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Pens get serious about toughing it out down the stretch

| Thursday, March 1, 2007

Georges Laraque is so accomplished at what he does that he can turn a hockey fight into an invitation-only affair.

The Penguins have never seen anything like this guy.

It could be that the NHL never before has, either.

But don't take my word for it.

Instead, visit and keep searching until you find the video of Laraque's bout with Los Angeles Kings tough guy Raitis Ivanans on Nov. 30, 2006. Laraque was wearing a microphone at the time, so there is audio, as well.

That'll reveal all you need to know about Laraque prior to his Penguins debut tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Laraque, 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, and Ivanans, 6-4, 250, position themselves for a faceoff.

"Want to?" Laraque asks, as innocently as if he were asking Ivanans to go out for a drink after the game. "OK• Good luck, man."

Then, the puck is dropped and the two have at it.

Laraque wins again.

"I think he's recognized by everybody as the toughest player in the league," Pens general manager Ray Shero said upon acquiring Laraque on Tuesday. "He's got that respect."

And now the Pens will have it.

The moral debate regarding fighting in the game can rage on ad nauseam. But as things stand now, fighting is both allowed and encouraged.

Laraque serves a purpose along those lines and has all the way back to his days in the QMJHL.

He was acquired by Granby in 1995-96, and Granby went on to win the Memorial Cup.

Granby's coach was Michel Therrien, who apparently felt he needed a physical presence to give his team every chance to compete for the championship.

This season's Penguins clearly had that in common with the 1995-96 Granby Predateurs.

"When you want to build a house and you look in your toolbox, sometimes you're missing some tools," Therrien said following practice Wednesday.

The Pens are missing one less today.

The Pens have a hammer.

The Pens have a sledgehammer.

The Pens have a jackhammer.

For the first time in their history, the Penguins possess the NHL's reigning heavyweight champion.

It would have been better to land a true power forward or a top-four defenseman.

Failing that, Shero has acquired "a presence" (the unanimous characterization of Laraque).

After further review, that might be the next best thing.

Laraque figures he'll fit right in. He told the Arizona Republic that the Penguins "have a lot of young stars who are getting abused and they need somebody to address that."

The brightest of those stars, Sidney Crosby, disagreed with Laraque's assessment but did so diplomatically.

"Honestly, I never feel like I'm getting abused or anything like that," Crosby said. "In some people's eyes, maybe that's the way it seems, but to me that's the way I've grown up playing, that's the way it's always been."

Crosby's periodic verbal assaults on officials suggest deep down he believes that isn't necessarily the way it ought to be.

And he certainly isn't about to turn down whatever help he gets from Laraque as it relates to perceived on-ice muggings.

"Guys are going to do what they're going to do," Crosby said. "But to have someone there looking out for you is gonna be nice, too."

Opponents must now respect that like never before against the Penguins.

Those that don't are destined to receive a personal invitation to reconsider.

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