Penguins Notebook: Team eager to stage another Garden party

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Penguins coach Dan Bylsma gathered his players at practice Wednesday for some prep talk going into the game tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

He mentioned some players to watch, such as defenseman Marc Staal and forwards Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards . He reminded them of the conditions at the famous multipurpose venue -- less than ideal lighting and ice and boards.

Throw in the fact that the Rangers lead the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with 62 points, have beaten the Penguins in the teams' two meetings this season and four times in a row overall, and it might give the impression the Penguins were dreading the trip.

Not so.

"It's fun -- MSG, with the history," winger James Neal said. "It's a tough building to play in. Obviously, it's old, and the lighting is not good and the boards and ice. It's still fun to play in.

"It will be a good game. The Rangers got us two times in a row, so we need to play a big game."

The Penguins are 10 points behind the Rangers but have won three consecutive games.

"We have a streak going here, and we don't want it to end," Neal said. "We've got to go in there and make a statement."

And do it in a place they enjoy playing in, at least on some level.

"I love Madison Square Garden," Bylsma said. "I think it's a great building. ... I don't think there is anyone that doesn't like playing in that building. Whether the lights are bright or not, it's one of those awesome venues. It has history -- and there's more to it than just the building."

Letang might play tonight

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang , out since Nov. 26 because of a concussion, could not keep a straight face when asked after practice whether he might return to the lineup tonight.

"That's a coaches' decision," he said. "I feel pretty good."

Bylsma confirmed that, even though the game-day skate Thursday in New York will be just Letang's third practice, he is close.

"There's a chance for Kris [tonight] and the remaining games going into the [All-Star] break," the coach said.

Crosby helps Armstrong

Toronto winger Colby Armstrong , speaking with reporters after practicing for the first time since he sustained a concussion last month, said he reached out to friend and former Penguins teammate Sidney Crosby for advice.

"Pretty much, he just said take it slow and listen to your body," Armstrong said. "Much the same as he's said the whole time. Just a little bit of text messaging [between us]."

Crosby is out because of recurring symptoms after missing nearly 11 months because of a concussion.

Armstrong talked about having at least one setback and about the tests he took.

"The first tests I passed in a while," he cracked. "It's like, shapes and crazy stuff. I did good ... It was weird. I drew a picture of a naked lady with my fingers."

Tip-ins

Center Evgeni Malkin was given a "maintenance day" off from practice. ... The Penguins are expected to be without forward Arron Asham for a second game in a row because of illness. ... The Wheeling Nailers, the Penguins' ECHL affiliate, are for sale. A move could prompt the Penguins to look at options. "We're hopeful that there's a local owner who would keep the team there," Penguins vice president Tom McMillan said, noting that "many of their fans are also Penguins fans." ... Richard Park was hit with a puck at point-blank range off a faceoff but remained in practice. Afterward, he had a bit of a cut and a large welt the size and shape of a puck on his right cheek. ... After a 3-0 win Tuesday against Nashville, Rangers owner James Dolan spoke with reporters for the first time in six seasons and said he likes the team's chances of winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994. "I think we're pretty close to getting that thing back," he said.



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