Eric Tangradi did not have a point Wednesday in the Penguins' 3-0 win against the New York Islanders, but his presence in front of the net was a silent assist on Tyler Kennedy's power-play goal, and he generally had a solid game.
"I really felt like I belonged more than ever," said the 21-year-old power forward, who was summoned from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before the game by the injury-depleted Penguins.
Tangradi, a second-year pro, began the season with the Penguins.
He played on the second line alongside Evgeni Malkin before his game tapered and he tumbled down the depth chart. After nine games, he was sent to Wilkes-Barre.
That provoked a small crisis of confidence, and he had just three points in his first 12 games in the American Hockey League.
In his subsequent 30 games, he had 29 points and was tied for the team lead with 18 goals when he was recalled.
"I really feel like I'm playing the best hockey of my career right now," Tangradi said. "As far as confidence has gone, I think that's an issue that's in the past.
"I think I'm at a point I need to be successful. I'm very satisfied with the way I've been playing of late.
"I've always been told to get to the net and be strong, and I think I'm really finding the scoring touch around those areas."
Tangradi had an assist Monday in the American Hockey League All-Star Game and figured he would enjoy the rest of Wilkes-Barre's break when he got the call to rejoin the Penguins.
"My girlfriend goes to Penn State, so I was spending a couple days with her," he said. "I was sitting on the couch just looking to relax when I got the call to report to Pittsburgh.
"There's no other place I'd rather be, especially if I was just lying around."
He played primarily on the fourth line and the second power-play unit against the Islanders.
With Malkin expected to return from a five-game absence tonight against Buffalo at Consol Energy Center, Tangradi could find himself the odd man out or the man heading back to Wilkes-Barre at any time.
He is fine with whatever happens because he is convinced he will be confident and effective and riding a good learning curve.
"Mixing all those little pieces together to make the player I am now and in the future is where I'm at right now," he said.
The Penguins will be playing their third game in four nights after the all-star break, but the one tonight will be Buffalo's first since a 3-2 overtime win Jan. 25 against Ottawa.
"They're tough, but everybody has them," winger Matt Cooke said of the type of scrunched schedule the Penguins have.
"They're part of everybody's season. You know when they are, and you prepare for them.
"The minutes [of ice time] get spread out a little more, because it's hard to play guys a lot on those nights because you need them the next night and two nights later. It's one of those things where you don't really have a choice."
Neither do the Sabres.
"That might be even tougher, being off for 10 days," Cooke said.
Penguins winger Chris Conner is not assuming the Sabres will suffer because of the layoff.
"It all depends on how you look at it -- what side you're on," he said.
"They've been practicing, I'm sure, even though they haven't played games."
Forward Arron Asham (undisclosed injury) did not practice and remains day to day. ... Forward Mike Rupp and defensemen Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik were excused from practice, but coach Dan Bylsma said all three are expected to play tonight. ... Malkin made a point of wearing a Steelers toque while doing interviews.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com . First Published February 4, 2011 5:00 AM