Pens' Christensen shooting for ice time
In the waning moments of Friday's win over Carolina, Penguins forward Erik Christensen did the one thing for which he has become best known.
He started off in his own zone, powered in on Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, and beat him on the breakaway to help the Penguins to a 3-2 win in a shootout and a 4-3 victory in the game.
"The team needed a goal, and I guess it's a privilege to be out there," Christensen said. "I take it seriously, but I try to have some fun with it, and I enjoy it."
There hasn't been much for Christensen to enjoy in the early part of the season. His ice time has dwindled every game until Saturday, when he was a healthy scratch in the Penguins' 2-1 win in Washington.
"We started the season, we started the training camp, and we gave him a great opportunity, and it didn't work probably as well as we were expecting, and we had to make some decisions," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said Monday. "He's got to find a way to get back to the lineup, and he's got to earn his ice time and earn his spot."
During the first couple of games, Christensen was in the rotation on the merry-go-round that was Sidney Crosby's left wing. He picked up an assist in the home opener against Anaheim and scored his only goal this season against Toronto. But after playing a season-high 22 shifts and 13:36 in the season opener at Carolina, he was on the ice only seven times for 4:48 in Friday's game against the Hurricanes. Even though he scored that shootout goal, he was a healthy scratch the next night, replaced in the lineup by Georges Laraque.
"I don't want to discuss it, and I don't want to comment on it," Christensen said. "I just don't want it to be a distraction."
Christensen scored a career-best 18 goals last season but became best known for putting the puck in the net when the game remained knotted after the overtime. He finished the year tied for the NHL lead in shootout goals with eight and in his two-plus seasons, he is 10 for 16 (62.5 percent) at converting in the shootout format.
"It's my job that, if I get called upon to do that, I have to be at my best and try and stay sharp," Christensen said. "If that's what people want to think, that that's all I'm good for, that's fine."
Despite Christensen's shootout success, Therrien made it very clear he doesn't want a one-dimensional player on his bench.
"You can't just stay in the lineup because you're good in the shootout. You just can't," Therrien said. "I'm never going to keep a guy in the lineup just because he's good in a shootout because there's 65 minutes to play before you get to a shootout, and it's not every game."
Therrien would not say whether Christensen would return to the lineup tonight against the New York Rangers, but with Laraque still fighting the effects of a pulled groin, it could be sooner than later that he returns to the bench.
About the only thing for certain is that Christensen will have to improve his all-round game, or he won't be a constant fixture in the Penguins' lineup.
"He's got to make sure that he's solid defensively, that he's competing for the puck. He's a good shooter, and he's got a lot of skill," Therrien said. "He can't rely on just shooting the puck because, usually, you only get, one, two, three shots a game. There's a lot of things he's got to do on the ice, and he's got to focus on all of those aspects.
"Players have got to earn their ice time and players have got to earn their spot in the lineup. That's just the way it is."