A couple of slices from the AM practice pizza to get everybody ready for Pens-Leafs tonight:
= C JORDAN STAALskated for the second time in three days, spending about 20 minutes on the ice at Consol Energy Center withstrength and conditioning coach MIKE KADAR. Staal was on the ice around 9 a.m. and off just after 9:30 a.m. He spoke with the local media, a scrum you can see here: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid18866182001?bclid=13451713001&bctid=635318302001.
Staal isn’t anywhere close to playing, but him being on the ice is a good sign. A better sign: Seeing him smile again. My few run-ins with him during the last few weeks always included a quasi-depressed look on his face. Easy to forget is Staal’s age, 22. He might seem like he’s been around forever, but he remains a very young man — one who in this case is dealing for the first time with professional adversity in the form of a long-term injury. I can’t imagine the emotional whack it was for him to learn that right foot was infected a second time, especially considering how this offseason’s hot-button story — EVGENI MALKINmoving from center to right wing — was going to provide him a chance to play on a top-six line for the first time in four years. Staal was looking forward to that more than he lets on, and he didn’t really hide letting on how much he was looking forward to that.
= Coach DAN BYLSMA said D BROOKS ORPIK (groin) is day-to-day. There is no timetable on D ZBYNEK MICHALEK(right shoulder). Neither will play tonight against Toronto. I’d say that puts the Peguins down their three top penalty killers in Staal, Michalek Orpik. I asked Bylsma if the loss of those defensemen would make him think about not dressing RW ERIC GODARD, even though the Maple Leafs can rough it up with the best of them. Yes, Godard is not a defenseman, but with so many PK guys down, I have to think C/RW CRAIG ADAMS, a trusted PK guy, will get into the lineup — and there is no reason to remove either C/LW MIKE RUPP or C MAX TALBOT from the lineup.
I’ve not heard anything about Michalek that would make me feel good about calling for a short-term absence. A long-term absence would be a crucial blow, as I believe he was going to be the workhorse of this defense corps.
= G MARC-ANDRE FLEURYsaid he will start tonight, though Bylsma said that is a game-time decision. Also, and I can’t figure this out, but C/RW MIKE COMRIE looks like he won’t be playing.
= Ran into former Penguin BILL GUERIN at practice. He is in town to “tie up a few loose ends.” He will attend the game tonight as a guest and sit in a private box.
Guerin hasn’t closed the door on again playing in the NHL, but he also seems comfortable with the possibility of retirement. His four kids are young enough that he can still enjoy watching them grow, and his 19 years in the NHL should top most stories at their “Bring Your Dad to School” days.
“It’s a young man’s league,” Guerin said as we discussed the many name-recognized veterans not playing in the NHL.
A thought on Guerin: NBC or Versus should get on the phone with him today. He is a USA Hockey legend who can speak to non-traditional US audiences — not scream at them, not try to grab their attention by making potentially controversial statements, and not speak down to them as though he was blessed with a higher hockey IQ from above. Guerin is funny, thoughtful, and honest. Hockey coverage in this country would be better if he were a part of it. American audiences are used to conversational broadcasters, and Guerin would be one for the NHL.
Speaking of Guerin, this gives me a good opportunity to remind Pittsburghers of another milestone anniversary today — the 30th of my favorite Bruce Springsteen album, “The River.” Hopefully a certain avid reader/HBO employee will find it in her heart to send me a copy of ”The Promise,” which is about the making of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” but would still please me to view, anyway.