Armstrong trying to get back on the ice
Maxime Talbot slides past the net as the puck sails over the pads of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the first period Saturday night. Talbot's goal was his fifth of the season. (vs. Rangers 11/17/07)
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Miserable as November has been for Colby Armstrong so far, it could have been worse.
At least no one has tried to scapegoat him for the Penguins' 2-6-1 record this month.
Not necessarily because it wouldn't be fair, but because it's tough to blame a guy for something with which he has had so very little to do.
Armstrong, you see, has been a healthy scratch for six of the Penguins' past eight games, most recently their 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena Saturday.
It is, by his recollection, the most he has ever been held out of his team's lineup.
"It is tough to do, for sure," he said. "It's a new position for me to be in."
Whether coach Michel Therrien will put Armstrong back in uniform for the Penguins' game against New Jersey at 7:38 p.m. Wednesday at Mellon Arena remains to be seen, but general manager Ray Shero is adamant that management hasn't lost faith in him.
"I talked to him the other day," said Shero, who gives Therrien and his assistants the final say on lineup decisions. "I really like Colby as a kid, and as a player. ... What Colby has is character. What Colby is probably lacking right now is confidence.
- Who: Penguins vs. Devils.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
- Where: Mellon Arena.
- TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
"You could see that in his game earlier. Colby was a big part of this team last year. At some point, he's going to get back in the lineup."
Armstrong has one point, a goal, in 14 games. He has been credited with 16 hits, seven of which came during a 4-2 loss to the Rangers Nov. 8 at Madison Square Garden.
That effort came after he sat out three games. Armstrong also dressed for the next one, a 5-2 loss in Philadelphia, but has not played since.
The coaching staff, he said, has told him that he has "to play more physical. Get back to my old game, play more in-your-face."
Armstrong is most effective when he gets physically involved. While it is an asset for the Penguins to have him playing that way, there is a danger that when he finally gets back into the lineup, Armstrong's pent-up energy will not be channeled properly.
That could lead to bad decisions, or worse penalties. The kinds of things that easily could get him exiled to the weight room during games again.
"When I get in there, I definitely have to control myself, play within myself," he said.
While it doesn't qualify as a trend -- not yet, anyway -- Armstrong is off to a forgettable start for the second season in a row. In fact, with one goal in 14 games, he's white-hot compared to a year ago.
In 2006-07, Armstrong didn't get his first goal until Game No. 23, despite opening the season alongside Sidney Crosby on the No. 1 line.
"What I told him is that this is really not unlike his start last year," Shero said. "The only difference is, he's out of the lineup this year."
That does not mean, he added, that Armstrong is free of his obligations.
"We're a 23-man roster right now, and everyone has to contribute," Shero said. "When you're in, you have to contribute. If you're not, you have to contribute in a positive way and push people and make people better."
Armstrong is extremely popular with his co-workers -- partly because of his personality, partly because he is such a committed team guy -- and has not allowed his situation to shift his focus from what is happening on the ice.
Two days after the Penguins snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory against the New York Islanders Thursday, Armstrong spoke of what a "big win" it had been, and how "that definitely makes it more fun to come to the rink."
A player can become something of an outsider when he isn't playing, whether it's because of an injury or a coaching decision, but Armstrong has made an effort to maintain his usual upbeat and outgoing presence in the locker room.
"It's tough," he said. "But as much as it [stinks] to not play, I still have to come to the rink and work hard in practice and do all those little things, and be the same guy I am in the dressing room."
What Armstrong really wants, though, is to be the same guy on the ice he was in the past. Or better.
"It's just a matter of time before I get back, get that chance," he said. "I just have to make the most of it."
"It's just a matter of time before I get back, get that chance. I just have to make the most of it."
-- Colby Armstrong, Penguins forward who has been a healthy scratch in six of the past eight games.
First Published November 19, 2007 12:00 am