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Jordan Staal makes smooth return to Penguin lineup

His shooting touch, his skating, his skill along the boards, it all came back quickly for Jordan Staal despite a monthlong layoff.

His poise came, too.

"You're always a little nervous before a game like this, when you've been out this long," Staal said. "I knew I could play, but I still get nervous. ... After the first couple shifts, I started feeling a little more comfortable and a lot better."

Staal, who missed 15 games with a knee injury, scored a goal and assisted on another Saturday in an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg, his first game in 36 days.

Staal's minutes were limited to 16:14 - down some from the 20:23 he averaged before the injury -- but his influence was obvious. The eight-goal game was unusual for a Penguins team that had been searching for added scoring.

"We immediately saw the effect of another quality centerman in the middle of the ice," coach Dan Bylsma said. "... There was more offense created just by his presence there."

His most obvious contribution came in the third period when a well-placed pass from Pascal Dupuis found Staal cutting through the slot with just Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec to beat. Staal snapped the close-range shot past Pavelec for his first goal since Dec. 29.

But his most important play came eight minutes into the first period, when his pass led to a goal by Dustin Jeffrey and cut a 2-0 deficit in half.

"The assist was a bigger play than the goal," Bylsma said, "but I'm glad to see him get the opportunity to get the goal as well."

Staal's first shift came 57 seconds into the first period, and he promptly won a faceoff. He won just 3 of 10 and took only one shot.

"There were a few times you could tell he hadn't played in 15 games," Bylsma said

His medial collateral ligament was injured Jan. 6 in a collision with New York Rangers forward Mike Rupp. But Staal said yesterday that his left knee felt fine and expected to play again tonight. His bigger concern was conditioning.

"We'll see how I feel," Staal said. "There were a few shifts here and there where you feel a little bit, but I felt good."

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