Penguins Notebook: As weather turns cooler, practice tempo heats up
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The Penguins are glad something close to traditional hockey weather has arrived in Western Pennsylvania, and not just for nostalgic reasons.
During the unseasonably warm streak recently, the ice conditions and air temperatures at Mellon Arena were far from ideal.
"Last week, it was really demanding for our team to have long practices," coach Michel Therrien said yesterday. "We cut down the practices because it was so hot in the building with it so hot outside."
The team skated for more than an hour before flying to Toronto for the game tonight against the Maple Leafs. It found that cool and dreary weather outside the past couple days made things better inside.
"The ice was good. The temperature in the building was good," said, Therrien, whose team has started 1-2 and drew the coach's ire Wednesday for uninspired play in a 3-2 loss at home to Montreal.
"[Yesterday], they were sharp," Therrien said. "The execution was starting to get there. We're going to try to carry that into the game."
Laraque misses practice
Penguins winger Georges Laraque missed practice for the second consecutive day because of a groin problem and remains day-to-day.
Known primarily as an enforcer, Laraque has played a broader role -- crashing the net, picking up an assist, even spending a brief amount of time on the top line with Sidney Crosby -- although his time on the ice has been a modest 4:57 minutes per game.
"I'm very pleased with Georges," Therrien said. "He came from Phoenix [in a February trade] last year, and I didn't like his conditioning. When we sat down at the end of the year, I talked to Georges and made sure that we wanted him at a certain weight. He came in a lot better shape than he was last year, and he's playing the game really well.
"We don't want to use Georges only to be a [physical] presence. We want him to make plays. We want him to go to the net. We want him to finish his checks. He's in really good shape and he has a really good attitude."
What's their line?
Therrien is not the only one who plays musical chairs with his line combinations when things are not going the way he would like. After the Maple Leafs got smashed Tuesday by Carolina, 7-1, coach Paul Maurice juggled his lines Thursday night, and Toronto rebounded with an 8-1 laugher against the New York Islanders.
Toronto's lines Thursday were: Alex Steen moving to the top line with center Mats Sundin and Jason Blake, Nik Antropov centering John Pohl and Boyd Devereaux, Matt Stajan centering Darcy Tucker and Simon Gamache; and Kris Newbury centering Wade Belak and Chad Kilger.
Yesterday, two lines remained intact, with Pohl centering Belak and Newbury, and Kilger centering Devereaux and Antropov.
Double the celebration
In the blowout win, Sundin got to celebrate becoming the leading scorer in Maple Leafs history twice.
He was credited with a second-period assist on a Tomas Kaberle goal to give him 917 points with Toronto, surpassing former captain Darryl Sittler. There were ovations and a video tribute for Sundin, who raised his stick in acknowledgement -- knowing all along that he never touched the puck on the play.
"I had nowhere to go," he told The Toronto Star.
The assist was rescinded following that celebration, but Sundin scored in the third period to make the second celebration honest.
"He has established himself in the NHL for many years," Therrien said. "He's a tough guy to play against because he's got a lot of size and he's a quality player."
Penguins forward Jordan Staal, who has no points, was the first one on the ice for practice, a half hour before the scheduled start. He worked on his shot. ... Toronto winger Alexei Ponikarovsky (ankle) could return tonight.
First Published October 13, 2007 3:04 am