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Pens defenseman Sydor continues transition

When Darryl Sydor takes the ice Wednesday in the Penguins' game against Montreal, it will be a milestone night for the 35-year-old defenseman.

He officially will pass Mike Ricci on the all-time games played list and will join an elite group of players who have appeared in 1,100 career games.

Including the Penguins, Sydor has played for five teams in his NHL career. He won the Stanley Cup in 1999 with Dallas and 2004 with Tampa Bay and has played in two All-Star games. But through his first two games with the Penguins, the seventh overall pick in the 1990 draft by the Los Angeles Kings has had some problems adapting to the defensive system run by coach Michel Therrien.

"It's been a process, because it's a little bit of a different system, and it takes some time," Sydor said. "You do have old bad habits you've got to get rid of, but I know things are coming."

It hasn't just been learning a new system that has Sydor struggling a bit on the ice. He's had to acclimate himself to playing with a new defense partner, Rob Scuderi, who spent most of last season paired with Josef Melichar. Melichar, who was not re-signed by the Penguins, is playing alongside former Penguins left wing Tomas Surovy for Linkopings HC of the Swedish Elite League.

Figuring out how to play with a new defensive partner takes time. Each player has to figure out the other's game and anticipate their every move to position themselves correctly on the ice. Failure to do so can be disastrous for the goaltender.

"Obviously, he came from another system in Dallas and since I've been familiar with what we're doing here, I've tried to explain to him my best what we're doing," Scuderi said. "Obviously he's a fast learner, he's a veteran, so it hasn't been too hard for him."

Sydor, who has not scored more than 40 points in a season since 2001 and only reached the plateau four times in his career, is scoreless and has an even plus-minus through two games.

Sydor would not be the first free agent in recent years to have problems adapting to the Penguins' defensive system. When Sergei Gonchar first inked his five-year, $25 million contract after the lockout ended in 2005, he appeared confused in then-coach Eddie Olczyk's scheme, and his offensive production fell off considerably for the first two months of the season.

Even after Therrien replaced Olczyk on Dec. 15, 2005, it took a while before Gonchar, a two-time All-Star with the Washington Capitals, reclaimed the mantle of elite offensive defenseman. He eventually did rebound and finished with 58 points in 2005-06 and tied a career high with 67 points last season that helped him become a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

"It was very tough because we have a very different system than what I was used to and I really hadn't played that way," Gonchar said. "I struggled in the beginning, but when Mike came in, I had a chance to learn his system, which was a little more familiar to what I was used to. That's why I started playing better. Not only me but the whole team."

Now, it's Sydor's turn to go through the adjustment period. It may take time for him to find his niche in the system and alongside Scuderi, but he doesn't doubt that it will happen.

"The whole think about hockey is you can't think. You can't think -- do," Sydor said. "I think the first few games and the preseason I was trying to press too much and think too much and do more than what I'm supposed to do. I think that if I just react and not think, it will take some time ... but we don't have time. We need points, so it's got to happen quick."

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