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Old 02-18-2007, 07:02 AM   #1042
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Penguins Notebook: It's a day for kids at practice
Sunday, February 18, 2007

By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It's hard to imagine that one more little nose could have found a spot up against the glass to watch the Penguins practice yesterday at Southpointe.

The parking lot was overflowing. The stands and Jay's, a restaurant that overlooks the ice rink, were packed with what appeared to be several hundred fans, including many children.

They came to watch a 45-minute workout by a Penguins team that is 13-0-2 going into its home game today against Washington, its longest undefeated streak in regulation since a 17-game winning streak followed by a tie for an 18-game undefeated streak to close the 1992-93 regular season.

"It's pretty easy to see that the support is there, and people are excited," said center and NHL leading-scorer Sidney Crosby, who elicited a wave of high-pitched shrieks when he took the ice.

"As players, we're excited to be competing for a playoff spot at this point of the season and doing well, but to see the turnout [yesterday] and the sellouts we're getting, that motivates us all."

With the stands filling, a team of mites-aged tykes who had been on the ice before the NHL team got the thrill of having Penguins defenseman Josef Melichar and winger Ronald Petrovicky join them. Melichar's son, also named Josef, plays on the team.

"That's what every day is for us -- a lot of fun," the elder Melichar said.

Whose goal was it?

A couple of the Penguins have a slight beef.

Defenseman Rob Scuderi thinks the Penguins' second goal of their 5-4 win Friday at New Jersey should be credited to winger Ryan Malone, not him.

"I was just trying to get it on net and, hopefully, something good would happen," said Scuderi, whose shot came from the point to give him what was announced as the second goal of his career. "I thought it got tipped or hit something. Whether it was mine or Ryan's, we don't really care, as long as we had the lead. The team's not going to suffer if I don't score a goal this year."

Malone confirmed he got his stick on the puck.

"I thought it was obvious, but I guess New Jersey said it didn't know," he said.

Melichar and Crosby got the assists.

Backup goalies get their day

Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who said backup goaltender Jocelyn Thibault would play one game this weekend, named him the starter for today.

Thibault, 2-5-2 with a 3.29 goals-against average, will be making his ninth start and first since Jan. 27.

The Capitals also will be going with a backup, expected to be Brent Johnson, because starter Olaf Kolzig, the longest-tenured active athlete in Washington. D.C., is out at least two more weeks because of a knee injury he sustained at practice Monday.

Johnson is 0-2-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in four career appearances against the Penguins.

Olczyk backs Crosby

Along with the points and accolades for Crosby has come criticism -- he's a whiner, a diver who doesn't always get along with his teammates.

Add Eddie Olczyk, Crosby's first pro coach, to the list who thumb their noses at those who disparage Crosby.

"He's an incredible guy," said Olczyk, who coached the Penguins through Dec. 15, 2005, in Crosby's rookie season and who will be at Mellon Arena today as an NBC commentator after returning there Wednesday for the first time since his firing.

"There's a lot of unfair things that were said about him last year," Olczyk said. "He is a legit guy. To me, it was very unfair. There was a lot of envy and jealousy that came with the so-called rumors and speculation. But you know what? I'll go to bat for him forever as long as he continues to be the type of guy I know he is."

Olczyk wonders if those who criticize Crosby are paying attention to the maturity the 19-year-old has shown this season.

"You can't assume what it is to skate in his boots or to be Mario [Lemieux] or Wayne Gretzky, to be guys that are wanted and grabbed at all the time," Olczyk said. "I think watching from the outside now, he's just in much more control of his game. He's controlling what he can control."
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