The Penguins started their NHL Olympic break after the game Friday night against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.
That meant they entered into a zone of divided loyalties.
Seven Penguins will represent four countries at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia — Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz for Canada, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik for the United States, Evgeni Malkin for Russia, and Olli Maatta and Jussi Jokinen for Finland — leaving the others behind to watch the games.
They have the option of rooting for their pro teammates with the Penguins or for their countries.
In addition Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is coaching Team USA, with Penguins assistant Tony Granato serving in the same capacity under Bylsma in Sochi.
The priorities of those staying behind seemed pretty clear.
“I hope Sid and [Malkin] lead the tournament in scoring and the U.S. wins the gold,” American defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “I hope they both get a medal, too. Just not gold. I hope the U.S. wins the gold.”
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who is Canadian, said his interest will differ depending on the matchup.
“We have no Czechs and no Swedes,” he said. “I guess if Russia or U.S. or Canada is playing them, that’s the way I’m going to [root]. I’m hoping Canada brings [gold] home, but I hope that a lot of our guys have success there.”
Center Brandon Sutter is from a widely known Canadian hockey family, and he didn’t have to give it much thought when it came to who he’s pulling for.
“You hope the guys you know do well, but, in terms who you’re cheering for, it’s definitely all about Canada,” he said. “I don’t need to see any of my teammates score any goals against Canada. They can score against anyone else, just not against Canada.”
Just because national pride trumps team affiliation, it doesn’t mean the Penguins are thrilled about rooting against teammates in some matchups.
“You’re with these guys all the time,” Niskanen said. “These are your closest friends in the league. I’m pulling for those guys. I really want them to do well on the big stage.
“It’s going to be a fun tournament to watch. But I just can’t cheer for somebody else besides the U.S. as far as the team thing goes.”
Injured forwards Beau Bennett, Joe Vitale and Chris Conner skated Friday before the game-skate skate. … The Rangers, who played Thursday night, did not have a game-day skate. … The Penguins’ healthy scratch was forward Chuck Kobasew. … Those Penguins not going to Sochi will resume practices Feb. 19.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.