Penguins Notebook: Gonchar skates, still is questionable
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on a shot by the Thrashers' Bryan Little in a game Nov. 24. Fleury has had two consecutive strong starts for the Penguins.
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Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who has missed the Penguins' past two games because of a sore groin, made it through all of yesterday's practice at Mellon Arena, then stayed on the ice for some extra work.
That's compelling evidence that Gonchar is getting over his injury but wasn't enough to convince coach Michel Therrien that Gonchar is ready to be in the lineup when the Penguins face Phoenix tonight at Mellon Arena.
"I don't think [he'll play tonight]," Therrien said. "I'd be really surprised. We'll see how he's going to feel. I don't think one practice is good enough to make sure that he's going to be on top of his game."
There are medical considerations, too. If Gonchar would return before his injury has healed, he could aggravate it and be out for an extended period.
"With that type of injury, he has to be 100 percent," Therrien said. "If he'd pull it again, it could be two or three weeks, and he's an important player."
- Matchup: Phoenix Coyotes at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ilya Bryzgalov for Coyotes.
- Penguins: Will be trying to win three consecutive home games for first time this season. ... RW Colby Armstrong has four-game points streak. ... Have scored more than one power-play goal just once in past 15 games.
- Coyotes: Are 7-6 on road, but 0-3 on trip that ends tonight. ... C Peter Mueller ranks among rookie leaders with seven goals. ... Power play is tied for second-worst in league, with conversion rate of 13 percent.
- Hidden stat: Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers are only teams that haven't lost in overtime or shootout this season.
Center Maxime Talbot, out for the past five games because of a high ankle sprain, has been penciled into the lineup for tonight's game, although Therrien declined to say whose place he will take.
Fleury on a roll
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has had a decidedly up-and-down season, has put together two strong starts in a row, stopping 50 of 51 shots.
"It's been a little better," he said.
"I feel good, relaxed, and I thought the guys have played great in front of me the last couple of games."
Fleury said he has not made any significant changes of late, aside from going back to headgear he wore for part of last season.
"I changed my helmet, but I don't think that made much of a difference," he said, laughing.
"I've just tried to work [with goaltending coach Gilles Meloche] and watched a bunch of tapes."
Bryzgalov gives Coyotes lift
Phoenix has surged back into playoff contention since claiming goalie Ilya Bryzgalov off waivers from Anaheim.
He won his first four starts before giving up five goals on seven shots in a 6-1 loss Friday in Chicago and absorbing a 3-2 defeat in Detroit the next night.
"Goaltending is a big part of any hockey team," Therrien said. "He got an opportunity to be No. 1, and he's had a huge impact right away."
While Bryzgalov's contributions in games can't be overlooked, Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky told the Arizona Republic that his impact isn't limited to those settings.
"At practice, he's making our players better by making them bear down on every shot because he doesn't want to get anything scored on him in practice," he said. "It's ... interesting to see."
Crosby expects attention
Penguins center Sidney Crosby will make his first professional appearances in Western Canada this week, and team officials have been preparing for relentless attention from the press and public in Alberta and British Columbia.
They already have scheduled a series of media-availability sessions, beginning with one at the team hotel in Edmonton after the Penguins arrive tomorrow.
Crosby is a nationally recognized figure in Canada -- and was even before he made it to the NHL -- and acknowledged that traveling there for games places a few more demands on him than road trips in the United States.
"It's probably a little busier [when the Penguins play in Canada]," he said. "I'd say that would be the word. There's a lot more going on. A lot more interviews. Probably harder to go to restaurants, things like that."
Sydor heads back to ice
Gonchar's injury created an opening for veteran Darryl Sydor, who got back into uniform Friday after being a healthy scratch for five games in a row.
He has played 15-plus minutes in each of the Penguins' past two games, earning an assist and a plus-minus rating of plus-1.
Whether he'll retain his place in the lineup when Gonchar returns remains to be seen, but if he doesn't, it won't be because he threw his work ethic into neutral when he wasn't playing.
"I took the three weeks to get in better shape," he said. "I did a lot of stuff off the ice with our strength coach [Mike Kadar], did some extra stuff on the ice. ... I guess I took my frustrations out on the treadmill and the weights."
First Published December 3, 2007 12:00 am