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Old 02-15-2007, 11:38 AM   #1021
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

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Originally Posted by X-Terminator View Post
Well, the last 3 games shouldn't have even gone to overtime or shootouts - they blew 2 and 3 goal leads in all of them and were lucky to come away with wins. Fleury though has been a big reason why they have been able to win them - in the 3rd period and OT of all the games, he has stood on his head. That save on Havlat last night was a thing of beauty! I still dread the shootouts, though not as much as I used to.

BTW, the check's in the mail for our playoff ticket package, just to let you know! I missed out on the playoffs the 2 seasons they made it since becoming a season ticket holder, and I was not about to miss out on them again. This team has a chance to do some great things should they get in, and I want to be there to see it first-hand!
No, those last 3 surely shouldn't have gone to OT/shootouts, but we came away with wins in all 3 thankfully. I'm sure Therrien is addressing the meltdowns and working the guys hard in practice to try to eliminate the problems.

Great on the tix! I went to most of the playoff games in their Cup years and it will be awesome cheering this young and very talented team on!
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:15 AM   #1022
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

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Originally Posted by HometownGal View Post
No, those last 3 surely shouldn't have gone to OT/shootouts, but we came away with wins in all 3 thankfully. I'm sure Therrien is addressing the meltdowns and working the guys hard in practice to try to eliminate the problems.

Great on the tix! I went to most of the playoff games in their Cup years and it will be awesome cheering this young and very talented team on!
Lucky you! However, during their first Cup run, I did leave my uncle's wedding reception so that I could get home in time for the Pens' playoff game that night. Hey, had to keep my priorities straight!
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:17 AM   #1023
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

Fleury's confidence, maturity kicking in
John McGourty | NHL.com Staff Writer Feb 15, 2007, 11:03 AM EST

There are many reasons why the Pittsburgh Penguins are on an 10-0-1 run and closing in on the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference lead: They're playing their last seven No. 1 draft picks; Sidney Crosby is running away with the NHL scoring lead; Evgeni Malkin is likewise running away with the rookie scoring race; Jordan Staal hasn't been in the minus category since early December and is threatening to outscore his brother, Eric, this season; and 15 players are in the plus category, many of them recent arrivals there.

The Penguins have doubled their points from a year ago, from 32 to 69, won 18 more games than at this point last season and have increased scoring by nearly a goal a game.

But if Crosby, Malkin and Staal's production and the increase in Pittsburgh's overall team scoring were the only factors, the Penguins would be winning and losing games by 8-7 scores. They're not. They've become a tight defensive team for several reasons: Coach Michel Therrien's disciplined system, the development of four solid lines and the maturation of the defense and goaltending. The Penguins have surrendered only 175 goals so far, down from 222 a year ago, or a decrease from 4.04 goals-per-game to 3.1.

"Our defensive play is really improved from last year. That's one of the biggest differences," said starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the first-overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft. "That's something that we really needed to do. Our coach put in a good system defensively and everyone has been really focused. Our defensemen have been awesome in blocking shots and clearing away rebounds."

To compare his record to a year ago is to wonder who's wearing Fleury's equipment this season. After going 13-27-6 in 50 games last season with a 3.25 goals-against average and .898 save percentage, Fleury now ranks fourth in the NHL with 28 victories, against only 12 losses and seven overtime losses and has a 2.83 GAA and .906 save percentage. Like his teammates, Fleury's stats have improved dramatically over the course of the season.

"Our coach has been playing four lines and it's been working great," Fleury said. "Everyone is getting rest and can play with more intensity."

Fleury took a shelling in a 21-game stint in 2003-04 and again last season, but it didn't seem to shake his faith in himself. Teammates agree that his positive attitude and belief in self helped him to get to this point. Defensive leader Sergei Gonchar was asked what's different about Fleury this season.

"In my opinion, he's more confident. He always had the skill and the talent," Gonchar said. "Since Day One, you could see he was going to play here. It took him a while to get his confidence. Now that he has that confidence, that's the biggest difference from last year to this year."

"The more games you play, the more confident you're going to get," Crosby explained. "When you see your team get that insurance goal, or a goal that ties the game or puts you ahead, that gives a goalie more motivation. It works both ways. There's been a lot of times when we needed him to save us and we try to help him out too. He's just got confidence in himself and we're confident that if he gives up a couple of goals, we're still going to be able to score while he shuts the door."

