Penguins Notebook: Hurricanes' Ward crosses goal off of list

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Goaltender Cam Ward was the toast of Consol Energy Center early Tuesday, and he didn't even start for the Carolina Hurricanes later in the evening against the Penguins.

"We were kind of joking that I should be on the power play," said Ward, who a night earlier became the 10th goaltender in NHL history to record -- or, in this case, be credited with -- a goal. He got an empty-netter in a 4-2 victory against New Jersey when Ilya Kovalchuk put the puck in his own net.

"It would have been a lot cooler if I actually shot the puck, but, hey, when you look down the road it will be kind of cool that you got yourself in the record book as scoring an NHL goal as a goaltender," Ward said.

"My teammates joke with me. They don't even think I could shoot it down the length of the ice. I've never tried because I have a fear of turning it over in the slot and into my empty net. Maybe in a two-goal-lead situation it would be cool to try it."

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has tried, and probably will continue to when a low-risk situation late in a game arises. He would even take one that came on a fluke rather than off of his stick.

"I think just to get one would be pretty fun," Fleury said. "I would take it, but I think it would still be better if I put it in myself so you can celebrate a little more."

Staal 'feeling old'

On the verge of playing his 400th NHL game when the Penguins faced the Hurricanes, Jordan Staal talked of it being a nice accomplishment, then added, "I feel old."

He probably shouldn't be. Staal played his first NHL game just days after his 18th birthday and, at 23 years, 108 days old became the seventh-youngest player since expansion to reach 400 games. The youngest was Bobby Carpenter of Washington, who played his 400th game in April 1986 at 22 years, 267 days.

"You do forget how young he is," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of his big, strong two-way center who entered the game with 13 goals, 19 points in 30 games and -- when not slowed by a few nagging problems, such as what was recently believed to be a groin injury -- has been a dominant player.

"He's still a very young man, but also a guy who right now has found a different level in how he plays the game, physically and what he does on the ice. He can dominate at both ends of the rink."

Staal is a strong penalty-killer and already has been a finalist for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the top defensive forward. What does he want for the next 400 games?

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "As a player I always want to get better. Offensively. Defensively. Everything.

"And the more [Stanley] Cups, the better."

New start

Things decidedly did not work out for winger Alexei Ponikarovsky when the Penguins acquired him from Toronto late in the 2009-10 season. He had two goals, nine points in 16 games and never seemed comfortable before leaving through free agency.

But he has been playing on Carolina's top line lately with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu as the Hurricanes seem to have started pulling out of a rough start that saw Kirk Muller replace Paul Maurice as coach. They were 3-1-2 in their previous six games.

"I've always been a player that worked hard and is trying my best," Ponikarovsky, 31, said. "Whatever I get right now is a bonus.

"We changed the system a little bit. Nobody likes to lose all the time, and guys are battling for every win."

Star voting

In the latest All-Star Game fan balloting, Penguins center Sidney Crosby is third among forwards, defenseman Kris Letang is third among defensemen and Fleury is third among goalies.

Crosby and Letang are out with concussions or symptoms of that head injury. Neither has practiced yet. It's unknown whether they might be available for the All-Star Game Jan. 29 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.

Other Penguins forwards in the voting are Evgeni Malkin , 10th; James Neal , 13th, and Staal, 20th.


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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