Staal gives Penguins an assist in return to lineup
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Jordan Staal had not played since Jan. 6 because of a left knee injury, so some things felt new to him Saturday when the Penguins faced Winnipeg at Consol Energy Center.
After his reintroduction consisted of a goal, an assist and a couple of hits in 16 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time, he cracked that finding himself bearing down on a goaltender with the puck was a bit foreign, too, if only because he does not have a lot of experience in such situations.
"I don't get too many feelings like that, but it's definitely not a bad feeling when you have a chance like that," Staal said after the Penguins 8-5 win.
Staal scored the Penguins seventh goal at 7:48 of the third period. He was racing off the bench when linemate Matt Cooke pilfered the puck from Winnipeg's Evander Kane along the boards near the right point. He was streaking over the blue line as Cooke got the puck to winger Pascal Dupuis. And he was alone heading down the slot when Dupuis' pass reached him.
Staal then guided the puck past the stick of Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
"The assist was a bigger play than the goal, but I'm glad to see him get that opportunity to get the goal," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Staal's assist set up Dustin Jeffrey for the Penguins first goal, at 12:11 of the first period after Winnipeg built a 2-0 lead.
Staal, who has 16 goals, 23 points in 35 games, said.
"It took a few shifts to get into it, but I think after the first period I started to feel pretty good, back in the momentum of the game and the swing of the game."
With center Sidney Crosby injured, Staal helps to balance to the Penguins' lines as a 6-foot-4, 220-pound, two-way center -- although the No. 1 line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal continued to be highly productive, combining for three goals and 11 points against the Jets.
"There were a few times when you could see he hadn't played in 15-plus games.
But just his presence -- his skating ability, what he can do in a game -- made a big difference in the game," Bylsma said of Staal.
Malkin's goal and four assists in his 400th NHL game not only extended his NHL-leading points total to 67 but also elevated him past Kevin Stevens and into eighth place in franchise history with 297 assists.
Malkin has 487 points. The only Penguins players to accumulate more in their first 400 games are Mario Lemieux (774) and Crosby (554). Jaromir Jagr is just behind at 473.
The wide-open game was not ideal for goaltenders, but the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury got a consolation prize in addition to the win -- his second assist of the season, 10th of his career.
It was not the goal he has coveted, but he was happy with the point, which came when he got the puck to Malkin, who sprang Kunitz on a breakaway for a goal.
"I just tossed it to [Malkin], and he did the work with [Kunitz]," Fleury said. "I'm glad to get [the assist]. Good play by [Malkin], nice goal by [Kunitz]. Hopefully, one day I can get a goal."
Crosby and winger Arron Asham skated again hours before the game and worked out off the ice. There was no update on Crosby, who is dealing with symptoms associated with a concussion and/or neck injury, but Bylsma said Asham is making progress as he recovers from concussion symptoms.
"He has ramped up his workload on the ice and, hopefully, he moves to the next stage, seeing him with the team and then working to get back to playing," Bylsma said of Asham.
Defenseman Simon Despres, who tweaked a knee injury Thursday in practice, remains off the ice.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported during the week that the NHL is looking at that city as a possible site for an outdoor Heritage Classic and is doing a weather study -- but likely not because of concerns about rain or temperatures that are too warm.
"They might be worried about the weather being too cold," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I think it was 40 below Celsius there [Friday]. That's pretty frosty."
That's about minus-40 Fahrenheit, too.
First Published February 12, 2012 12:00 am