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Winter Games in Russia makes for hectic NHL schedule for Penguins

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 1:48 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Defenseman Kris Letang and the Penguins will open the 2013-14 season against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 3, 2012, at Consol Energy Center.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby laughed about his busy upcoming schedule Friday. For Crosby and many Penguins stars — and coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero, for that matter — business just picked up, in more ways than one.

The NHL finally settled on an agreement with the International Olympic Committee to send its players to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Less than an hour later, the NHL released a schedule that will be busier than usual to accommodate a 20-day break for the Olympics.

“I'm glad that we're going,” Crosby said. “I'm obviously excited to start the process.”

What a busy process it will be.

Crosby, who scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics in overtime against the United States, will attend Team Canada's orientation camp in Alberta in August. Bylsma, who will coach Team USA, will host an orientation camp in Arlington, Va., in August, and will almost certainly invite some of his Penguins.

Crosby is delighted to again take part in the Olympics.

“The people you meet, the different athletes, just getting to represent your country,” Crosby said. “There is a lot of pride that comes with that.”

There will also be a lot of hockey.

The NHL will go dark for 20 days during the Olympics. It was announced Friday that Team USA and Russia are in the same pool, opposite of Canada.

Crosby believes this tournament will have a different feel because of the Olympic-sized ice which is used in Russia.

The ice surface will be considerably bigger than NHL rinks.

“It will be a different game, more of a puck possession game,” Crosby said. “I think speed will be even more important.”

Endurance might be the most important attribute of the regular season, with 82 games being crammed into a schedule with 20 fewer days.

The Penguins will face especially busy months in November (15 games) and March (16 games).

For the first time in more than a decade, every NHL team will visit Pittsburgh this season, and the Penguins will play in every arena.

Here are some other tidbits:

• The Penguins open the season Oct. 3 at home against the New Jersey Devils.

• The Penguins will play three times in Columbus, one of two divisional teams they play five times.

• Philadelphia (three) will make the most trips to Consol Energy Center this season.

• The Penguins will face 16 back-to-back situations this season.

• The Penguins will play a night game at Chicago's Soldier Field against the defending champion Blackhawks on March 1.

• Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad will play his first career game at Consol Energy Center when the Penguins host the Blackhawks on March 30.

• The Penguins will host five afternoon games and have four home games that begin at 8 p.m.

• The annual Thanksgiving Eve game in Pittsburgh will see the Penguins host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

• The Penguins' new division has a new name: The Metropolitan Division.

Always among the NHL's biggest draws, the Penguins will be the visitor in 15 of their 20 Saturday games.

NHL players participating in the Olympics figures to be a pretty big draw, too.

“We always thought it was a matter of time,” Crosby said. “It was just a matter of logistics. I'm looking forward to it.”

Note: Penguins prospects will scrimmage at 3 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center. The event is open to the public.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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