Penguins: Let the battles for jobs begin
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby on training camp: "I would expect it to be pretty intense. With the jobs on the line and things like that, it's going to be competitive."
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The Penguins reported to Consol Energy Center for the first time Friday and could not help but notice some key words management hopes will serve as a long-term foundation.
"Passion," "Accountability" and "Work Ethic" were emblazoned on a façade above the locker stalls and on the backs of the black T-shirts the players wore for physicals and testing.
In the near term, there will be another buzz word: competition.
From the moment they take the ice today for the start of training camp through the regular-season opener Oct. 7 -- and possibly beyond, considering key center Jordan Staal still will be out because of a foot infection -- there will be positions open and jobs dangled.
"Competition gets guys to play their best," said Brett Sterling, a 26-year-old winger who has played 19 NHL games and signed a two-way free-agent contract in July. "That's why I came in here. I know there's a lot of opportunity here, and there's a lot of great players.
"Unfortunately, not everybody can make the team, but we're really going to be pushing each other, and Pittsburgh's going to have a great team this year."
Some, such as Sterling and other signees and top prospects, will be doing the pushing. Others, including some who spent last season with the Penguins, will find themselves pushing back or losing ground.
"That's what training camp is all about, right, fighting for spots? I think everyone's excited for the challenge," said winger Tyler Kennedy, who has been a regular on the third line but backslid some last season with 13 goals, 25 points.
"I think I come every year trying to make the team and do the best I can."
This could well be the most competitive camp since the Penguins' core skaters were too young to drink legally and the club was rounding into a playoff contender.
No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and top-line center and captain Sidney Crosby might be the only players whose jobs and/or spots in the lineup are settled and secure.
Gone from the top two lines are wingers Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko, who were not pursued by the Penguins in free agency. Signees Mike Comrie and Arron Asham will be looking for prominent spots in the lineup.
Broken up, possibly, is the third line, if Staal moves up to the second line with Evgeni Malkin on his wing. That could open a third-line center spot that had been relatively untouchable because of Staal's strong two-way play.
Some of the 12 forwards, not counting Staal, who are on one-way NHL contracts could be nosed out of the lineup or down the depth chart by the likes of Sterling, Chris Conner, Ryan Craig or prospects Eric Tangradi, Dustin Jeffrey, Mark Letestu, Tim Wallace or Nick Johnson.
"You don't have that much time in camp," said Crosby, who shared the Rocket Richard Trophy for goals last season with 51. "I would expect it to be pretty intense. With the jobs on the line and things like that, it's going to be competitive."
That's goes for the defensemen to some extent, too.
The Penguins seem settled on their top five -- Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski and free-agent signees Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek -- but even among that group ice time and special-teams assignments could be won or lost.
Someone will need to commandeer the sixth regular spot and top reserve spot on defense.
"The management and staff are going to find the best players. Hopefully, that's me or someone in camp," said Ben Lovejoy, who is considered the frontrunner for the sixth spot and was keyed up enough to come to Pittsburgh a month early to prepare for camp.
"You always know that if you don't come in and perform to the level that they want, they can go out and find someone else. While there are spots available, we really need to grab them."
Defensemen who could push to make the club out of training camp include signees Corey Potter and Andrew Hutchinson and prospects Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep, Simon Despres, Steve Wagner and Deryk Engelland, who is considered the early favorite for the seventh spot.
"Definitely the biggest year of my career," Engelland said. "There's a lot of guys for two spots. That makes it more interesting and more fun. With the competition, you've really got to push yourself and come in and not have a bad day."
First Published September 18, 2010 12:16 am