Penguins Notebook: Time up with main camp invaluable for Staal, Letang
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The season might be just a few days old, but for two Penguins players, it has been more than four weeks since they hit the ice at Mellon Arena.
Forward Jordan Staal and defenseman Kris Letang reported early to take part in the team's first rookie camp, then joined the main training camp and started playing in preseason games.
Along the way, all the other rookie camp participants got reassigned, leaving those two as the only ones who made the opening-day roster. They played in their second NHL game last night against Detroit.
Although Staal and Letang could yet be sent back to their junior teams in the next couple of weeks, they credit rookie camp with helping them prove they deserved to start the season with the NHL club.
"It prepared you for the main camp," said Staal, 18, the Penguins' first-round draft pick in June. "It kind of gets you in shape and the feel back to play after being off so long. It definitely helped me. It's definitely a good idea."
"You can work on your skills, and they can tell you what you need to work on -- like, you are a good skater, but you could work on your [stick-handling]," said Letang, the team's second-round draft pick in 2005. "I think I learned some things. The coach told me to be better in my zone and with my stick. I think I got better and better every day.
"You still had to do well after rookie camp in training camp and in exhibition games to make the team, but the rookie camp helped."
Part of the reason the Penguins were 10 for 10 in killing penalties against the Flyers Thursday was this statistic: Nine players combined for 22 blocks shots, many of them with the team short-handed.
Although giving up your body to block shots can be risky -- stopping a puck before it reaches the goal can result in injuries ranging from deep bruises to broken bones -- it's obvious the Penguins have players willing to do just that.
"It takes a lot of courage, but it's part of the responsibility -- especially for guys on the [penalty-killing units] -- to get in the shooting lane," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "You never ask a guy to block shots. But one thing you can ask as a coach is to make sure you're going to be in the shooting lane.
"We want to have an identity that we're a team that's going to work hard and be tough to play against. It's almost a blue-collar team. If we're going to have that identity, blocking shots is part of it."
The blocked shots also helped take some pressure off of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who as it was stopped all 40 shots that did make it to the net in the 4-0 shutout.
Not my time yet
After signing a purchase agreement with the Penguins, Jim Balsillie was in town Thursday night to watch the team's home opener and meet with reporters.
He did not, however, meet the team. Balsillie apparently told team officials it was the players' night and the introductions could wait.
The Penguins scratched forwards Karl Stewart and Evgeni Malkin (shoulder). ... Detroit scratches were center Jiri Hudler, defenseman Andreas Lila and goaltender Joey MacDonald.
First Published October 8, 2006 12:00 am