Penguins Notebook: Staal's recover on schedule
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ATLANTA -- This is, of course, how it is supposed to go.
An athlete undergoes surgery to repair an injury, he is given a timetable for getting back in the lineup and his recovery plays out on that schedule, more or less.
But after all the problems -- most notably, a persistent infection -- Penguins center Jordan Staal experienced after undergoing surgery to repair a sliced tendon in his foot in the spring, the Penguins aren't inclined to take anything for granted.
Which is why they -- and, presumably, Staal -- are pleased that his recovery from a Nov. 2 operation to repair his broken right hand seems to be proceeding on schedule.
Staal's projected date of return hasn't been moved up, but there haven't been any delays or complications, either.
"Jordan's doing well," general manager Ray Shero said a few hours before the Penguins faced Atlanta Saturday night at Philips Arena. "He's on target for everything. ... Knock on wood, everything's good."
Shero said Staal has spent the past few days in North Carolina visiting older brother Eric and his family, as well as his parents, but that he is scheduled to have his injury evaluated again this week.
Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien was tied with Kris Letang of the Penguins and Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom for first place in the scoring race among NHL defensemen before last night's games. Byfuglien is the only one of the three who was playing a different position -- and on a different team -- at this time last year.
He was a winger with the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10, but was dealt to the Thrashers when Chicago had to pare its payroll to comply with the NHL's salary cap.
When Atlanta general manager Rick Dudley, who had worked in the Blackhawks' front office, decided to acquire Byfuglien, he pointed out to coach Craig Ramsay that Byfuglien had been trained as a defenseman and might be a good fit on the Thrashers' blue line.
"He thought I should give [Byfuglien] a chance," Ramsay said. "I had no issues [with doing it].
"We just decided we were going to give him a look, give him his chance, and it wasn't going to be a short-term [experiment]. It was going to be a long-term event, because we expected some bumps."
Bumps are a big part of Byfuglien's game. He is 6 feet 5, 265 pounds and can hit like it when he is so inclined, which is part of the reason Chicago deployed him as a power forward.
Byfuglien doesn't figure to go back up front anytime soon. He and Toby Enstrom have formed an effective pairing, and Byfuglien has performed well enough to claim a spot on the NHL all-star ballot.
The Thrashers have some of the NHL's best young talent and a lineup that could grow to be a contender in coming seasons, but not many people in Georgia seem to have noticed.
Atlanta has attracted three crowds of between 8,461 and 9,138 in their first eight home dates, and those totals reflect the number of tickets in circulation, not how many people showed up.
Having Philips Arena be so empty, so often obviously does not help Atlanta to develop a home-ice advantage and has to be particularly unsettling for the four Thrashers who have come over from Chicago, where the United Center has attracted capacity turnouts since that franchise was revived a few years back.
"Sometimes, it's tougher to find the energy," said left winger Andrew Ladd, one of those Blackhawks alums. He was, however, quick to point out an inadvertent benefit to playing before sparse crowds at home.
"Sometimes, as a road team coming in, it's nice to have a raucous crowd," he said. "So the other team's not getting much atmosphere, either."
Thrashers center Bryan Little returned to the lineup after sitting out six games because of a concussion and facial lacerations. ... The Penguins scratched forwards Mike Comrie and Eric Godard and defenseman Ben Lovejoy.
First Published November 14, 2010 12:00 am