Penguins' Metropolitan Division rivals huge flops so far

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At 11-4, the Penguin are the class of the Eastern Conference, not to mention the Metropolitan Division.

The other seven teams in the division were a combined 35-53-10 before Tuesday, and only the New York Islanders were above .500, barely, at 6-5-3.

“I am surprised to see the teams in the division not with a positive record at this point,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday after practice at Southpointe.

“I didn’t expect to see that with a number of them. We are at the 15-game mark, so we’re a little bit into the season.”

The Penguins’ Metropolitan Division opponent tonight, the New York Rangers, might have a passable reason for a slow start. Because of renovations to Madison Square Garden, they played their preseason games and their first nine regular-season games on the road and didn’t play at home until Oct. 28. They started 2-6-1 on the road, including four games in California and Arizona.

“I’m not sure who came up with that schedule,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “That and training camp, I think it was something crazy like five weeks they were on the road. That will take its toll on anybody, especially when you’re changing time zones. That fatigue catches up to you.”

Penguins center Sidney Crosby figures things could even out for the Rangers, who still will end up playing 41 home games just like every other team.

“That’s a tough position to start in. The good thing is that you’re going to get those home games back eventually,” he said. “So you get it out of the way and maybe in the harder part of the season [down the stretch], when things start to get tough, that’s the time of year when playing at home can be used to your advantage.”

Bylsma attributes some of the poor records in the Metropolitan Division to interconference play. Western teams, going into Tuesday, were 63-26-9 against the East.

“It’s pretty amazing the record they’ve had against the East,” Bylsma said. “In some cases, that’s largely the reason for the record in our division.”

Injury updates

Top-line left winger Chris Kunitz missed practice for a second day in a row. Bylsma said Kunitz is “probable” to play tonight.

Although the vibe Monday around injured winger Beau Bennett leaned toward pessimism that he would return tonight, he was more upbeat Tuesday after his second day in a row of practice. He was expected to join the Penguins on their flight to New York.

“I felt good. I felt similar strength-wise [both days at practice],” he said. “Getting back that hockey soreness, it feels good. It was a tough practice [Monday].

“I’m looking forward to going on this trip and being out there for the pregame skate and getting used to the game-day again.”

He stopped short of saying he would be ready to play tonight.

“It’s so day by day to see how I feel every day in the morning,” said Bennett, who has missed the past 10 games because of an unspecified injury.

“I’d love to play, but I know that a couple of days’ extra rest won’t hurt. I’m just going to see what happens.”

He noted that the Penguins don’t play again after tonight until a Saturday night game at St. Louis, and that the schedule gets more crowded later in November, with 11 games over the final 18 days of the month. He indicated that he wants to make sure he’s healed and sound before that stretch.

It helped, he said, that he had rigorous on-ice workouts with strength coach Mike Kadar.

“We get tested pretty hard with Kadar before we’re even allowed to practice,” Bennett said. “So, if you get through a Kadar skate, more than likely you can get through a practice.”

Injured right winger James Neal skated separately from practice again but is considered to be some ways off from playing.

Bylsma likes the Garden

Count Bylsma among the fans of Madison Square Garden.

“Madison Square Garden is one of the most memorable buildings to play in,” he said. “As a player, I marked it on the calendar and remembered that as much as some of the other great old buildings. There is something about the greatest venue on earth, the greatest building on earth, as it’s dubbed.

“Behind the scenes, underneath, the ice — I’m not sure that was always aptly named [as the greatest] — but certainly going in there and playing in that building, it’s memorable every time you go in there. I’m anxious to see it. I’m interested to see what the renovations to the building look like.”


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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