The Penguins beat the Nashville Predator's, the NHL's top team, in Nashville last week, their biggest victory in the Crosby era. Predators center Jason Arnott said Fleury was sensational in that game.

"Yeah, he was," Crosby agreed. "You can't go far without strong goaltending and he has been the difference in winning and losing this year. He's had a lot of games where he's faced 30 to 40 shots and he's kept us in there and given us a chance to win. That's so important. The team has a lot of confidence in him."

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero credits Fleury's increasing maturity, as well.

"It's confidence and maturity," Shero said. "He's getting there, his confidence is high and he's maturing, but remember, he's still a 22-year-old kid. He's gone through a lot and this is a really good year for him. He's playing in meaningful games for the first time in his NHL career. He has responded well and that's great for his development."

Shero sensed a positive change in Fleury early on.

Fleury blocks a shot by Dallas Stars left wing Loui Eriksson Friday, Jan. 26, 2007.
"He's been on a roll from the first game of season," Shero said. "He has that confidence and knows he's a good goaltender. Goalie coach Gilles Meloche has done a good job with him on the mental side as well as working with video and with reassuring him at times. That goes with coaching."

"Marc-Andre has more confidence but the big thing is that he is more under control," Meloche said. "His positioning is a lot better than it was earlier. He was trying to do too much. We've got him relying less on reflex and more on positioning.

"He's maturing. He's a year older and he's playing with a better team. He's not seeing those back-door shots like before, when we were more helter-skelter out there. He's playing off his defenseman and his positioning is better."

Meloche said Therrien's system has been a big factor in helping Fleury get on his game.

"We're a lot different team now," Meloche said. "We have a system and everyone is buying into it and it's paying off. Everyone knows where they are going and they're working harder at it. It makes Marc-Andre's job a lot easier. You start winning games, you get more confidence and the puck looks bigger."

Meloche disagreed when he was told Fleury seems a lot happier and confident. A lot of NHL goalies don't like to talk after practice on the morning of a game. Fleury is like, "Hi, guys. What's up?"

"He's been like that since he got here. He never changed, he's always been that way," Meloche said. "He went through some tough times, but he never changed his attitude. He's a workaholic who is always working on his game. Sometime, we have to chase him off the ice.

"He never stopped believing in himself. He's got the right attitude for a goalie. If you don't believe in yourself, you can't play goal in this league."

The Penguins have the added benefit of having on staff former GM and current senior advisor, Eddie Johnston, a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Shero said Johnston discusses goalies with Meloche and gives his input. Meloche and Johnston were having one of those talks in a quiet corner of the dressing room when they were interrupted so Meloche could talk to a reporter.

"At 71, Eddie is sharp as a tack and has made a lot of valuable observations," Shero said. "Gilles incorporates those suggestions and passes them along to Marc-Andre and Jocelyn."

http://www.nhl.com/nhl/app/?service=...ticleid=289062
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:24 AM   #1024
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Penguins face devilish task tonight

Friday, February 16, 2007

By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

With a victory tonight at New Jersey or one point from an overtime or shootout loss, the Penguins will leapfrog Atlanta for the third-highest point total in the Eastern Conference.

But in terms of playoff positioning, the Penguins won't budge from the fourth spot in the conference no matter the final score.

The Penguins have hit a ceiling, and the only way to crash through it and grab one of the top three playoff seeds is to win the Atlantic Division. The three division champions in each conference get preference over other teams, even if they have fewer points.

A division title and top-three seeding one year after finishing last in the Eastern Conference and 29th overall among the 30 NHL clubs might seem a bit farfetched, but it looks to be within reach for the Penguins.

"That's not an unrealistic goal," defenseman Mark Eaton said yesterday after practice at Southpointe.

The Penguins, Southeast Division leader Atlanta and Ottawa each have 69 points, although the Penguins have played fewer games. The only teams above them in the conference are Atlantic Division leader New Jersey with 76 points and Northeast Division leader Buffalo, which had 80 points going into its game last night against Edmonton.

That gives the red-hot Penguins 26 games to make up the seven points separating them from the Devils -- and they have their remaining four games against the Devils over the next four weeks, plus a game in hand on New Jersey.

"If we can win three out of four or all four of them, we're right there," Eaton said. "There's a lot of hockey left."

The Penguins are 1-3 against New Jersey this season, including 0-2 on the road, but they have not faced the Devils since Dec. 26, which was during a five-game losing streak and before they started their 12-0-2 tear.

