Penguins' unity uninjured

| Friday, March 14, 2008

Although they've used 37 players through 71 games, the Penguins have managed to maintain a united approach, no matter who happens to be playing on a given night.

They may be failing health, but they're acing chemistry while contending for first in the Eastern Conference.

"Everyone gets along so well on this team," defenseman Brooks Orpik said after Wednesday night's 7-3 destruction of the Buffalo Sabres. "That's something that's overlooked a lot, and it goes a long way."

The Penguins have had to do things the hard way this season, making repeated emergency calls to their Wilkes-Barre/Scranton AHL affiliate while forging ahead without the likes of Sidney Crosby, Gary Roberts, Marian Hossa, Maxime Talbot, Mark Eaton, Adam Hall, Rob Scuderi and Marc-Andre Fleury for extended stretches due to injuries.

"Some of these guys have been up and back five, six times," Orpik said of the replacements.

The trade of Erik Christensen and Colby Armstrong was thought to be potentially damaging to the Penguins' chemistry by some, national television analyst and former Penguins assistant coach Pierre McGuire among them.

But whether it's Scuderi or Ryan Stone who's occupying the adjacent locker, whether it's Crosby or Connor James hanging out with the fellas, the Pens proceed as the happy family they've become.

"I think it develops in training camp," Orpik said. "Even the guys who were in their first camp (with the Penguins' organization) will probably tell you the older guys are pretty welcoming guys. I think our team's pretty unique. Everyone hangs out a lot and gets along pretty well.

"These young guys come, they feel welcome, and I think it carries over onto the ice and shows in our confidence."

The Buffalo victory increased the Penguins' record to 12-6-4 without Crosby.

It included the first career goal for minor-league call-up Christopher Minard, an event that was celebrated and appreciated by the Penguins' veterans with as much gusto as anyone.

"That was a pretty cool moment for me, being a friend of his, to see him get a goal like that," defenseman Ryan Whitney said.

Added winger Ryan Malone, "That was awesome. I'm getting goose-bumps just talking about it."

As Orpik understands it, a lot of other teams would be much more ho-hum in their response, assuming they'd take notice of such a thing in the first place.

"Even my first couple of years here, it seemed like there was a big separation between the so-called veterans and the younger guys," he said. "It's easy for some of the older guys to kind of just do their own thing and ignore some of the younger guys.

"But that West Point trip we do (in the preseason), stuff like that at the beginning of the year, even going out to dinner, guys try to go out with different guys. In talking to Darryl Sydor and Gary Roberts, who have been on a handful of teams and played in the league for 18 years, 19 years, they said, 'You better recognize right now what we have in here, because it's not like this everywhere else.'

"It's definitely something special here."

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