Tuesday, 03.1.2011 / 4:45 PM ET / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
They’re back on the road after returning to Pittsburgh for two full days following back-to-back games in Carolina and Toronto on Feb. 25 and 26.
The Penguins flew back to Toronto immediately following Tuesday’s practice for their game at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. They’ll then take a post-game charter to New Jersey for their game against the Devils on Friday before heading to Boston to face the Bruins on Saturday.
It’s their longest stretch of consecutive road games this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the purposes of team camaraderie – especially with the very recent additions of James Neal and Matt Niskanen from Dallas and Alex Kovalev from Ottawa.
“It’s going to be good for team bonding, for them to get to know us pretty much 24-7 instead of being at the rink, going home and doing your own thing,” forward Pascal Dupuis said. “You go for dinner, you pretty much hang with these guys all the time. So it’s going to be better to get to know them, but we can already tell that they’ll mesh in pretty good.”
It’s going to be good for team bonding, for them to get to know us pretty much 24-7 instead of being at the rink, going home and doing your own thing. You go for dinner, you pretty much hang with these guys all the time. So it’s going to be better to get to know them, but we can already tell that they’ll mesh in pretty good. - Pascal DupuisOne might think that with the three players’ whirlwind transitions to Pittsburgh over this past week, they’d want to spend time getting settled in their new city instead of hitting the road.
But they said that wasn’t the case, instead viewing the trip as a welcome respite from the chaos of relocating and as a quality bonding opportunity.
“As soon as I got here, I put my stuff in the hotel and got on the ice to skate,” Neal said, who is from Toronto and is looking forward to getting to go home twice in a five-day span. “I slept and then got ready for my first game as a Penguin. So (the trip) takes away from the craziness of the living situation and trying to get your stuff shipped everywhere.”
Niskanen agreed, calling the timing of the trip “perfect“ – especially since he and Neal got a home game at CONSOL Energy Center under their belts on Feb. 23 before heading out the first time.
“It was nice when we came in that the team was home,” he said. “I really enjoyed that, just to get used to the facilities and get to know everybody by name here first. Then perfect timing getting to go on the road.”
While the guys have nothing concrete planned in terms of activities, they’re all looking forward to whatever the trip brings.
“These are fun,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “When we’re playing home games, we’re constantly going home and being with our families. You kind of go your separate ways, but when you have a longer road trip, you spend the whole time with the team. It’s great for you. You get even closer with the guys, and it’s definitely a bonding experience.”
It also helps that the deadline has passed and the Penguins players know that this is the group they’re going to have for the stretch run heading into the postseason.
“There’s always that sense of relief when 3 p.m. comes and goes,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Now we know that this is our group, this is our team. We have 18 games left ... Now it’s time to focus on playing hockey with this group of guys in this room.”