New Jersey didn't climb to the top of the Atlantic Division and to within four points of the conference lead without some good stretches and it's on a couple now. The Devils have won five of their past six games and 16 of their past 22.

"During our streak, we beat some really good hockey teams," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "I'm excited to play that game to see where we stand against a team that has the best goalie in the league [in Martin Brodeur], that is really disciplined, and they play really well in their system."

Penguins winger Ryan Malone is cautious about talk of a division championship.

"That sounds great, but we have no control over how they're going to play the rest of the year, or anyone else for that matter, so we have to make sure we're ready to go every night," he said. "We're in control of our own destiny."

Therrien likes riding the wave of speculation over whether the team could make such a huge one-season jump to become a division winner.

But he's doing his best to keep eyes in the back of his head, too.

"It's fun. We don't have any problem with [division title talk]," Therrien said. "We've kind of surprised a lot of people because we were saying our goal is -- and it still is -- to battle and make the playoffs. That's our focus. We're looking ahead, but at the same time we know what's going on behind us."

Although the 14-game unbeaten streak and its 26 points have lifted the Penguins into a tie for fourth in the conference, things are nearly as tight now up and down the standings as they were earlier.

Before last night, Toronto and the New York Islanders were tied for ninth place in the conference, one spot below the playoff cutoff, with 62 points. They were as close to the Penguins as the Penguins are to New Jersey.

"You'd think we would be a lot more comfortable in a playoff spot, but we're not that far ahead of those teams," Eaton said. "New Jersey is the team we want to catch, so this game will be a test."

The fact that the game is against not just a division rival but also the team that stands in the way of a possible division title makes for an interesting subplot, center and NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby said.

"They're all important, but there's probably a little more importance on this one," he said. "I think we're going to be intense, and it's going to be an emotional game. We'll have to prepare accordingly.

"We're still taking a game at a time, and I think that's why we've been so successful. You can't get the division title with the next win. We're just chipping away right now. Somewhere that would be a nice place to be, but we need to [make up the gap in] points to do that."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07047/762651-61.stm
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:30 AM   #1025
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Penguins Notebook: No. 1 line copes with 'slump'

Friday, February 16, 2007
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Penguins have not lost in 14 games, and that's with their top line a little out of sorts since late last month.

Center and NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby has not scored a goal in the eight games since the Penguins returned from their trip to Dallas and Phoenix. It is the longest drought of his career, although it has been tempered by six assists in those games.

Right winger Mark Recchi has two goals, three assists in the past eight games and no points in five of them.

Left winger Ryan Malone has one goal and one assist in the same span.

"Some games [earlier], we played really well and got everyone going," Malone said yesterday before the Penguins left for New Jersey and a game tonight against the Devils. "We were doing the little things and the right things, and we were all on the same page."

Late in the past two games, Malone was replaced on the top line by Erik Christensen and Evgeni Malkin. Malone took responsibility for the dip in production on the top line.

"Now, it feels like I zig when I should zag," he said.

"That's just how it goes sometimes. You've just got to work hard and almost try to simplify the game -- just put the pucks on the net and play smart with the puck -- and, usually, it turns around. Right now, the important thing is that the team's winning. Hopefully, we can get our line going."

Brodeur keeps raising bar

At 35-15-5, New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur is on pace to reach 50 wins this season, giving him a chance to break the NHL record of 47 set by Philadelphia's Bernie Parent in 1973-74.

"I care a lot about this," he told The Record of Bergen County after beating Montreal, 5-2, Wednesday night.

"It shows a lot of consistency in my game. Again the team wins, but I'm the one getting the win in my column. First, it's 30 and now 35 and, hopefully, later on I can get to 40."

The new and proud father

Penguins defenseman Alain Nasreddine, who missed the game Wednesday night, returned to practice and passed out cigars to his teammates, but skipped the trip to New Jersey.

"It's really nice of them to let me stay home," said Nasreddine, whose wife, Josiane, gave birth to 8-pound, 6-ounce Alec at 7:33 a.m. Wednesday.

Nasreddine said he had no problem getting to the hospital in the early morning during the winter storm that hit Pittsburgh.

"I have a big truck, and no one else was on the roads because of the weather," he said.

Tickets going fast

The Penguins had their 18th sellout crowd this season Wednesday night at Mellon Arena. It was their 11th in the past 13 home games. There were an estimated 1,651 no-shows because of poor weather and road conditions.

