Penguins Notebook: Gonchar faces opening night jitters
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TORONTO -- It was Valentine's Day for most of the people at the Air Canada Centre last night.
Not for Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, though.
For him, it was opening night.
Gonchar, who sat out the Penguins' first 56 games while recovering from surgery to repair the dislocated left shoulder he got in the preseason opener in September, made his 2008-09 debut when the Penguins faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. And he expected to experience many of the feelings his teammates went through when the season began about 5Â 1/2 months ago.
"I'm sure that when I'm on the bench, I'll be nervous," Gonchar said.
Gonchar reiterated he believes he'll need some time to regain the full edge on his game -- "It's going to be tough to jump in. I'll be behind. Obviously the guys have been playing for more than half a season" -- and acknowledged it has been difficult to watch his team sputter and stumble most of the past few months.
"It's very tough for me, obviously," he said. "It's the first injury for me where I had an operation and missed so much time. It's really tough, especially when the team is not playing the way everyone expected it to."
The stress of losing -- the Maple Leafs entered the game last night in a 1-2-2 skid -- was evident during Toronto's practice Friday, when forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Jason Blake traded punches before teammates separated them.
And even though coaches and players later tried to act as if the incident never happened, the tension spawned by the Maple Leafs' struggles was, by most accounts, pretty hard to miss.
It likely doesn't help that general manager Brian Burke has made it clear that, with the exception of rookie defenseman Luke Schenn and a few others, everyone on Toronto's roster will be available until the March 4 trade deadline if he receives an offer that is sufficiently attractive.
Nonetheless, center Dominic Moore, a former Penguin, said that the prospect of significant personnel changes haven't had much of an impact inside the dressing room.
"As players, we have a job to do, and that's to play hockey," Moore said. "That's all you can worry about. As a player, you have to realize there are things outside your control."
Moore, whom the Penguins traded to Minnesota for a third-round draft choice in 2007 after he fell out of favor with coach Michel Therrien, hardly is an untouchable, but has established himself as a reliable two-way contributor for the Leafs.
He had set career-highs in goals (11), assists (25) and points (36) before last night and clearly is comfortable in the high-intensity atmosphere surrounding his franchise.
"It's been a good fit," Moore said. "I think I fit well within the framework of this hockey team. ... It is different playing here. For me, it's home. It's nice being around friends and family and things like that.
"It is sort of the hockey mecca, and not everyone is cut out for it, but it is a fun place to play. If you're not cut out for it, there's a lot of pressure. There are expectations, whether you like it or not, to succeed.
"They appreciate hard work here, too, similar to Pittsburgh fans. They recognize and appreciate it."
Boyd Devereaux has played 604 games in the NHL since breaking in with Edmonton during the 1997-98 season, but last night was the first time in 2008-09 that he turned up on an NHL roster.
He was recalled from the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate and added to the major league roster after clearing waivers Friday as was fellow forward Bates Battaglia. While many veterans might balk at the idea of doing hard time in the minors, Devereaux put a positive spin on the experience yesterday.
"It's always an adjustment to that level, but the season's been clipping along pretty good," he said.
The Penguins scratched defenseman Hal Gill and forward Chris Minard....Penguins center Sidney Crosby, bothered by a flu-like ailment for several days, participated in the morning skate, but passed on his usual scrum with reporters when it was over.
First Published February 15, 2009 12:00 am