Sykora answers call for Penguins over and over

'It took me about two minutes to decide this is where I wanted to be.'

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It's a good thing for the Penguins that Renata Sykora needed her precious rest when her husband tried to jostle her at 4 a.m. Czech Republic time July 1.

"Do you want to go to Pittsburgh?" he asked her.

"Let me sleep, please!" she groaned.

Petr Sykora took that as a yes.

A definite yes.

"I went across the hall and called my agent," Sykora recalled yesterday. "I said, 'Let's do this. Let's go to Pittsburgh.' "

There's almost certainly no truth to the rumor that Ms. Sykora awoke the next morning and gave her man the business. "You said we're going where??? Pittsburgh???" But even if she did, she's over it by now. The move to the Penguins has been terrific for Petr Sykora.

For the local hockey club, too.

Is there any free agent from last summer who is giving his team better per-dollar value than Sykora?

You can argue that Sykora's two-year, $5 million deal is the best of the many moves by Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who has constructed himself quite a Stanley Cup contender.

"I had a couple of options, and this wasn't one of them," Sykora said. "Then, the call from the Penguins came July 1. It took me about two minutes to decide this is where I wanted to be. I said, 'Forget everything else. I'm coming to Pittsburgh.'"

After getting the missus' blessing, of course.

OK, sort of.

"It didn't matter to me what the deal was going to be in Pittsburgh," Sykora said. "I was coming. I knew this was a team on the way up."

That was a big part of it, sure.

Sykora played seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils, won the Cup with them in 2000 and knows what a championship-caliber club looks like.

But Sykora also had his selfish reasons.

"I need to play with a center who can see the ice and move the puck," he said. "I knew they had Sid and Geno here."

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

For whatever reasons, Sykora didn't really work as the right wing on Crosby's line early in the season. But he has been pure magic with Malkin and left winger Ryan Malone. That comes as no surprise, really. Sykora and Malkin played well on the same line with the Metallurg Magnitogorsk team in the Russian Super League during the NHL lockout in 2004-05.

But as good as Sykora was in the regular season -- 28 goals and 35 assists -- he's been even better in the playoffs.

This newspaper has taken to doing break-out stats after each playoff game on what it calls the Penguins' Fantastic Four -- Crosby, Malkin, Marian Hossa and Marc-Andre Fleury. The boss might want to consider adding Sykora to the mix. Sykora leads the Penguins with four goals in their five post-season games, all wins.

No. 4 was huge in Game 1 against the New York Rangers Friday night. It gave the Penguins a 4-3, third-period lead in what became a 5-4 win. Like Sykora's three goals against the Ottawa Senators in Round 1, this one came after a perfect set-up pass by Malkin. All Sykora had to do was tap the puck into goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's net.

Feel free to say Malkin did the heavy lifting, if you must.

But give Sykora credit for being in the right place at the right time.

While you're at it, give Sykora credit for finishing.

If Hossa ever starts finishing as well, the Penguins will be darn near unbeatable.

"I'm not powerful," Sykora said. "I don't score goals by going behind the net and beating three guys or beating the defenseman around the corner and crashing the net. I have to rely on my shot, on being smart, on reading the play before it happens so I can get in position to score.

"Geno relates well to my way of thinking and my style of play."

Like all big-time goal scorers, Sykora frets about the ones he misses more than he enjoys the ones he scores. He hit a post behind Lundqvist late in the second period Friday night when the Penguins were trailing, 3-2.

"I still don't know how that happened," Sykora said. "In practice, when I have that much time, I put it in the top corner three out of four times. I must have thought about that shot for two hours after the game before I went to sleep."

Here's hoping Sykora didn't keep the wife up.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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