There are about 1,000 or fewer tickets available for eight of the 12 remaining home games in the regular season.

The games with more ticket availability are March 13 against Buffalo, March 18 against Ottawa, March 25 against Boston and April 3 against Buffalo.

Slap shots

Recchi and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, the two most-experienced players on the team, were given the day off from practice. Gonchar played in his 800th NHL game Wednesday in a 5-4 shootout win against Chicago. ... Penguins coach Michel Therrien on officials failing to see or call six Chicago skaters on the ice just before the Blackhawks scored their fourth goal: "They told us they were right. They're always right. Sometimes coaches are wrong. Sometimes players make mistakes. But those guys are right. That's the way it is."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07047/762639-61.stm
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:32 AM   #1026
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

Much work remaining in arena talks, Rendell says

Governor says many details unresolved in negotiations with Penguins, but no 'deal-breakers'


Friday, February 16, 2007
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Gov. Ed Rendell doesn't see any "deal-breakers" that would prevent an agreement with the Penguins on a new arena, but added the two sides are still "a lot of details" away from a final accord.

"There are so many nuances to this, it is amazing," he told reporters yesterday. "Each time we solve three or four of the problems, one or two more crop up, but none of them in my judgment are deal-breakers."

While development rights, parking revenues and the Penguins' share of the arena funding have long been considered key issues to be resolved, Mr. Rendell added another yesterday -- what happens if construction costs exceed the Plan B funding amount.

The Penguins have agreed to cover cost overruns once a guaranteed maximum price has been established. The question is what happens if the final price comes in above the amount of financing available under Plan B.

While conceding that that's a "problem," Mr. Rendell said he believes it can be resolved through the design of the building and through a no-strike agreement the city, county and state will seek from unions involved in the project. He said both should help keep costs down.

Talks between the Penguins, the governor, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato have moved well into a second month since team co-owner Mario Lemieux emerged from a Jan. 4 meeting to say he was optimistic about the prospects of keeping the team in Pittsburgh.

At the same time, the Penguins are entertaining an offer from Kansas City to move into the new rent-free $276 million Sprint Center next season. The arena opens in the fall and the Penguins would not have to pay any construction costs. They would share building revenues.

The team is free to move this summer after its Mellon Arena lease expires at the end of June.

Locally, even as the two sides continue to wrangle over various issues, Mr. Rendell said he hopes to have an agreement completed in the next couple of weeks.

"This is a slow and arduous process. This is an ongoing process. We make progress every day but there are a lot of details, a lot of details involving land use, a lot of details involving parking ... everything under the sun has to be ironed out," he said.

The Penguins have repeatedly declined comment on the negotiations.

The two sides have participated in conference calls and other conversations over the last two weeks. Mr. Rendell also talked to Penguins' officials yesterday while in Pittsburgh for events.

"Each time we get together, either by phone or in person, we make a little progress and we've still got a little bit more to do and I'm hopeful we can bring this to a conclusion shortly," the governor said.

The parties are trying to reach an agreement under the Plan B funding formula, which includes a contribution of $7.5 million a year for 30 years from Pittsburgh casino license winner Don Barden and $7 million a year for 30 years from a slots-financed state economic development fund.

The Penguins' share started out at $2.9 million a year, plus $1.16 million annually in naming rights, and an upfront contribution of $8.5 million. Under a revised formula, Mr. Rendell has said the Penguins' share would be significantly lower than the $2.9 million per year the Pirates put in toward PNC Park. It's unknown whether naming rights revenue is part of that.

Like Mr. Rendell, Mr. Onorato and Mr. Ravenstahl were optimistic about closing the deal, but would not put a timetable on it.

"Do I think we'll get a deal? Yes," Mr. Onorato said. "I think we'll resolve this long term. We're not there yet."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07047/762591-61.stm
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:45 AM   #1027
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

Trib story on the arena negotiations.

Penguins, officials haggle over arena cost

By Andrew Conte
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, February 16, 2007

The Penguins and public officials are trying to determine how much a new Uptown arena will cost and how to make up the difference if the total comes in higher than expected, Gov. Ed Rendell said Thursday.

"The problem is, what happens if construction costs go up over the contemplated amount," Rendell said before attending a luncheon with a German delegation at the Duquesne Club, Downtown. "The contingencies are what happens if it goes over. That's a problem."

Rendell said construction of the arena should cost $270 million, while Penguins officials have estimated it will cost $290 million.

