think a lot of guys looked at the signings over the summer and looked at the guys returning and realized definitely we had a deep roster," Curry said.
That depth helped the Baby Penguins to open the season with nine consecutive victories.
The surge carried them to the top of the AHL standings, where they remain as they prepare to face Hershey at Consol Energy Center tonight.
"We've had a lot of success," Curry said. "Probably success to begin a season that you wouldn't expect, no matter who you had."
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was 24-7 before a home game Wednesday night against Syracuse, and Curry believes the Baby Penguins can continue to improve.
"You're starting to see even more of our team chemistry, [as the Baby Penguins] develop into the team that ultimately we have to be to go far into the playoffs, or compete for a championship," he said.
Curry, by the way, could be in goal for the Baby Penguins tonight, because Brent Johnson, the Penguins' usual No. 2 goalie, is back on active duty after missing three games because of a groin injury and illness.
Johnson's return allowed the Penguins to assign Curry to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Wednesday.
The latest X-rays of Penguins center Jordan Staal's broken right hand are a picture of progress.
Whether he'll be able to play in the Winter Classic game Saturday against the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field still isn't clear, however.
"[The X-rays] showed a lot of good things, a lot of calcium," Staal said Wednesday. "And even that calcium started to look more like bone. The doctor had nothing but good things to say about it. He just basically said that everything looks good from his standpoint."
Still, Staal has to get approval from the coaching staff -- and from himself -- before he returns to real competition, which is why he remains noncommittal about the Capitals game New Year's Day.
"I don't know," he said. "It's tough when you're nervous about it. We'll see how it feels the next few days.
"I'll get some contact in practice. I haven't been hit in eight months.
"We'll see how that goes. If everything feels really well, maybe [I'll play Saturday]."
The mask Marc-Andre Fleury plans to wear in the Winter Classic will be an homage to former Penguins goalie Michel Dion.
It's not that Fleury was a fan of Dion's, or has any particular appreciation for what he did in his time in the NHL.
He just thought Dion had a nice mask.
"I was just looking online at old Penguins masks, and I just liked it," Fleury said.
He noted that Dion wore No. 29, just as he does.
Penguins forward Mike Comrie, who hasn't appeared in a game since Nov. 24, is expected to be out 3 to 4 months after having hip surgery.
The operation was performed by Marc Philippon -- who counts Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux among his previous patients -- in Vail, Colo.
Comrie, injured in the second game of the season, signed a one-year, $500,000 contract as a free agent Sept. 3.
Penguins right winger Eric Godard, whose nose was broken in a fight Sunday with Ottawa defenseman Matt Carkner, is a candidate to go on injured reserve, although it hasn't happened yet. General manager Ray Shero said Godard's injuries will not require surgery. ... The Islanders have attracted fewer than 10,000 fans eight times in 17 home dates.
Dave Molinari: email@example.com .