Division games dominate upcoming slate for Penguins

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK

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TORONTO -- Only four of the Penguins' first 11 opponents have been from the Metropolitan Division. They played the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday of the Atlantic Division.

Now they are looking at a heavy dose of division games over the next four weeks.

Beginning with a matchup Monday at Carolina, four of their next five games, six of eight and eight of 12 are against fellow Metropolitan Divisions clubs.

That's fine with them.

"When you're playing in the division, you tend to maybe have a little more bite to your game, with some history and seeing those guys a lot," Penguins center Joe Vitale said.

Four of the 12 division games in the coming stretch are against teams that weren't in the same division as the Penguins before the NHL realignment that took effect this season.

That includes a home-and-home series next weekend against Columbus and a chance to develop the makings of a rivalry with the Blue Jackets, who previously were in the Western Conference.

"Sure. You have that opportunity every time you play a team you're not really familiar with," Vitale said. "I like it because you don't really see a lot of these players very often, so it gives you a fresh start to establish yourself -- hey, this is my game. This is what I bring. It's kind of a cool thing."

The Penguins also will have a chance to open a bigger edge in the division, which they led by three points going into Saturday over the second-place New York Islanders and Carolina.

"It's always nice to play divisional games because if you're going to make headway in the standings, these are the teams you've got to play well against," winger Tanner Glass said.

Glass welcomes a sense of familiarity. Last season, his first with the Penguins, featured no inter-conference games because of a lockout.

"Last year was such a funny year," Glass said. "You're playing every second night, and sometimes you forget who you're playing. You're just out there playing."

Young roster retainees

Olli Maatta of the Penguins isn't the only defensive teenager to play his way onto an NHL roster this season.

Toronto opted to keep Morgan Rielly rather than returning him to Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League.

Rielly appeared in his ninth game in Toronto's 5-2 loss Friday night at Columbus and his 10th in the game Saturday against the Penguins.

Once a player dresses for his 10th game, the first year of his entry-level contract takes effect.

Rielly, 19, was the fifth player chosen in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins claimed Maatta with the 22nd choice in the first round then.

Goaltending wish list

Phoenix's Mike Smith became the 11th goalie in NHL history to score a goal eight days ago when he launched a rink-long shot and put a puck into Detroit's net in what became a 5-2 Coyotes victory against Detroit.

Scoring seems to turn up on the wish list of a lot of goalies -- the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury has taken a few shots late with his team up by a couple of goals and has said he would like to score one sometime -- but Penguins backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff said it is not on his list.

"Not really," said Zatkoff, who has played in two games this season, his first two in the NHL.

"I figure that if I score a goal, maybe it will be because I'm the last one to touch it [before] they shoot it into their own empty net."

Smith handles the puck better than most goaltenders. The ones who have that ability, from Martin Brodeur to Ron Hextall, obviously are the most likely to accurately launch a shot from one end of the ice to the other.

"I don't think many goalies can play the puck like [Smith]," Zatkoff said. "He catches it, drops it and snaps it right away. Not only hard, but high. He's known for being able to play the puck well, and that showed it."

Scratches

The Penguins' healthy scratches were wingers Dustin Jeffrey and Jayson Megna, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. Dave Molinari contributed to this report.


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