A team spokesman declined to comment.

Rendell said he spoke with a Penguins official yesterday morning and hopes to announce an agreement within two weeks.

None of the remaining issues are insurmountable, said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

"We are competitive," he said. "We do have a good deal on the table, and we'll continue to negotiate with them to fine tune and address any issues or concerns they might have."

The remaining issues include development rights for the Mellon Arena site, parking revenues at a new arena and the arena cost, Rendell said.

Like the Pirates and Steelers, the Penguins would have to pay for cost overruns at a new venue. But the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority will not have a good estimate for the total projected construction costs until the arena designs are completed.

The sports authority could drive down costs by designing a less-expensive building and reaching labor agreements with unions, Rendell said.

"There are so many nuances to this, it is amazing," he said. "Each time we solve three or four of the problems, one or two more crop up."

Rendell ruled out asking for more money from Detroit casino developer Don Barden, who plans to build a Majestic Star Casino on the North Shore. Barden has agreed to pay $7.5 million a year for 30 years toward an arena.

Questions over costs at this late point in the negotiations could become a problem, said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting firm Sportscorp.

"Cost overrun responsibility ... can be a deal breaker," said Ganis, who advised public officials on the North Shore stadium deals. "There are many ways to handle it, though. Sometimes it requires creativity, but it can be done."

One way to bridge a gap for cost overruns could be through naming rights, which public officials have said likely will be given back to the Penguins under a revised financing plan.

In Newark, N.J., where the $370 million Prudential Center is scheduled to open this fall, the Devils hockey team is on the hook for cost overruns. The multipurpose facility originally was estimated to cost $310 million.

Earlier this year, the Devils and Prudential Financial reached terms on a 20-year naming rights agreement for $120 million -- double the $60 million in expected additional costs.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_493408.html
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:47 AM   #1028
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

Pens remain committed one-game-at-a-game

By The Tribune-Review
Friday, February 16, 2007

The Penguins take on the Devils tonight, hoping to slice into New Jersey's seven-point lead in the Atlantic Division but understanding that there's only so much they can do in the first of four remaining games between the two teams. The Pens' 12-0-2 run has put them in position to at least contemplate winning the division championship. They remain committed to a cliched but effective one-game-at-a-time approach. New Jersey is 3-1 against the Pens this season. The teams will also meet Feb. 27 and March 8 at Mellon Arena and March 14 in New Jersey.

? The Pens and coach Michel Therrien remained convinced on Thursday that Chicago's fourth goal on Wednesday night was scored after the Blackhawks benefited from having too many men on the ice. Therrien's pleas to the officials on Wednesday night resulted in little consolation.

"They told us they were right," he said. "They're always right. Sometimes coaches are wrong, sometimes players will make mistakes, but those guys are right. That's they way it is, they're right. OK? OK."

? Therrien said no decision had been made regarding when to get Jocelyn Thibault a start in net. The Pens play tonight, Sunday (against Washington) and Monday (at New York Islanders). Marc-Andre Fleury has started the last eight games and 47 of 56 overall ... Winger Mark Recchi and defenseman Sergei Gonchar were given yesterday's practice off.

Digits

0 - goals the Pens scored in their last game against New Jersey (a 3-0 loss on Dec. 26 at New Jersey).

1.75 - Goals the Penguins have averaged in four games against the Devils.

3 - Games in which the Pens have surrendered at least four goals over their last four games.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_493429.html
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:48 AM   #1029
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

Nasreddine's absence commendable

By Joe Starkey
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, February 16, 2007

Alain Nasreddine isn't the most prominent Penguins player.

He's not insignificant, either, which makes his absence from tonight's game at New Jersey noteworthy.

Nasreddine, who has the best plus-minus rating (plus-12) among the team's defensemen, will miss a second consecutive game in order to be with his wife and newborn son.

Alec Nasreddine was born at 7:33 a.m. Wednesday. He and his mother, Josiane, are doing fine, which prompts the question:

Why won't Dad be in the lineup tonight for a big game against the division-leading Devils?

Short answers:

? Because Dad has his priorities straight.

? Because he works for good people.

? Because the Penguins can afford to play without him.

If this were Sidney Crosby, it would be a mega-story, perhaps spawning an ESPN "Outside the Lines" segment titled, How soon should an athlete play after his wife gives birth?

That also would put Penguins coach Michel Therrien in an awkward position, though Therrien tends to put family first.

