Penguins having a ball

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

The Pittsburgh Penguins are trying something different in the NHL.

They're, well, having fun.

A lot of teams say they're having fun, but the sound and the energy and the faces will tell you something different.

This Penguins fun is a different kind of fun than the "old" Stanley Cup-winning Penguins used to have which was more like the fun you'd see at 11 o'clock at, say, McNabb Arena on a Monday night.

The old birds would skate around in practice without helmets or shoulder pads and coach Eddie Johnston would blow his whistle a couple of times. Tom Barrasso would scowl at somebody and 20 minutes later somebody would undo Mario Lemieux' skates for him.

These new Penguins are having fun, too, but it's the fun that comes when some kids realize they have a chance to do something special for the first time. Fun for them; fun for those of us who watch.

WON'T LAST FOREVER

The old Penguins were a golf tournament at a country club. These new, fresh, energized Penguins are the X-Games.

They are on the ice early and off it late.

It's the fun that doesn't happen often or for long because people are even now starting to expect good things from them all the time, but for the time being, the Penguins' youngsters can revel in winning and exceeding expectations.

"These guys don't want to leave the rink. Years ago, that's the way it used to be," said veteran winger Gary Roberts, picked up at the trade deadline (insert appropriate Senators fan wistfulness here) and plopped into a young, fresh-faced dressing room where there is no fight for razors.

Roberts said it reminds him of his days when he broke in with the Flames as they were headed for a Stanley Cup in 1989.

"In Calgary, we'd have ping-pong tournaments before practice, after practice, we'd spend half the day at the rink. That's the way it was. Over time, that's changed. But on this team, that's what I see. I see guys that love to be at the rink, they love to be here working on their game, they love being out there with each other, having fun after practice."

Led by Sidney Crosby, on his way to his first Art Ross Trophy and maybe the Hart Trophy as MVP, too, the Penguins are the team that's got the buzz about them heading into the post-season.

Led by Crosby's breakneck pace, they have come far, and they have done it quickly.

These Penguins have gone from dead last in the East a year ago to a 100-point season, only the fourth in franchise history, and their first playoff berth since 2001.

They had a bit of a stumble Tuesday night against the Buffalo in a 4-1 loss, but the Sabres have tripped a lot of teams this season. That loss, dropping the Penguins three points back of the Devils in the Atlantic Division, sure makes it look like the Senators and the Penguins will meet in the first round of the playoffs.

After tonight's game against the Senators, the Penguins wrap up their season against the Rangers at home Sunday. There's still a chance they could catch the Devils or the Senators, but Roberts said his message to the Penguins is not to focus on that.

"You can't really worry about them. We just have to worry about ourselves. We need to worry about finishing up with two really strong games and getting ready for the playoffs," he said.

"We've got nothing to prove (against the Senators) other than we know we need to get ready, get our game in order. Just worry about ourselves."

MISSED WHITNEY

The Penguins were without defenceman Ryan Whitney Tuesday and the power play suffered for it (0-for-8), but he should be back tonight.

Crosby said there's no room for excuses.

"If we put a couple in on those power plays, it's a little different game," he said. "There are going to be times when you're missing a guy on the first power play, whether it's (Whitney) or (Sergei Gonchar) or anybody. You still have to find ways to get it done."

Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who should get strong consideration for the Jack Adams award as the NHL's coach of the year, shares Roberts' message.

"We're worried about ourselves. We want to finish the season off strong and gain momentum going into the playoffs. I don't think there are any better teams we could have played to prepare us for that type of atmosphere," he said.

"We want to gain momentum and we want to have confidence going into the playoffs. We've just got to worry about us."


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