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Pittsburgh Penguins have landed in Sweden ahead of next weekend's opener

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - The Pittsburgh Penguins arrived in Sweden on Sunday after an eight-hour trans-Atlantic flight from the United States. Instead of going to sleep, the Pens held a practice a few hours later.

"It wasn't too bad," captain Sidney Crosby said after the workout. "A lot of us have been through similar situations before. You usually don't expect the sharpest practice, but these guys out there were awake and getting adjusted."

The Penguins are in the Swedish capital for a season-opening double header Saturday and Sunday against the Ottawa Senators at the Globe Arena. The New York Rangers take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Czech capital Prague the same weekend, as the NHL continues to increase its presence in Europe.

Many NHL teams, among them Original Six clubs like the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs, have visited Sweden throughout the years. But this will mark the first time the NHL regular season opens in Scandinavia.

This is also the first trip to Sweden and Europe for the Penguins.

Not for Crosby, though.

He played an exhibition for Canada in Sweden before heading to neighbouring Finland for the 2004 world junior championship won by the United States.

"It's a nice city," Crosby said of Stockholm. "They support hockey pretty well from what I've seen."

The 21-year-old Crosby finished the 2006-07 regular season as the first teenager in major North American pro team sports history to win a scoring title. He's the youngest player in NHL history to reach the 100 and 200 career points milestones.

He was named captain of the Penguins last year, becoming the youngest-ever team captain in the league.

So what are his personal goals for this season?

"Those don't usually change," he said. "I want to be a complete player but at the same time just want to contribute. This is definitely a tough league. And be consistent each and every night, that's important. Be a good leader, that's probably the biggest thing."

Crosby hopes his team, which lost the Stanley Cup finals to the Detroit Red Wings last season, will get off to a better start this year.

"In the last couple of years we probably didn't start amazing, but decent enough to stay with the pack," he said. "We probably want to improve on that and start even better. We have a great test in our first two games against Ottawa here."

Pittsburgh (3-0-1 in pre-season) will practice three more days at the Hovet, an arena next door to the much bigger Globe Arena.

The Penguins travel to the Finnish capital of Helsinki on Thursday for a pre-season game against Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League. Another practice is scheduled Friday in Stockholm.

Ottawa (3-2-0) will arrive in Sweden on Monday and practise for three days in Goteborg, Sweden's second largest city, before playing Swedish Elite League team Frolunda in their final pre-season game Thursday.

Goteborg is Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson's hometown. A member of Sweden's Olympic gold medal team in 2006, Alfredsson played for Frolunda before making his NHL debut with the Senators in 1995-96. He also helped the club win the Swedish championship during the NHL lockout season in 2004-05.


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