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Notebook: Pens' Shero not panicking despite injuries

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Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007

His club is down its starting goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, a key penalty-killing forward in Max Talbot and a defenseman whose value is not measurable by statistics in Mark Eaton.

At some point every day, general manager Ray Shero reads of or hears about a rumor that has him acquiring a player to fill some sudden need for the Penguins.

But anybody waiting for Shero to make an immediate trade -- for, say, San Jose winger Jonathan Cheechoo -- is not wise to hold their breath.

"Most of the movement now is Internet rumors," Shero said. "But since the new collective bargaining agreement, it is almost a two-day year, and you work for the trade deadline (Feb. 26, 2008) and July 1 (the annual start of free-agency).

"Teams seem to set their rosters in the summer, and there is not a lot of movement when the season starts."

Shero's two big moves last season were acquiring forwards Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts at the trade deadline. Only seven players had been traded this season as of Saturday.

Shero cannot divulge specifics of any talks in which he is engaged, but acknowledged that he is speaking with other clubs. That, though, is not unusual.

"You hear from somebody almost every day in this job," Shero said. "There is plenty of conversation.

"Realistically, with the parity after the new CBA, everybody is so close. A lot of teams that were out of it even at this time last season, Philadelphia or Phoenix, are in it this season. Everybody is trying to improve his team for this season, and that makes win-win moves more difficult."

Just push play

Goaltender Ty Conklin started for the fourth time in five games against the Buffalo Sabres at Mellon Arena last night.

Coach Michel Therrien said Conklin had played as well as his statistics suggested. Conklin was 3-0-0 in four starts with a 3.50 goals-against average.

Therrien added that Conklin has helped the Penguins with solid puck-handling, a skill that is not the strong point of either Fleury or Dany Sabourin.

"That is a bonus," Therrien said. "If you look at Martin Brodeur in New Jersey and Rick DiPietro with the Islanders, there are a lot of goaltenders that can move the puck.

"It is tough to compare the way (Conklin) handles the puck to the best guys in the league, but for us, he is definitely the best guy we have."

Ruff assessment

Buffalo left wing Thomas Vanek had scored 11 goals through 36 games and was on-pace for 25 -- not a disgraceful total, but not near the expectations for a player that scored 43 times during his second season in 2006-07.

The Penguins know all too well about struggles that can follow a player's breakout season. Center Jordan Staal scored 29 goals, a league-leading seven shorthanded, as a rookie last season. He had tallied only three goals this year.

"They are not the first two players to go through it," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "All of a sudden, you wake up one day and everything is not so easy. The move you made last year does not work. Those shorthanded breakaways are not happening.

"It has a lot to do with going through the league a second or third time and teams knowing what to expect."

Around the boards

Right wing Petr Sykora did not dress for the first time this season. He is out due to illness. ... The Penguins are expected to make a formal request with the league to wear a third jersey next season. Team officials are so pleased with the look of the retro-themed uniforms the club will wear in the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day that the Penguins will seek permission to make that design their alternate look. ... Prior to their final game of 2007 last night, the Penguins went 51-29-7, including the playoffs, over the previous 12 months.

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