Wake-up call answered

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

When a player sleeps in and misses the first 15 games of the season, he should expect a wake-up call.

Whether he answers it or not is up to him.

In the cases of Dustin Penner and Kyle Brodziak, both seem to have picked it up on the first ring.

Since returning from the press box after Craig MacTavish questioned his fitness and desire, Penner has four points in five games, a dramatic spike for a guy with just two points in his previous 15 games. His ice time is up from 14 or 15 minutes early in the season to 17 or 18 (and 21:56 last game in Dallas).

In the two games since Brodziak returned from similar punishment, he warranted a season-high 18 minutes of ice time in St. Louis and scored two goals the next night in Dallas.

Whatever they're putting on that press box popcorn seems to work.

"I just think it's a heightened appreciation of the importance of being in the lineup each and every day," said MacTavish, following through on his pre-season pledge to shorten everyone's leash.

"Nothing is guaranteed in this game. Sometimes (sitting a player out) has a way of cutting through complacency. It's probably something I should have done earlier.

"Both had good responses and it had a good residual effect for everybody."

After the rod, both players were given every opportunity to prove themselves when they returned to the lineup.

Penner moved to the first line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky while Brodziak, who'd been wasting away on the fourth line, skated with semi-offensive wingers Ethan Moreau and Erik Cole.

Both have delivered so far. But was it the press box or the improved linemates that triggered the revivals?

"It's a bit of both," said Penner. "I've been playing more, I've been getting my confidence up and it's easy to do that when you're playing with those two guys and they're getting you the puck.

"Obviously we had great chemistry last year as a line, and we're close to recapturing that."

Nobody likes being scratched - Penner looked pretty frosty even after he returned to the lineup - but both say it's water under the bridge.

"I've forgotten about it," said Penner. "I used that week to look back and re-apply myself and now I'm moving forward. Maybe my game's changed on the outside to you guys, but to me it's just making small changes that have made a big difference on the ice."

Brodziak is also more concerned with tomorrow than yesterday.

"I was struggling to find my game, it was no secret that I wasn't playing my best hockey," he said.

"At this level, you have to find a way to be at your best every night or else someone is going to be waiting to take your job. Hopefully it helped and I can put it behind me now and move forward."

There are more candidates for the press box - always are on a sub .500 team - and coach says he won't hesitate to call out someone else if he feels it's necessary.

He doesn't have a lot of depth, but has enough that the press box doesn't have to be an idle threat.

"We've never really had that dynamic here the last couple of years, where you've had guys sitting out," he said.

"When I played, you always had a fifth line that was ready to go at the slightest opportunity. It had a way of focusing you in on your game and your situation. Sometimes it takes that. It's a good indicator that patience isn't always the best road to take early on in the year. I probably should have done it earlier.

"I waited for the guys to get their games going and it never really happened, so it got to that point. Now I think everybody sees that there's a threat there to be out of the lineup, so there's more of a sense of urgency."


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