Penguins notebook: Superstitious Sprong begins with confidence
DALLAS — Sidney Crosby has company.
“I have a pretty good list, but I don't like sharing them,” rookie forward Daniel Sprong said. “I'm pretty superstitious if you ask my teammates from back home.”
Sprong made his NHL debut Thursday at American Airlines Center against the Dallas Stars, the start of what he and the Penguins hope to be a career filled with goals and quirks.
“Keeping the same things, especially off-ice superstitions,” Sprong said. “They stay. On the ice, I have to change some things because my junior team warmup is a bit different.”
The primary ritual is one every Penguins player took part in Thursday.
“I'm looking forward to my nap,” Sprong said after the morning skate. “I'm looking forward to my bed.”
Perhaps Sprong, who was 20 minutes early for his first morning skate as a pro, was well-rested throughout training camp. He certainly played like it.
Coach Mike Johnston said he hopes to see the same confidence from Sprong that forced the organization into playing him on opening night.
However, Johnston pointed out he and the other coaches were careful not to allow Sprong to think too much.
“We said a lot leading up to today's game, not a lot on game day,” Johnston said. “It's a matter of him tonight playing with energy, playing with the confidence he played with in preseason.
“He carried the puck. He challenged the defense. We've talked to him about his game away from the puck, which is the same for any young guy. He's building on that, but (Thursday) just come into the game and play.”
Former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar was around the team's dressing room and talked with management about a potential role in the front office if he decides to retire.
He had a lengthy chat with fellow Russians Sergei Plotnikov and Evgeni Malkin before leaving the building with Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the morning after a salary-cap-related move, Olli Maatta officially put last season behind him, when he didn't play after another shoulder injury suffered on Dec. 6.
“I'm excited to get started,” Maatta said. “I cleared last season off. I try to not even think about it. Just trying to focus on the next game of this season. Really excited about this.”
Maatta skated on the second defensive pairing with Ben Lovejoy.
“Last year, obviously, we didn't play together,” Maatta said of Lovejoy, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Anaheim. “We've had a couple practices together. It doesn't matter which one of these seven defensemen you're paired with. They're good players.”
One of the Stars' biggest offseason moves was signing goaltender Antti Niemi and creating a platoon with Kari Lehtonen.
Dallas pays them a combined $10.4 million, or 14.7 percent of its salary cap, the most money allocated toward goaltending in the league.
Niemi started Thursday, but coach Lindy Ruff reinforced the platoon idea.
“We know we're going to use both goaltenders,” Ruff said.
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock used the NHL's first coach's challenge Wednesday night — and won.
Johnston, however, doesn't believe goals involving goaltender interference and offsides will be challenged all that frequently this season, even though it's now legal.
“I don't anticipate there will be a lot of challenges,” Johnston said. “It's kind of by coincidence that it did happen right away. We'll see how it goes along.”