Penguins Notebook: Staal, Cooke tabbed alternate captains for Dec.
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A new month means new alternate captains under Penguins coach Michel Therrien's rotation plan for this season.
During practice yesterday at Southpointe, Therrien appointed linemates Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke as the two who will wear an "A" on their jerseys for December, beginning tonight against the Rangers in New York.
At 20, Staal is the youngest player on the team, although the 2006 first-round draft pick is in his third NHL season. Cooke, 30 and in his first season with the Penguins, has added grit to the lineup.
Staal has been centering Cooke and high-energy right winger Tyler Kennedy on what has developed into a strong third line.
"They certainly deserve it," Therrien said of his new alternate captains. "[Cooke] shows some leadership with those two kids, and Jordan really picked up his game. I think for Jordan it's going to be good for his confidence, too."
"I'm proud to be an 'A' on this team, especially with the amount of talent on this team," he said. "I want to help lead this team and be a part of that."
Defenseman Philippe Boucher has been downgraded from day-to-day status to week to week, according to Therrien. Boucher sustained an undisclosed injury Friday at Buffalo.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is believed to have a groin injury, remains out of practice and also is listed as week to week.
The team skated with six defensemen and just 11 forwards. Center Evgeni Malkin was given the day off but is expected to participate in the morning skate today in New York.
The game at Madison Square Garden tonight marks a return to the scene of what began as the Penguins worst stretch of the season thus far.
Leading, 2-0, after two periods Oct. 25, the Penguins wilted and watched the Rangers come back for a 3-2 shootout win. That began a tailspin with losses at San Jose and Phoenix before they righted themselves at the end of the four-game road trip with a 6-3 win at St. Louis.
"We had a letdown the last time there," Cooke said of the Rangers' home. "There was no getting around that. We know that. It's a focus of ours to get on the winning side [this time]."
The Rangers lead the Atlantic Division and are tied with the Boston Bruins atop the Eastern Conference with 36 points, including a conference-leading 21 points at home. The Penguins, with 31 points, have four games in hand on the Rangers.
The Montreal Canadiens, who will be host to the All-Star Game Jan. 25 as part of their centennial celebration, continue to dominate in fan voting for the Eastern Conference starters.
The Canadiens are leading in all six spots, although Penguins center Sidney Crosby is pushing them at forward.
Through yesterday morning, Canadiens Alexei Kovalev (393,303 votes), Saku Koivu (390,026) and Alex Tanguay (385,297) were the top forwards, followed by Crosby (320,373) and Malkin (264,914).
Malkin went into last night leading the NHL with 39 points; Crosby was second with 34.
Staal led in write-in votes among forwards with 13,068.
Among defensemen, Montreal's Andrei Markov led all players with 440,292 votes, followed by teammate Mike Komisarek with 396,754. The Penguins' Sergei Gonchar (185,051) was fourth and Ryan Whitney (162,461) fifth, but they are injured and are ineligible for the game.
At goaltender, Carey Price of the Canadiens led with 429,987 votes, followed by Fleury, 204,308. To be eligible for the game, Fleury will need to come back from his injury and play in six games before Jan. 2.
First Published December 3, 2008 12:00 am