Penguins Notebook: Staal gives thumb's up after injury
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CHICAGO -- The Penguins went into their game Sunday against the Blackhawks with eight injured forwards, including top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
By the end of the 3-2 shootout loss, they were down another forward.
Jordan Staal, the top remaining center, was stationed in front of the Chicago net in overtime when he took a shot by teammate Kris Letang in the left cheek area despite a last-second attempt to turn and duck. He left the ice and did not return.
Coach Dan Bylsma seemed at least cautiously optimistic about Staal's status.
"He gave me the thumb's up when I came into the [locker] room," Bylsma said. "I'm assuming that means he's good."
The game was the first of five in a stretch of seven days. The Penguins play Washington at 7:38 tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Bylsma hinted that there is a good chance one or two of the injured players could return during the five-game stretch. The most likely candidates are center Dustin Jeffrey and winger Chris Kunitz.
Tonight's game is the final one of four meetings with the Capitals and, even with seven weeks left in the season, it's not an exaggeration to figure that the game has home-ice implications for the playoffs.
The Penguins would seem a long shot to overtake Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division title. The Flyers have 83 points after beating the Rangers Sunday; the Penguins are six points back, although they have a game in hand.
That means fourth place might be as good as it gets for the Penguins in the Eastern Conference. One spot and just two points behind them are the Capitals, who won Sunday at Buffalo. The fifth-place team will begin the postseason as a road team.
Even with the win Sunday, Chicago is in danger of missing the playoffs a season after winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks were hit hard by the salary cap and had to jettison several good players, but there could be something else at work.
"I think every coach tries to find out what a Stanley Cup hangover is after they've won," said Bylsma, who coached the Penguins to the 2009 Cup but couldn't get the club past the second round last year.
"It's a great problem to have. However, no one can really put their finger on what that really is. I think there are challenges with the mindset of your group. I think there are challenges of rebuilding your team -- I mean that not from [having] different players but with starting back, seeing how your team should play, how you win hockey games, and not looking back [and saying] 'Well, we were good last year.'
"We talked about what we needed to do. We felt we could do it. We just weren't able to have that mix where we did it and invested and built our team and had confidence in how we were going to win games. We were an OK team, but we didn't have the same type of team and togetherness and how we're going to win games like the previous years."
Bylsma, though, declined to guess if that's what has happened in Chicago.
"I don't know the Blackhawks' situation or struggles from the inside," he said.
Patrick Kane does.
"Every game is important now; you can say that about every loss and every win," Kane said after scoring the shootout winner against the Penguins. "We got a big two points here on home ice."
Chicago has won two of its past three games and is 3-2-1 in its past six.
"I think that's probably what we'll have to do the rest of the season -- win two out of three, so it's a good start," Kane said.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was released from a hospital Saturday after being treated for a bleeding ulcer. Assistant Mike Haviland continued to fill in as Quenneville recovers and said the two have been conferring before games. ... The Penguins' only healthy scratch was defenseman Ben Lovejoy. ... The crowd, 22,195, was the biggest of the season in Chicago. ... There was a strange delay at 9:10 of the first period when Chicago's Jordan Hendry popped out a pane of glass in the Penguins end. No other players were around him, and he seemed to simply go back-first into the glass, which landed on a fan. ... The game was part of a promotion called "Hockey Day in America."
First Published February 21, 2011 12:00 am