Gonchar hurt in 1st period
Penguins' Petr Sykora can't get his stick on the puck as the Lightning's Jason Ward races down the ice in the second period of last night's preseason NHL hockey.
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A few months ago, the Penguins had a surplus of NHL-caliber defensemen.
If they keep losing them at the current pace, however, they might end up holding open auditions to fill jobs on their blue line before much longer.
Sergei Gonchar joined the list of injured defensemen early in the Penguins' 5-4 shootout loss to Tampa Bay in their exhibition opener at Mellon Arena last night, courtesy of a hit by former Penguins farmhand David Koci.
Gonchar, whose left shoulder appeared to take the brunt of Koci's check near the right-wing corner in the Penguins' zone, went to the bench and, after spending a few minutes there, adjourned to the locker room and did not return.
There was no immediate word on the precise nature or severity of his injury, although a separation is possible. Gonchar is expected to be evaluated today and might undergo a Magnetic Resonance Imaging examination early this week.
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, voicing a sentiment expressed by several teammates, said "the hit was a little late," but that seemed to be a minority opinion.
"Koci finished his check," coach Michel Therrien said. "He was a presence out there."
Gonchar is the Penguins' top defenseman -- "He's the leader on the back end," Orpik said -- and is the third player at his position the Penguins have lost of late.
Ryan Whitney is expected to be out until December because of foot surgery and Rob Scuderi hasn't skated since Wednesday because of a hip injury, although team officials say his problem does not appear to be serious.
If Gonchar is unable to play for an extended period, it likely will enhance the chances that Alex Goligoski will open the season in the NHL.
"It's tough, especially before the season, to have guys like [those] going down," Goligoski said. "Those are top-minute guys."
Management is convinced that Goligoski is ready to be a regular at this level, but he does not need to clear waivers to go to the American Hockey League and adding him to the payroll would nudge the Penguins closer to the NHL's salary-cap ceiling.
Not long after Gonchar left, Eric Godard, who has succeeded Georges Laraque as the Penguins' enforcer, had a spirited exchange of punches with Koci.
"Godard did a good job of sticking up for his teammate," Therrien said.
"That was a good sign from him."
Gonchar began the game in his customary role -- on the No. 1 pairing and the right point of the power play -- but several of his teammates were in niches they haven't usually filled in the past.
Jordan Staal, as expected, played left wing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora and opened the scoring 51 seconds into the game, beating Lightning goalie Karri Ramo with a wrist shot from the left dot.
Malkin, meanwhile, manned the left point on the No. 1 power play and killed penalties alongside Staal, while Sidney Crosby got extensive short-handed work in pairings with Pascal Dupuis and Miroslav Satan.
Crosby scored the Penguins' fourth goal while shorthanded, picking off a pass by Tampa Bay uber-rookie Steven Stamkos at the Penguins' blue line, then beating Ramo from the left side on a two-on-one break.
Staal, Crosby and Satan joined Malkin and Gonchar (and later Goligoski) on the top power play; the second group featured Janne Pesonen, Kris Beech and Petr Sykora up front, with Darryl Sydor and Goligoski (and later Ben Lovejoy) on the points.
Therrien also deployed a five-forward unit during a two-man advantage in the second period. Crosby and Malkin worked the points, while Satan, Staal and Petr Sykora were up front.
That group needed 33 seconds to manufacture a goal by Sykora, who added a five-on-four goal midway through the third period.
NOTES --- Janne Niskala, Wyatt Smith and Brandon Bochenski (two) got the Tampa Bay goals against Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 26 of 30 shots during regulation and overtime. ... Therrien got two broken ribs when forward Keven Veilleux fell into him during practice Thursday. ... The Penguins have sold out all single-game tickets for 10 of their 40 home dates. They have an average of about 500 left for each of the other 30. ... Attendance was 16,287.
First Published September 21, 2008 12:00 am