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Penguins back together as teammates after Olympics, ready for stretch drive

PITTSBURGH - Kris Letang doesn't want to bring up the Olympics to Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Brooks Orpik, Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin.

He'll be more than happy to discuss the hockey tournament with Sidney Crosby, though, after his countryman helped Canada defeat the United States 3-2 in overtime Sunday in the gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics.

Now, the five of them - along with Team Canada's Marc-Andre Fleury and the 17 other players on the Penguins' roster - are back together for the stretch drive toward the playoffs, where they hope to defend their Stanley Cup title.

"I didn't want to talk about the Olympics with (Gonchar)," Letang said of the Russian defenceman, who called his Olympic team finishing sixth in Vancouver "the biggest disappointment I've had so far in my career."

Crosby, who scored the winning goal, is another matter.

"I was real happy for him," Letang said. "I think everything that he's done - it's not luck. It's because he deserves it and worked for it."

The Penguins went through their first practice Monday since the Olympics ended, although Crosby, Fleury and Orpik did not participate because all were travelling together Monday.

Each is expected to play Tuesday night when the Penguins host, perhaps fittingly, the Buffalo Sabres - the team backstopped by Ryan Miller, the Olympic tournament's most valuable player who did everything for Team USA except stop Crosby's wrister 7:40 into overtime Sunday.

The gold-medal game drew strong TV ratings across North America, and the Penguins' players and brass certainly were watching.

Forward Max Talbot called Crosby's goal "legendary" - and Talbot knows about scoring timeless goals after having two in Pittsburgh's Game 7 victory at Detroit for the Stanley Cup title last June.

But the Penguins need Crosby, who's tied with Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL goals lead, to quickly put the Olympics behind him. The Penguins are chasing Washington and New Jersey in the Eastern Conference standings with 20 games to go.

"I don't think it's going to be a letdown for him coming back to us," said Crosby's fellow winger Bill Guerin, a three-time Olympian with Team USA. "I think (Crosby's goal) will be a really good thing to happen for us. I think he's going to come in on a high. If he's not feeling great about himself right now, something's wrong."

The Penguins play 15 games in the 31 days beginning Tuesday, and also need to assimilate at least one new teammate. Pittsburgh acquired defenceman Jordan Leopold from the Florida Panthers for a second round choice in this summer's draft on Monday, and another move could be coming before the league trade deadline Wednesday.

Other than perhaps the new players to the roster, Gonchar - a four-time Olympian - isn't too concerned that the team will need time to readjust to each other.

"We just need to make sure our focus is on from the fist minute we start playing again," he said. "But otherwise, we know the system and we've been together for a while, so I don't think it's going to be a problem."

General manager Ray Shero said the acquisition of the 29-year-old Leopold was the result of his search for improvement along the blue line.

Guerin is Pittsburgh's only winger with more than 13 goals, but Shero downplayed he's in the market to add a scoring forward before Wednesday - even though Pittsburgh now has a surplus of defencemen with eight proven veterans at the position.

"Even before the Leopold deal, I liked our team," Shero said. "Everybody talks about our wingers, but this is the same group of forwards we won the Stanley Cup with."

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