Wing Satan happy to contribute for Pens

| Monday, May 11, 2009

There are half-seconds that skilled players talk about all the time, and winger Miroslav Satan mentioned them often during his six months with the Penguins before a minor-league demotion in early March.

A half-second, he would say, was usually the difference between a goal scored and a scoring chance wasted.

The Penguins can thank Satan that they did not waste two scoring chances during a recent 48-hour sweep of second-round playoff games against the Washington Capitals. Without his patience with a puck on his stick, they likely would not need only a win tonight at Mellon Arena to reach a second consecutive Eastern Conference final.

Yes, Satan, discarded to the AHL two months back to clear salary-cap room, has helped the Penguins take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven battle with the Capitals, whom they can eliminate from the postseason tonight.

"It's great to see, because Miro is one of the guys who can make those plays," left wing Ruslan Fedotenko said Saturday night after Satan set up center Jordan Staal's first playoff goal, which staked the Penguins a 1-0 lead in what would become a 4-3 overtime win at Washington's Verizon Center.

Early in the second period, Satan won a few individual positioning battles in the offensive zone to gain possession of the puck below the goal line. He could have hurried a pass to the high point or wrapped one around the boards.

Instead, he waited, which allowed Staal to find space in the slot. Satan fed him the puck, and Staal whipped it past Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov.

Satan's primary assist was his second in as many games. Friday night at Mellon Arena, he dished to center Sidney Crosby — his early-season linemate — on a 2-on-1 that Crosby converted into an eventual winning goal for the Penguins.

"It seems like the coaches are starting to trust me a little more," Satan said. "They're putting me into good situations and giving me more ice time. What I'm doing well is just doing what I need to do."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma admitted Sunday that in early March he did not envision Satan skating alongside the likes of Crosby and Staal.

"Maybe our opinion of him changed, based on what he did when he went to (AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), how he reacted to the situation," Bylsma said. "When he went down, he showed a lot of character.

"They came after him in the American League, tried to play physical with him, and he responded to that and helped out people around him. When he came back here, he was ready to help us.

"It shows a lot about who he is."

Many Penguins fans don't really know. They long ago assessed Satan as a disappointment.

His 17 goals by March 4, when he was re-assigned to the AHL to clear salary-cap space, were allegedly not as many as departed winger Marian Hossa would have scored had he still been a Penguin.

Satan signed a one-year deal with the Penguins in July — not long after Hossa declined three multiyear offers that would have paid him over $7 million annually and opted for a one-year contract with Detroit.

Satan, a former 40-goal scorer, was viewed by fans as Hossa's replacement. Few folks paid attention to repeated statements by general manager Ray Shero that Satan was nothing of the sort.

He also wasn't jettisoned to the AHL because the Penguins believed he was no longer good enough to play. They simply did not have a scoring-line spot for Satan (354 career goals), and his $3.5 million salary pushed them too close to the cap after trade-deadline deals.

The salary cap — $56.7 million this season — is not counted in the playoffs as per the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and players.

Bylsma acknowledged yesterday the Penguins were not counting on Satan to contribute in the playoffs. But right wing Petr Sykora's struggles — two goals in 23 games dating to the regular season — left him little choice but to insert Satan into the lineup.

Even as mostly a fourth-line winger with just spot duty on a scoring line and the second power-play unit, Satan has not disappointed Bylsma.

Heck, he's even thrown a few hits — perhaps a reason Satan's responsibilities have increased since his playoff debut in the opening round.

"When he's gotten opportunities, he's demanded more ice time by the way he's played," Bylsma said.

As Satan said Saturday night, he is simply taking this opportunity one day — or half-second — at a time.

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