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Penguins notebook: More than 200,000 tune in to scrimmage

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save during practice at South Point Jan. 13, 2013.

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Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 7:52 p.m.

Local NBC affiliates can probably count on strong ratings for the NHL opener at 3 p.m. Saturday between the Penguins and Flyers at Philadelphia. The Penguins' Black & Gold scrimmage registered a 6.67 Nielsen rating for Root Sports Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. That bested all prime-time programming on any network or cable station. About 210,000 regional viewers watched the scrimmage, Nielsen reported. “Amazing fans,” Root Sports Pittsburgh general manager Shawn McClintock said, noting the Penguins are coming off a 2011-12 season during which their local ratings were highest for any NHL or NBA team.

• Defenseman Brian Strait was claimed off waivers Friday by the New York Islanders. Strait, 25, was a third-round pick (65th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He recorded an assist in 12 career games with the Penguins.

• Coach Dan Bylsma carrying eight defensemen on the 23-player active roster is “not ideal” but conceded the Penguins were hamstrung by contract situations. Seven of the eight defensemen are either on NHL contracts or would need to clear waivers.

• Simon Despres, the only defenseman not on a one-way contract and ineligible for waivers, practiced with a new partner. He was paired with Deryk Engelland. Despres had spent much of training camp working with Kris Letang, but Letang spent Friday paired with Matt Niskanen. If those pairing hold, only the Despres-Engelland pairing will feature left- and right-handed shooters. Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, both left-handed shots, will play against opponents' top scoring line, Bylsma said.

• Niskanen is the “Mustache Boy” for January and February. He lost a shootout competition that concluded practice. The Penguins hold a shootout competition every month, with the losing skater tasked with growing a mustache for the remaining weeks. However, since the 48-game season begins in late January, Niskanen must wear his mustache through February.

• Captain Sidney Crosby will be part of the Penguins' top six penalty-killing forwards, Bylsma said. Crosby will take faceoffs from the right circle.

• Bylsma on top forward prospect Beau Bennett, who was returned to the AHL on Thursday: “Beau's development is probably farther along than I anticipated.”

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