The Penguins game against the New York Rangers tonight could be like the last day of school — the players fidgety to start their vacations or, for several Penguins players and coaches, head to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“We have guys here who are going to the Olympics, and I’m sure it’s in the back of their minds,” Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said Thursday. “I’m sure it’s impossible to completely put it out [of their thoughts], but I haven’t noticed anything that’s taken away from their focus as to what they’re doing here.”
To help corral that focus, the Penguins set up the final 10 games leading up to the NHL’s Olympic break as a subset of the season and outlined several goals for the segment.
One of them was getting to 40 wins for the season. They did that Wednesday with a 5-1victory at Buffalo.
“Our focus has been the last 10 games” before the break, coach Dan Bylsma said. “There are people on both sides of this ledger, who are going on vacation or going to the Olympics.”
Bylsma, coach of Team USA, is one of those headed to Sochi this weekend.
“I can’t lie to you and say that I haven’t given some focus to Saturday and Sunday and beyond,” Bylsma said, but he added that he believes his club will be focused on “black-and-gold” loyalties tonight.
The Penguins still aren’t sure what is causing defenseman Kris Letang to feel ill. They continue to await test results.
“There will be no update on Kris Letang until we have further information on his condition,” Bylsma said.
Letang has missed the past four games.
Meanwhile, top-line right winger Pascal Dupuis is working out ahead of scheduled surgery Wednesday for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Before the Penguins held an optional practice at Consol Energy Center, Dupuis worked his way around the lower bowl, climbing the steps in each section, stopping to tap the glass at the bottom of each set of steps.
Bylsma said that’s part of an overall plan for Dupuis, who was injured Dec. 23 at Ottawa.
“There’s a healing process that needed to take place before the surgery,” Bylsma said. “In the meantime, he’s worked out significantly harder than myself in the past three weeks — strengthening and working on his knee. He’s [at the arena] pretty much every day rehabbing and strengthening leading up to the surgery.”
While Dupuis was working the steps, injured forwards Beau Bennett, Joe Vitale and Chris Conner worked out on the ice with conditioning coach Mike Kadar.
None of the seven Olympians were among the eight players who participated in the optional practice. The eight were: Scuderi and fellow defenseman Deryk Engelland; forwards Chuck Kobasew, Craig Adams, Harry Zolnierczyk, Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna; and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.
Bylsma salutes Hurdle
Bylsma was looking forward to attending the Dapper Dan banquet Thursday night, in particular because Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was being honored as Sportsman of the Year after leading them to not only a winning record but also the playoffs.
“To me, there was no other person to give it to than Clint,” Bylsma said. “As a mentor, coach, the job he’s done not just last year but since he’s come to Pittsburgh, has been one of the best in sports.
“I had a conversation with Clint that sticks vividly in my mind when he came to Pittsburgh, why he came to Pittsburgh. Getting the baseball team here, the Pirates, back in touch with the city and playing that way, he had a vision for it. It didn’t take three years for him to be able to do that. It wasn’t just this year. That’s exactly what he’s done as a manager, as a coach of that team.”
Hurdle has attended several Penguins games and visited with the coaching staff and players over the past few years.
A minor trade
The Penguins made a minor-league trade, acquiring forward Spencer Machacek from Columbus in exchange for forward Paul Thompson.
Machacek, 25, has played in 25 NHL games with Atlanta/Winnipeg, getting two goals, seven assists. With Springfield of the American Hockey League this season, he had nine goals, 10 assists in 34 games. He will be assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.
Thompson, 25, had four goals, three assists in 39 games for Wilkes-Barre. He signed with the Penguins as a free agent after spending his college career at New Hampshire.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.