For Penguins' Tangradi, it's training camp all over again
Penguins' Eric Tangradi, left, works in the corner against New York Islanders' Josh Bailey, in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011.
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Everything about Eric Tangradi's game said he was ready for the NHL when the Penguins summoned him from their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre last week.
After all, he's big and strong, skates well, competes hard and has pretty fair hands.
Tangradi, though, really wasn't prepared when he got the call.
Something was missing.
Not from his work, but from his wardrobe.
"All I had was a suit, a pair of jeans and a couple of T-shirts," he said.
That was understandable, considering that he had just traveled to Penn State to visit his girlfriend after competing in the American Hockey League All-Star Game in Hershey.
His all-star break ended abruptly, though, when he got the call to join the Penguins, and having an empty closet in his hotel room here isn't a major concern at this point.
"I certainly wouldn't want to jinx it [by returning to Wilkes-Barre to pick up clothes]," Tangradi said. "I'm sure that if my family decides to come up, maybe they can stop and grab some things for me. But until then, I'm happy with what I have."
And he'll have a place here as long as the coaches are happy with what he gives them. Tangradi does not have a point in three games as the Penguins prepare to face Columbus at 7:08 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center, but that doesn't mean he hasn't contributed to the offense.
- Matchup: Columbus Blue Jackets at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Steve Mason for Blue Jackets.
- Penguins: Have won five consecutive home games, allowing a total of five goals in that time. ... D Kris Letang does not have goal in past 10 games. ... Coach Dan Bylsma's next victory will be his 100th in NHL.
- Blue Jackets: Are 5-2-2 in past nine games. ... Mason is on 8-4-1 run after going 1-4-1 in previous six decisions. ... Have not allowed goal in 13 consecutive short-handed situations.
- Hidden stat: Fleury has allowed two or fewer goals in 23 of his past 32 starts.
Witness the Penguins' winning goal in their 3-0 victory Wednesday against the New York Islanders, just hours after Tangradi was brought up. He used his 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame to obscure the view of New York goalie Rick DiPietro, giving Tyler Kennedy an opportunity to convert a rebound.
"The reason Tyler Kennedy scores that goal is because Eric Tangradi positions himself at the net," assistant coach Tony Granato said.
"[Having a presence near the net] is going to be something where he can make a mark, have an identity as being a guy who can control the front of the net. He has pretty good hands around the net, and those will get better."
Those hands helped Tangradi score 18 goals in 42 games with the Baby Penguins this season, despite picking up just three points in his first 12 AHL games after the Penguins demoted him in late October.
And while some in the organization have suggested that goal-scoring is no more than a secondary facet of Tangradi's game, Granato disagrees.
"I don't think he has to be, but he has it in him to be a solid goal-scorer," Granato said. "Nothing ridiculously off the charts, but a solid player who can get 20 or 25 goals in our league.
"That's a good goal-scorer. With his size, the way he goes to the net and the way he positions himself at the net, that's getting better and better."
Tangradi has proven his willingness to operate in high-traffic areas and clearly understands the connection between showing up there and on the score sheet.
"Getting into those gritty areas, the pucks are going to find my stick," he said. "It's my job to find the back of the net at that point. Scoring is something that's not a huge deal, but it's something I believe will come with the role I play."
He has top-six potential, but is filling more of a blue-collar niche at the moment. How well he adapts will probably determine whether it's days, weeks or months before he's reunited with his clothes in Wilkes-Barre.
"All I can do is play my game every day," Tangradi said. "I'm taking almost a training-camp approach -- bring my stuff every day, treat every day like my last, and whatever happens, happens."
Tangradi, who is in his second professional season, won't be 22 until Thursday. His lack of experience obviously is not a plus but can be offset somewhat by his energy and young legs.
At the very least, Granato said, Tangradi isn't doomed to go back to Wilkes-Barre solely because he has a two-way contract or because he doesn't have to go through waivers.
Points simply are too precious at this point of the season to allow such matters to outweigh productivity.
"If he can help us win, he will be in the lineup and on the ice," Granato said. "No doubt. We put the best possible lineup on the ice, and if he's one of our top 12 forwards who gives us the best chance to win, especially down the stretch, he'll be in there."
• Game: Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:08 p.m.
• Where: Consol Energy Center.
• TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
First Published February 8, 2011 12:00 am