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Gonchar injured in exhibition opener

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Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008

A short training camp could prove shorter for defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who was injured Saturday in the Penguins' 5-4 exhibition shootout loss against Tampa Bay at Mellon Arena.

Gonchar, an alternate captain and the club's power-play quarterback, left the game midway through the opening period after he was driven into the boards in the Penguins' zone by Lightning forward David Koci. Gonchar, favoring his left arm, headed for the dressing room at the next break in play and did not return.

Coach Michel Therrien said Gonchar would be further evaluated today.

The Penguins are already down two regular defensemen: Ryan Whitney, out until at least December after August surgery to correct a left foot deformity, and Rob Scuderi, day-to-day with bruised ribs.

Brooks Orpik, Gonchar's defense partner, said Koci's hit last night was late, but not dirty.

"It was tough to see because it came about 10 seconds after (Gonchar) moved the puck," Orpik said. "It was late. I don't know what else to say about it. But it was just late, I thought."

Therrien said Koci, a minor-leaguer in the Penguins' organization from 2001-06, simply "finished his check" on Gonchar. Koci is the third-most penalized player in AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's history.

Koci, playing his first game with Tampa Bay's organization, described the hit in question as "pretty clean."

"I came with speed. My hands were down. I hit him exactly when he passed the puck. I think it was a clean hit," Koci said. "I hope I didn't hurt him. I didn't mean to hurt him. I'm just trying to make a spot on this team, try to play hard. I'm sorry for what happened. I feel bad. I just want to play hard. I didn't mean to do something dirty."

Another Penguins' defenseman, Mark Eaton, missed several shifts after blocking a shot in the second period. He returned to the game and Therrien said "he's alright."

The game marked the exhibition opener for both clubs. It was the first contest at Mellon Arena since the Penguins lost Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final to the Detroit Red Wings on June 4.

A crowd of 16,287 welcomed the Penguins last night with an enthusiastic "Let's Go Pens!" chant.

Notes: The Penguins' announced 10 sellouts for the upcoming season only hours after single-game tickets were made available yesterday morning. A limited number of tickets remain for the remaining 30 regular-season home games, an average of 500 per game. The sellouts include the home-opener against New Jersey Oct. 11 and a Cup final rematch with Detroit Feb. 8, 2009.

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