Penguins Notebook: Staal torments goalies with huge wingspan
Thursday, March 08, 2007
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's no cliche. Penguins forward Jordan Staal
speaks softly and carries a big hockey stick.
"Everyone says it's real long, but I don't think it's that long," Staal said yesterday.
Teammate Maxime Talbot
, sitting nearby, shot Staal an incredulous look.
"I think it just looks long with my reach," Staal said.
That reach has helped Staal, 18, have a sensational rookie season.
Going into the home game tonight against New Jersey, he leads the league with seven short-handed goals and a .287 shooting percentage and is second among rookies with 27 goals.
His short-handed goal in the third period Tuesday night sparked the Penguins' comeback from a 4-1 deficit to a 5-4 shootout win at Ottawa.
His seven short-handed goals are an NHL rookie record, topping the mark of six shared by Gerry Minor
(Vancouver 1980-81) and John Madden
(New Jersey, 1999-2000).
Staal, who is 6 feet 4, guesses that with his arm and stick length, the distance he can sweep the puck from one side of his body to the other might be as much as 10 feet.
"I have a lot of width there," Staal said. "I guess it's kind of tough to contain that kind of reach. I'm just trying to use it to the best of my ability. I saw some great players, like Mario Lemieux
, who had a great reach and really used it well."
Staal has control at the end of that reach. He has found that goaltenders are confounded that he is able to get off a shot with the puck so far from his body.
"I think it kind of fools goalies when I have it stretched out and I just let it go. They're not expecting a shot," he said.
"It seems to be working for me."
Fleury expects to start
Penguins No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
, who expects to start tonight against the Devils, was yanked in favor of Jocelyn Thibault
after the first period at Ottawa and was a spectator while his teammates staged the comeback to win.
"It's always frustrating when you get pulled like that, but I was really happy to see my teammates come back and get the win," said Fleury, who allowed three goals on seven shots.
Optional skate draws 15
Despite a busy schedule of 17 games this month, 15 players participated in the Penguins' optional practice, which was run by the assistant coaches.
"It's just a young team and a group that's eager to learn, eager to get better," center Sidney Crosby
said. "Guys just want to make sure they're sharp."
Those who did not practice were defensemen Josef Melichar
, Alain Nasreddine
and Sergei Gonchar
and forwards Mark Recchi
, Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone, Georges Laraque, Evgeni Malkin
and Talbot, although Talbot skated earlier in shorts and a T-shirt.
Forward clutch in shootouts
Penguins forward Erik Christensen
believes the introduction of the shootout and the extra point awarded to teams that lose in overtime or a shootout has helped to clog the standings.
But he understands why the NHL made the change.
"After the lockout, they wanted to do something for the fans," Christensen said. "After the fans put up with the winter with no hockey, they wanted to give them something like the shootout. They obviously enjoy it.
"No matter how it plays out in the standings, it's an exciting part of the game."
And a part of the game that has made Christensen indispensable to the Penguins. He has scored seven shootout goals, tied for second in the league, on 11 shots this season. Three of them have clinched victories.
Crosby on the team's recent habit of falling behind then scrambling back: "It's tough to play like that. It's tough on everyone's nerves." ... New Jersey winger Brian Gionta
reinjured his groin Tuesday in his second game back. His status for tonight is unclear. ... Devils winger Cam Janssen
will be serving the third game of a three-game suspension.