Penguins Notebook: Gonchar misses game as flu-like condition hits team
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It's not like the Penguins were in the market for something else about which to worry.
Not when, among other things, their No. 1 goalie won't play again for at least six weeks because of injury and they're struggling mightily to win games against teams in their conference and division.
Nonetheless, they've got one: Illness.
A flu-like condition forced defenseman Sergei Gonchar to sit out their game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum last night, and goalie Dany Sabourin -- who inherited the No. 1 job after Marc-Andre Fleury got a high ankle sprain 10 days ago -- played despite having symptoms of a similar ailment.
It's not unprecedented for that type of illness to sweep through a locker room, so keeping guys healthy might be as big a concern for the Penguins in coming days as collecting points will be.
Forward Erik Christensen, a healthy scratch for their 4-1 loss to Ottawa Thursday, was out of the lineup again last night, but not because the coaches were unhappy with his play. Or even because of illness, for that matter.
Instead, Christensen got a variety of minor injuries, including a strained neck, when he fell hard in a corner in practice Friday.
"I feel like I was in a car accident," he said.
With Gonchar and Christensen out of the personnel mix, the Penguins recalled forward Connor James from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre.
He had six goals and 10 assists in 25 games with the Baby Penguins.
Gonchar, tied for second among NHL defensemen in scoring before last night, has gotten 15 of his 26 points on the power play, and that's where his absence figured to have the greatest impact last night.
Gonchar usually quarterbacks the power play from the right point; Darryl Sydor filled that role in last night's game.
Gonchar missed three games Nov. 30-Dec. 3 because of a groin injury. The Penguins were 2 for 14 with the extra man in his absence.
"He can shoot the puck and carry it in and set it up," center Sidney Crosby said.
"You can't replace a Gonchar, I don't think, but other guys have to raise their level."
Islanders forward Andy Hilbert, a former Penguin, entered the game with just two goals in 30 games -- he did not get his first of the season until Nov. 24 -- but coach Ted Nolan has been giving him about 14 minutes of ice time per game because of his sound overall performance.
"Overall, you're 99 percent happy with his play," Nolan said. "Except that you'd like him to score a little more."
Nolan said that rediscovering his scoring touch is "just a matter of tweaking his game a little" for Hilbert, who said that he makes a conscious effort not to let other aspects of his game suffer when he is not scoring.
"When the puck's not going in for you, you have to do other things, make sure that you're reliable in the other areas of the game," he said. "I just have to be mentally tough, put it out of your mind and play hard."
Ottawa enforcer Brian McGrattan, who was dropped by Penguins right winger Georges Laraque in a fight Thursday at Mellon Arena, got a sprained right shoulder when Laraque fell on him. "If  pounds fall on you, it kind of hurts," Senators coach John Paddock told Ottawa reporters. ... The Penguins will not practice today and are scheduled to hold their annual holiday party.
First Published December 16, 2007 12:00 am