Pens aim for Cup repeat

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- After the bubbly had fizzled, the beer had been guzzled and the parade was complete, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had a task for his staff.

In the short summer break for the upstart Stanley Cup champs, there was a homework assignment to be completed before training camp began this past weekend.

"It's always a challenge, ask any Stanley Cup winner and I guarantee you they will talk about the short summer or the complacency level, there's always something," Pens assistant general manager and former Maple Leaf, Tom Fitzgerald, said yesterday, when asked about the tricky business of returning to work wearing the champion's belt .

"It was part of a project from Dan, to come back as coaches after picking the brains of other Stanley Cup winners. Whether it was players or coaches or assistants, he wanted us to see what they might do different the first year after winning. You always want to figure out how you can get back that edge and keep the advantage."

Of course, the Penguins, who play host to the Leafs tonight at the Mellon Arena, have a number of built in edges, starting with young superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But there's more to it than that. Bylsma, for one, is conducting his first NHL training camp, after being promoted from the farm in mid-season to replace fired Michel Therrien. No chance for complacency there though the Pens won't be overworked in terms of the grind of pre-season games.

The team will play just six as opposed to the gruelling nine in 12 days the Leafs are faced with, including tonight's third in three nights. With a roster that is hardly in flux being built around returning veterans, 10 players already have been cut leaving 43 in camp.

Bylsma has no intention of pretending Stanley isn't in the room, either. Last night, the team travelled to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., home of the team's AHL farm team, for a Black and Gold intrasquad game and show and tell with the greatest trophy in pro sports. But he is stressing that the future is of more pressing concern.

Other than bubble players trying to puncture the lineup, the abbreviated schedule should work fine, especially for players who had little downtime anyway.

"I would think that would be enough," Fitzgerald said. "We played 104 games last year. The reality is, our guys probably didn't have the chance to get out of shape.

"Every team is at a different stage in terms of where they are and where they want to be. Some teams need to walk before they run. For us, we have a confident group and we know what we have."

The all-business approach is made easier when the team's captain is a lead-by-example type. He may be the youngest player in history to wear a "C" and hoist the Cup, but Crosby's work ethic already is becoming legendary around the Pens.

True to that, Sid the Kid has had his game-face on since camp opened, determined that those around him will be ready for the Oct. 2 season opener against the New York Rangers. While it is uncertain whether Crosby will be in the lineup tonight, Malkin likely will be given he sat out the Pens' pre-season opener earlier this week.

"When the season starts, you can't just turn it on," Crosby said. "If you push yourself in the pre-season and get yourself at the right level then there shouldn't be that much of an adjustment at the start of the regular season."

The game plan, then, is to pick up where they left off a few short months ago.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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