Penguins notebook: Crosby says longer holiday break is a relief



OTTAWA — As part of the latest collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and its players, the league will shut down over Christmas for three days rather than two, as before.

League and team activities are prohibited for today, Wednesday and Thursday.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby said the longer break dovetails nicely with the condensed schedule that goes with an Olympic year.

“It’s been busy,” said Crosby, who sat out Sunday’s practice but played Monday night against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.

“This month especially, you start to feel it a little bit more. You just try to use your days off and rest when you can, but it’s a lot of hockey. Probably even more mentally than physically, you just have to make sure that you get away from the rink for a day and then get back at it.”

One extra day for the Christmas break makes a difference, Crosby said.

“When you talk about guys going home or [wherever], that’s one whole day where you don’t have to travel and you get to rest,” he said. “Before, you had two days, but you were traveling for one, pretty much. It’s nice to get that extra day, especially this time of year. I think we can all appreciate that and be with our families.”

A sight for sore eyes

The Penguins could get a player or three back from injury Friday at Carolina.

Winger Tanner Glass (hand) was close enough to be a game-time decision Monday night against the Senators but missed his 15th game in a row.

Defensemen Rob Scuderi (ankle) and Brooks Orpik (concussion), like Glass, are practicing and appear to be close to returning.

Center Evgeni Malkin (leg) has not practiced but is skating. Coach Dan Bylsma pointed out that Malkin’s recovery evaluation will essentially go on hold during the break, but he added that Malkin is getting better, has had no setbacks and is expected to skate Friday.

Spezza at the helm

Jason Spezza was 17 when Daniel Alfredsson became Ottawa’s captain. It was a 13-year reign. With Alfredsson now in Detroit, Spezza has inherited the “C.” The transition hasn’t been seamless.

“You try not to change, but it’s been a bit of a trying start for us,” Spezza said, referencing Ottawa’s 15-17-7 record. “It’s been a change by the fact that we’ve been trying to search for answers. It probably hasn’t been as smooth an adjustment as we would have liked. We feel like we’re underachieving.

“For me, it’s a matter of trying to keep guys positive, staying motivated and sticking to what we’re doing. It’s been a challenge, for sure, especially with the start we’ve had. As a captain, you prefer to win games, but when things go bad you have to be there to be strong and try to get us pushed in the right direction. It’s vocal and actions — you try to work hard in practice, try to be crisp.”

New emphasis on scoring

Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen’s role has escalated in the absence of the team’s top four defensemen, and he had a goal in each of the two games leading into Monday.

That has spawned a new nickname for him, an alternate pronunciation of his last name: “Nis-Cannon.”

“I’m fine with it,” Niskanen (NISS-ka-nen) said.

He and his family have heard “Nis-Cannon” before, but not in this way.

“Telemarketers or whoever used to call the house all the time and ask for my dad as Charles Nis-Cannon,” he said. “At kids’ tournaments, they called me that, but nobody made the joke like that. They just mispronounced it.”

Tip-ins

Crosby was named the NHL’s No. 2 star of the week. He had two goals, six assists in four games, all wins, last week as his points streak reached 10 games. St. Louis winger Chris Stewart was the No. 1 star, and Colorado center Matt Duchesne was the No. 3 star. … The Penguins’ only healthy scratch was forward Brian Gibbons. … Defenseman Deryk Engelland served the final game of a five-game suspension. … Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner left his team’s game-day skate early because of illness but was able to serve as Craig Anderson’s backup.


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

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