Penguins notebook: Thousands pack Consol for practice

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 5:57 p.m.

The Kid gave the kids quite a treat.

With thousands of school children on hand to watch the Penguins practice at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday, Sidney Crosby went into the crowd to greet them.

Of course, this wasn't necessarily by choice.

Crosby lost a shootout competition at the practice's conclusion, and the loser was forced to enter the crowd.

The Penguins captain suggested that goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff conspired to make sure Crosby lost. Some Penguins scored goals quite easily, while the goaltenders made sure to look completely alert when it was Crosby's turn.

“It looked pretty rigged to me,” Crosby said with a smile.

The students in attendance weren't complaining.

And really, neither was Crosby.

“It was fun to go up and down the stands,” said Crosby, who concluded practice by taking the microphone and wishing the students in attendance a Merry Christmas.

“It was nice to meet a few kids and get a few high-fives.”

Although the practice was a grueling one — likely to put on a show for the thousands in attendance, the Penguins practice for nearly a half hour longer than usual — the Penguins enjoyed practicing before a noisier-than-usual Consol Energy Center.

“It was definitely loud,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “And yeah, especially after coming off a game the night before, I'd say that having them here this morning probably gave everyone a little bit of a lift, a little more jump.”

Root Sports play-by-play broadcaster Paul Steigerwald and Penguins Radio color commentator Phil Bourque hosted the practice, explaining some basic hockey concepts and offering some educational facts about the workout.

“It was a good time out there,” center Brandon Sutter said. “And yeah, the place got pretty loud for a practice.”

No Geno

In something of a surprise, center Evgeni Malkin did not participate in practice. He was the only “healthy” Penguin to miss the workout.

Coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin was given a “maintenance day,” the lingo he frequently uses to indicate a player simply needed a day off.

Malkin missed games last week against San Jose and Boston before returning to the lineup Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Looking completely healthy, Malkin showcased his speed while scoring a sensational goal.

Given that the Penguins don't play again until Friday and won't practice Wednesday, it simply could be the Penguins wanted Malkin to receive two full days off.

Things are looking up

Two injured Penguins continue to get closer to returning to the lineup.

Defenseman Rob Scuderi skated on his own again, something that has become a theme during the past two weeks. He appears close to returning to full team practices after sustaining a broken ankle in Toronto six weeks ago.

Bylsma said Scuderi is “ramping up” his workouts.

Also, left wing Tanner Glass (broken hand) is continuing to improve. He didn't skate with the Penguins but, according to Bylsma, did continue his rehabilitation with off-ice workouts.

Harry Z returned to Wilkes-Barre

Harry Zolnierczyk, whose play impressed the Penguins during an NHL stint earlier this season, was never given an opportunity to impress management this time.

Recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in time to join the Penguins in Boston on Saturday, Zolnierczyk was a healthy scratch for that game and Monday's victory over Columbus.

Zolnierczyk has scored nine goals in 18 AHL games this season.

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