Penguins notebook: Brandon Saad gets 'real' action in hometown


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Brandon Saad got drafted into the NHL, hit double digits in goals in his rookie season, was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the top NHL rookie and brought the Stanley Cup to his hometown of Gibsonia.

All before he got to play a regular-season game at Consol Energy Center against his hometown team.

Saad, a winger who was drafted by Chicago in the second round in 2011, finally got to do that Sunday night when the Blackhawks played the Penguins.

"My draft year I played in a preseason game [here], but this is my first real taste," Saad said Sunday before the game. "It was fun back then, and it was just preseason."

Saad expected nearly 40 friends and family members to be in the stands.

The Blackhawks' road trip brought them to Pittsburgh late Friday night, and the team did not practice Saturday.

"It worked out well," Saad said. "We had the day off. I got to go home and see some family and friends and just relax."

He expected to be a little nervous at the start of the game, similar to what he experienced as a rookie NHL player a season ago.

"I'm feeling much more comfortable," he said. "Last year I had nerves first coming up and the team they had. The success we had, it made me much more comfortable and confident on the ice."

Saad had 10 goals, 27 points in 46 games last season. He entered the game Sunday with 19 goals, 44 points.

"He had a great start to his career last year," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "The consistency of his game was there. He's a big man. His strength with the puck, his play recognition offensively ... he played important minutes last year.

"This year he's been used in a lot of different ways, in different line combinations."

Saad also was on Team USA's radar for the Sochi Olympics.

"There's a lot about his game that's impressive -- his versatility as a player," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who as Team USA coach did a lot of scouting of Saad and others in the first half of this season.

"They've tried him a little bit at center this year, but I think he's a little more comfortable on the wing. ... Watching him again the [Blackhawks' previous] two games, the Ottawa and Boston games, it just reiterated what I saw earlier in the year with the speed. He's a big guy and plays with a lot of power. He can play on any line.

"He really, really came close to putting himself in the mix for Olympic consideration."

Crawford 'the guy'

Corey Crawford started in goal for Chicago, ending an unusual run for the Penguins, who faced opponents' backup goaltenders the previous five games.

Quenneville seems content that this season he has a clear No. 1 goaltender.

Ray Emery pushed Crawford last season before Crawford moved ahead in the postseason. Emery has moved on to Philadelphia.

"Going into this year, [Crawford] was the guy," Quenneville said. "He proved last year in the playoffs that he's capable of winning the Cup and handling big moments on big stages. He's been real steady for us all year."

Crawford started 17 of Chicago's previous 20 games and was making his 55th appearance.

Tip-ins

Penguins center Joe Vitale, who missed a sixth game in a row because of an undisclosed injury, worked out on the ice before the team's game-day skate, but it could be some time before he's ready to play. Bylsma described him as "week to week." ... The Penguins scratched defenseman Simon Despres. ... About 2,000 tickets for each of the Penguins' first two home playoff games will go on sale at 10 a.m. next Monday through www.ticketmaster.com and at Consol Energy Center box office. The Penguins clinched a playoff spot Friday.


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

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