Penguins notebook: Players become fans when there's time

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Penguins’ focus is strictly on their opening-round series against Columbus.

Especially since the Blue Jackets had evened it, 1-1, going into Game 3 Monday night at Nationwide Arena.

Still, the Penguins aren’t oblivious to the other playoff series. Indeed, most seem to be keeping an eye on what’s going on elsewhere when they have a night off.

“This time of the year, it’s fun to just put the TV on and watch whatever game comes up,” forward Jussi Jokinen said. “There are so many good teams. This is the best time for fans, and even us, as hockey players, when we’re not playing to watch hockey.”

While the players seem to be monitoring everything that’s going on, at least in the series that don’t conflict with their sleep habits, a few series are getting particularly close scrutiny.

“The two I’ve probably enjoyed watching the most were Boston-Detroit and St. Louis-Chicago,” winger Beau Bennett said. “I know how hard those guys play each other. This time of year, playoff time, every game is fun to watch, but those two in particular are really awesome.”

The Philadelphia-New York Rangers matchup also is getting a good look, not only because of the fierce rivalry between those clubs, but because the Penguins will face the survivor in Round 2 if they’re able to get past the Blue Jackets.

“There’s definitely some interest there,” left winger Tanner Glass said.

Truth be told, though, if there’s a game on TV and the Penguins don’t happen to be working, there’s a good chance most of them will pull up a chair.

“I watch ’em all,” Glass said.

Bennett moves to first line

Bennett started Game 3 as the right winger on the No. 1 line, filling the void created Saturday when Brian Gibbons was injured early in Game 2.

Bennett, who had been playing on the third line, said Monday he didn’t expect the switch to affect how he goes about his job.

“I think they want me to play the same way, not really defer to the other guys,” he said. “Try to shoot when I have an open shot and play responsible defensively.

“The mindset has to be play the same way on the first that I would on the third.”

Bennett spoke of trying to adopt a “shoot-first mentality,” but that might not be as easy as it sounds.

Not only because he had moved alongside two guys, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who are proven scorers at this level, but also because he’s still feeling the effects of the wrist injury that had to be surgically repaired and forced him to miss much of the regular season.

“I don’t think my shot will be back to where it was for a while,” he said.

Bennett was quick to add, however, that his wrist is less of an issue than it was when he returned to the lineup earlier this month.

“I’m happy with it,” he said. “I’m not hurting every time I shoot, or whatnot. It is better than what it was.”

Close ties

Crosby and Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson have been close friends since their days as teenagers at Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota.

They also are ferocious competitors, which is why all interaction between them during this series is likely to be on the ice.

“We’ve played against each other in some major events [including the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game], so we know each other well enough to know that we don’t talk during these things,” Johnson said. “Afterward, we’ll take time to get together and catch up.”

While Johnson doesn’t hide that he enjoys being matched against Crosby, he also makes it clear that it’s nothing personal. Simply a chance to test himself against a quality opponent.

“I enjoy going up against any good player,” he said. “It’s a challenge. It’s where you want to be. It’s that time of year, when championships are won and legacies are left. It’s the best time of the year.”

Crosby has a similar attitude toward playing against his longtime friend.

“I think at this point, there are always matchups and little things within the game, but, to be honest, I’m not looking across [at who I am playing against] that often,” Crosby said. “I’m just trying to make sure that I go out there and create no matter who I play against.”

Tip-ins

With Gibbons out, the Penguins added winger Jayson Megna to the lineup and he played on the third line after sitting out Games 1 and 2. … Winger Chris Conner returned from a conditioning assignment in the American Hockey League and participated in the Penguins game-day skate, but he is still on injured reserve because of a foot injury. … The Penguins scratched defensemen Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo, and winger Taylor Pyatt. … Columbus was without defenseman Fedor Tyutin, who got an unspecified injury in Game 2, but veteran winger Nick Foligno made his series debut after dealing with an unspecified injury.


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

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