PITTSBURGH - The NHL All-Star break hit the Pittsburgh Penguins after Tuesday night's home game against the New York Islanders, and most of the players scattered.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Kris Letang participated in the game in Carolina. Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (sinus infection) were unable to go.
Most of the other players headed to warm-weather sites for a mid-season vacation. They weren't due back until Monday morning's practice.
One player who didn't want a break was center Jordan Staal. His season started with the Jan. 1 Winter Classic.
He missed the first 39 games because of a foot infection and a broken hand. After waiting that long to get in the lineup, Staal doesn't want the five-day vacation that the other players crave.
Sitting and watching for three full months was tough for a player who had never missed a regular season game because of injury in his career.
"It wasn't a break I wanted, that's for sure," Staal said.
When misfortune finally hit him, it was a double whammy. He started with a foot injury that came during last year's Stanley Cup playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.
He crossed paths with Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, whose skate blade caught the top of Staal's right skate. The blade cut through Staal's skate and lacerated his foot, forcing him from that game.
He missed two more games, then returned to finish the series against the Canadiens.
"There weren't any problems," Staal said. "I was cleared to play. They said I couldn't damage it any more."
He returned with a plastic guard over the top of his skate. Injured on April 30, he was back on May 6 and participated in the final four games of the series.
He had a second surgery on the foot after the series ended.
The Penguins' second-round elimination set him up for an off-season of rest.
He was apparently recovering on schedule when an infection developed.
The problem lingered, and on Sept. 2, Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Staal would not be ready for the start of training camp.
By Sept. 16, Shero again had to announce more setbacks and that Staal's schedule had to be adjusted again.
On Sept. 30, Staal spoke to the media and said he had no timetable for his return. However, it was obvious he would miss the start of the season.
That's when things really started to get complicated for a player accustomed to suiting up for every game.
Part of the routine stayed the same: Staal spent as much time with his teammates as possible.
"When you're out, you want to get as much rehab and working out as you can," he said. "When I was out, I was coming to every game at home. You want to show support for your teammates and you want to learn as much as you can, learn the systems and stuff and the way we're playing."
Beyond that, family and friends helped him fill the time without hockey.
"My girlfriend came down for a lot of the time," he said. "But there were also times when I was just by myself."
Staal felt he was making progress, though, and was targeting the start of November for his return.
Just when the injured foot was healed enough to let him play, he broke his hand in a freak accident.
"That was the ultimate low," Staal said. ". I was ready to play the next game and my hand snapped. It was the worst part of it all."
That added another month to his time on the injured list. Finally, he was able to get back on Jan. 1.
Since returning, he's gotten up to speed quickly. In 11 games, he's managed three goals and seven points and is plus-3. He's returned to a penalty killing unit that's been successful on its last 22 opportunities and 37 of 39.
Here we go ...
When the Steelers earned their trip to the Super Bowl by beating the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game, a few of the people in the stands knew exactly how they felt.
Several Penguins players braved the near-zero wind chill to take in last Sunday night's game at Heinz Field.
"No luxury box," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Our guys were out there in the stands."
Orpik wasn't among them.
"I was watching on [teammate] Craig Adams' couch," Orpik said.
Said Adams, "I'm a Steelers fan, but I wasn't going to sit out in that weather for the game.