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PENGUINS HOPE CAIRNS WILL BRING PHYSICAL PRESENCE TO TEAM

Thursday, 01.19.2006 / 12:00 AM / Pittsburgh Penguins
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PENGUINS HOPE CAIRNS WILL BRING PHYSICAL PRESENCE TO TEAM

(PRESS RELEASE: PENGUINS ACQUIRE DEFENSEMAN ERIC CAIRNS FOR DRAFT PICK)

At 6-foot-6 and 241 pounds, Eric Cairns definitely won’t get lost on any ice rink.

The Pittsburgh Penguins hope opponents notice the hulking defenseman’s physical edge, too.

“It’s pretty simple. In a tool bag, you need different tools and we didn’t have that tool. You can’t hammer a nail with a screwdriver. It’s pretty simple as far as I am concerned,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “We were looking for a player like Cairns and he’s going to bring a presence and we need it.”

Cairns has no problem mixing it up or asserting himself on the ice. The defenseman has racked up 1,090 penalty minutes in 429 career NHL contests leading up to Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena.

“Definitely – that’s pretty much the only way I know how to play. I like when our team wins when I [am physical] and that’s the overall goal for me,” he said. “I am looking forward to going out there and showing the organization and the fans what I’ve got.”

Cairns, acquired on Wednesday for a sixth-round draft choice, had 37 penalty minutes in 23 games with the Florida Panthers this year.

“I wasn’t playing all that much in Florida,” he said. “I am excited to come up here and hopefully help this team out – give them a little more room and help them win some games.”

The Penguins hope Cairns, who will be paired with Ric Jackman, can clear opponents away from the front of their goal.

“There’s no doubt about it. We want to be more aggressive around our net,” Therrien said. “We were figuring that we were losing some battles and we were not alert to the loose puck at times. A player like Cairns, I believe he is going to be a presence around our net and we need players like this.”

Cairns flew from Phoenix, where the Panthers meet the Coyotes on Thursday, to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He practiced with the Penguins Thursday morning and seems comfortable with his new surroundings. After all, he got the chance to familiarize himself with Pittsburgh during his first two years in the NHL with the Rangers and the next six with the New York Islanders before he signed with the Panthers as a free agent this season.

“I am familiar with this division and this team – I played against them quite a bit. It will take a little time to get comfortable, but everything seems good so far,” he said. “Down South was nice, but maybe I just belong up here in the Northeast where it’s a little grittier and maybe tougher hockey a little bit.

“I feel pretty good. It was long flight from Phoenix to here. I got in relatively early and got some sleep,” he said. “It seems like a real good bunch of guys. I am pretty excited to play with them. It’s funny when you play against a bunch of guys and then you’re actually teammates with them. You have a different outlook and everybody has been great so far.”

With the Panthers, Cairns played against the Penguins on Nov. 25 in Florida. He’s the type of player teams don’t like to play against, but love to have on their team.

“I hope so and if they didn’t, then I wouldn’t be doing my job,” he said. “For me, it’s like that pretty much.”

Cairns, who is 31 and in his ninth NHL season, could help some of the Penguins’ young defensemen, too.

“I am sure these guys already know what they’re doing. Every organization can always use a little more leadership. If that’s one of the things I can bring, I am going to try and bring it,” he said. “We have a bunch of veteran guys in here. I am nowhere near those guys as far as what they’ve done in their careers, but I will just and help out any way I can.”

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