When the Penguins played in Phoenix earlier this season, Therrien started backup goaltender Jocelyn Thibault and spare winger Ronald Petrovicky because their fathers were at the game.

Therrien told Nasreddine he wouldn't be in the lineup Wednesday against Chicago and advised him to stay home when the Penguins left for New Jersey after practice Thursday.

"I think family is the most important thing," Therrien said. "I know Naz, it's his first child, and in the last week you could see it was a little bit of a distraction. That's normal. He's a human being before he's a hockey player. I wanted to make sure he spent time with his wife and his new boy."

Plus, Therrien said, "We're in a position to do that, because we have seven defensemen."

Nasreddine's teammates are thrilled for him. Many played with him in Wilkes-Barre, where he was their captain under Therrien. They love the guy.

Today, Nasreddine will demonstrate his leadership in a different way. Wife and son will be released from the hospital this morning, "and I want to be there for them," he said.

He practiced yesterday and hardly looked like a man conflicted. His smile was wider than a goal crease.

Josiane was there for every minute of Nasreddine's 12-team tour of professional hockey (the two were married in October after dating for 10 years). He'd played only 24 NHL games before the Penguins recalled him Dec. 6.

Not that he minded the minors.

"It's not like you're working 8 to 5," he said. "I was playing hockey and making decent money."

When his wife first felt labor pains Tuesday night, Nasreddine admits, he wondered if the delivery time might conveniently allow him to play Wednesday.

Hey, the man is 31 years old, and this is the first time he's earned a regular NHL paycheck (his salary is $450,000).

The two went to the hospital around 6 p.m. but were sent home. It was a false alarm - an offside, if you will.

Two hours later, reality set in.

"She said, 'I can't handle this anymore,' " Nasreddine said. "Once she started contractions, everything else just went away. I was just thinking about her, the baby, being a dad on Valentine's Day, and that this was for real."

What a season for Nasreddine. He scored his first NHL goal -- against Montreal, his hometown team -- established himself as a regular on the NHL's hottest club, was told he could move from a hotel to an apartment (he's renting downtown) and became a father.

"You know what," he said, "2007 has started real strong."

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_493427.html
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Old 02-16-2007, 12:53 AM   #1030
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Default Re: Pens Tidbits

Here's hoping the Pens can find a way to beat those damn Devils...but I doubt they will. Unfortunately, the regulation unbeaten streak ends tonight - the Devils have their number big time.

Unthinkable 6 weeks ago, Penguins go for Atlantic Division lead

By The Associated Press
Friday, February 16, 2007

The Pittsburgh Penguins could be getting closer to winning their first division title in nearly a decade.

The team hasn't come within striking distance of the top spot this late in the season since taking the championship in 1997-98.

But with Pittsburgh only seven points behind Atlantic Division leader New Jersey, a game in hand and four meetings with the Devils in coming weeks, the Penguins are playing games with division title implications.

"It's fun," said coach Michael Therrien. "We're kind of surprising a lot of people. Our goal still is to be able to make the playoffs, and that's our focus."

The Penguins are on a 12-0-2 run and have 69 points, tied at third in the conference. The Atlantic-leading Devils and Penguins meet Friday night in East Rutherford, N.J.

But the middle of the Eastern Conference is tightly bunched. The seven-point differential between New Jersey and Pittsburgh is the same as that between the Penguins and the 10th-place New York Islanders.

"(The division lead) is not something on our mind a whole lot," said league scoring leader Sidney Crosby. "It's so close, and that's something that would be nice, but from the fourth position to the eighth spot, there's not a lot of separation."

The Penguins did not move into the top eight until the eve of the All-Star break.

Pittsburgh had the worst record in the Eastern Conference last season. Since moving back to the Atlantic Division in 1998-99, the Penguins have never placed higher than third and finished in last place four consecutive seasons.

But the hot streak has the Penguins not only in the playoff race, but thinking about potential seeding.

"We can get home-ice advantage," said forward Erik Christensen. "With each win, we get more confident."

After averaging 62.5 points the previous four seasons, Pittsburgh is on a pace for 102 points. In the division race, however, the Devils have been one of the few teams winning at the same pace as the Penguins this year. The Devils are 18-4-4 in their last 26.

"We aren't that far from where we were before we went on this streak," said forward Ryan Malone. "It's been a big part of the year so far, but we've still got a lot of games left, and we still realize that (Friday) night is a big test for us to see where we're at right now."

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_493472.html
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