Penguins Notebook: Senators' Gonchar improving after slow start
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OTTAWA -- Sergei Gonchar turns 37 next month and has pretty much seen it all during his 16 seasons in the National Hockey League.
Some of it, twice.
Like how he struggles to settle in with new teams.
He joined the Penguins as a free agent in 2005 and, for the first few months of the 2005-06 season, looked like a guy who had just taken up the game during training camp. He subsequently became the cornerstone of a defensive corps that made the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup possible.
In the previous offseason, he accepted a three-year contract worth $16.5 million offered by Ottawa. By the holiday break in December, he had a plus-minus rating of minus-19 that was easily the worst on a team that he hoped would contend for a Stanley Cup.
"It seems like I always have a problem adjusting to a new environment," he said. "The only good thing about that is, usually my second year is better than the first one. That's the only thing I'm looking forward to."
Gonchar was able to right his game -- he had seven goals, 20 assists and a plus-minus of minus-15 before Ottawa faced the Penguins Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place -- but his team did not and figures to have one of the top choices in the June entry draft.
"A season like this, I didn't expect it," Gonchar said. "I don't think anybody expected it. It's a little tougher for me, but it's part of life, so you have to deal with it and move forward."
Senators coach Cory Clouston said he could not explain Gonchar's early struggles, but that he's pleased with how Gonchar's game has been upgraded.
"I think he feels more comfortable," Clouston said. "His confidence is where it needs to be, and I think he's simplified his game a little bit, as well. ... He's doing a very good job for us. He's playing well. He's playing as well as we've had him playing all year."
Center Sidney Crosby, who is recovering from a concussion, skated for the second consecutive day Tuesday.
That probably won't be the biggest hurdle he'll face before getting back into the lineup, but it was a significant one because it meant Crosby didn't experience any concussion-related symptoms after spending about 15 minutes on the ice Monday.
Early, unconfirmed reports were that Crosby did not have any symptoms after Tuesday's session, but it was not immediately known if he plans to skate again today.
Penguins winger Alex Kovalev, acquired from Ottawa Feb. 24 for a conditional seventh-round draft choice, declined to speak with reporters after practice Monday or the game-day skate Tuesday.
But while Kovalev, who signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Senators in 2009, had been harshly criticized by some fans and media members for his work in Ottawa, his former teammates don't seem to carry a grudge against him.
"He's a great guy," center Jason Spezza said. "He's a great guy to have around the room. He treats everybody with a lot of respect and always makes sure guys were well taken care of, outside the rink.
"Nobody likes hearing bad things about themselves. As a player, you want to be liked, you want to have the support of your fans. I wouldn't say that it didn't bug him. He cared a lot more about the game than [some media members] gave him credit for."
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen missed his second game in a row because of illness, allowing Corey Potter to make his 2010-11 NHL debut.
Potter and Steve Wagner, each 27, were recalled from the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre because of Niskanen's ailment and concerns that Kris Letang would be unable to play after taking a hit to the chin from Edmonton's Gilbert Brule late in a victory Sunday against the Oilers.
Letang, though, was in the lineup against the Senators and declined to offer his thoughts on Brule's hit, which earned Brule a charging minor.
"I'm not going to comment on that hit," Letang said. "Everybody has their opinion. I have mine, and that's it."
First Published March 16, 2011 12:00 am