Finally, opener to call their own

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The Penguins got the day off Monday, even though the first several hours of it were spent on a plane. It would be tough to argue with getting a chance to rest, given the start to their 2011-12 season.

Consider:

• The team left last Tuesday, spent five nights in western Canadian hotels and one flying home from Edmonton.

• There were four flights, from less than an hour to several hours, three of them involving time zone changes of one, two or three hours.

• Their three opponents ranged from a Stanley Cup finalist to a last-place team.

• Three nights out of four, the club patiently sat through opening-game ceremonies for the other team before play began.

All that, and the Penguins still managed two wins and a shootout loss, arriving back in Pittsburgh with five of a possible six points going into tonight's home opener against Florida.

"I've done this trip a few times. I don't think I've ever gotten five of six," Penguins winger James Neal, formerly of Dallas in the Western Conference, said late Sunday night in the visiting locker room at Rexall Place in Edmonton. He had a goal and an assist on the trip.


Scouting report
  • Matchup: Penguins vs. Florida Panthers, 7:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
  • TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jose Theodore for Panthers.
  • Penguins: Coming off 2-0-1 road trip. ??? Are 7-1 past two seasons vs. Florida. ... C Joe Vitale is 25-17 in faceoffs, 59.5 percent.
  • Canucks: Shut out Islanders, 2-0, Saturday in opener. ... 0-2-3 in past five games in Pittsburgh. ... Between shots, missed shots and shots blocked, launched 65 pucks toward net vs. Islanders.
  • Hidden stat: Penguins D Kris Letang had or shared lead in NHL in points (5), assists (4), shots (10), blocked shots (7), takeaways (5) before Monday???s games.

"It's definitely a good road trip, a good trip to start off with," Neal said. "We did a good job, but [there's] a lot of room for improvement."

Any sourness stemmed from a 2-1 shootout loss to Edmonton to end the trip Sunday. The Oilers were coming off back-to-back last-place finishes in the NHL.

But that game came without top centers Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (unspecified minor injury). It came a night after a 5-3 win at Calgary and three nights after a 4-3 win at Vancouver.

"Especially with the schedule, three in four, and the travel, I thought we played well," said winger Tyler Kennedy, who had a goal and an assist over three games. "It's something to build on, for sure."

The Penguins usually make the trip to play those three western Canadian teams every other season, although that could change with upcoming realignment now that Winnipeg is back in the NHL. The league could opt to have each team play in every other city at least once a season.

Regardless of circumstance, a 2-0-1 mark on these trips is always a success. The added twist this time was that at each stop, the opponent was playing its first game of 2011-12.

"It's a pretty good trip, especially since we had to face teams in their opening game," said defenseman Kris Letang, who had a monster trip with a goal, four assists and an average of more than 27 minutes a game.

"Guys are always pumped when they play their first game in their building."

Tonight, it will be the Penguins' turn, with a ceremony scheduled before the 7:38 p.m. game at Consol Energy Center.

Out west, the Penguins spent a little extra time in their locker room and a little extra time on their bench during a range of events, extending the usual time between the pregame warm-up skate and the opening faceoff.

"It's a little bit long sometimes," said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who went 2-0. "You've got to just stand there. You're just waiting. I think everybody's excited to go on the ice. Everybody keeps stretching."

At each of the three cities, there were video retrospectives, blaring music and player introductions. The Oilers skated out through an oil derrick. Calgary had a laser show.

Vancouver had the longest and most elaborate show. The Canucks are coming off a first-place finish in the regular-season standings, a trip to the Stanley Cup final and a summer in which players picked up various NHL awards.

The Canucks also devoted a fair amount of time addressing riots that broke out in Vancouver after a Game 7 loss to Boston in the Cup final and honoring heroes who helped break things up and clean up afterward.

All the celebrations were tasteful and got the crowds involved.

"It's a little bit different going out for that," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "The building's amped up. The opposition's a little amped up. It's a little bit helter-skelter, and there's a lot of nervous energy in the building.

"I certainly like five out of six [points]. I like getting some wins in some tough places on a road trip. A lot of guys got taxed.

"We're getting ready for our home opener now."




NOTES -- Fans are asked to be in their seats by 7:20 for the ceremony. ... The Jack Adams Award trophy, won by Bylsma as the 2010-11 coach of the year, will be on display in the Consol Energy Center concourse.


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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