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October 31, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Just making sure

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So let me get this straight.

The Penguins outhit the Kings, were the more responsible team, and Evgeni Malkin nearly fought Justin Williams?

OK, just making sure.

Seriously, though, that happened. Hits went 33-32 in the Penguins’ favor. Malkin did indeed engage with Williams, the rare battle of Conn Smythe winners. And the Kings, winners of two Stanley Cups the past three years and the masters of the postseason, took entirely too many penalties.

That afforded the Penguins six power plays, and the home team scored on two of them.

It dropped their season-long conversion rate.

“They have the best power play in the league,” Kings defenseman Alec Martinez said. “Can’t take penalties against these guys and give them the opportunity to go up a man.”

“We were too slow, so we had to take penalties,” Kings forward Dustin Brown added.

Malkin nearly registered his first-ever regular season fight – he’s fought three times in the playoffs and once in the preseason, according to hockeyfights.com – with Williams early in the third period.

Instead, Malkin registered a takedown that would have made Cael Sanderson at Penn State proud.

(For those of you who don’t share my affinity for college wrestling, Sanderson is a wrestling legend and the head coach of the defending four-time NCAA champs.)

Afterward, I asked Jarret Stoll – Williams wasn’t available – whether he was surprised that Malkin and Williams were going at it.

“Two competitive guys. They both play hard,” Stoll said. “Both guys were probably a little (ticked) off. It happens.”

Here’s what Malkin, who recorded an assist to extend his season-opening point streak to nine games, had to say on the matter.

“It’s all emotion,” Malkin said. “I don’t like fights, but (there’s) sometimes lots of emotion. A couple times he asked me to (fight).”

The Penguins were very physical tonight, and they had to be. The Kings led the league in hits last season and again are atop the NHL, but Simon Despres registered a game-high seven, Zach Sill added five, and Chris Kunitz, Blake Comeau and Craig Adams contributed four apiece.

One other note from those complaining that Kris Letang doesn’t shoot enough: Tonight he finished with eight shot attempts, five on net. It’s the most attempts in a single game so far for Letang.

Alright, that’s it from me. Practice tomorrow at noon at Consol. Will tweet updates.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 30, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Kings, 7 p.m.

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There’s probably one line in the NHL better than the Penguins’ grouping of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist, and it will take the ice tonight at Consol Energy Center.

Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson have combined for 17 goals and 34 points in nine games. That’s three more goals and two more points than Pittsburgh’s best line.

“We’re just trying to do our best and help the team win,” Toffoli said. “We have an extremely close team. I don’t think we care who’s scoring or who’s doing whatever. We just want to win as a group.”

Coach Mike Johnston was purposely vague in his response to a question about how he plans to defend the line – but at least he was there to answer it; Kings coach Darryl Sutter left Consol this morning before his media relations staff even knew about it, abruptly and awkwardly canceling his media session.

“With Pearson, Toffoli and Carter, there’s a certain way you’re going to have to play them to be successful,” Johnston said. “We’ve talked about that with our guys this morning. We’re not going to divulge our game plan, but we certainly have one against them.”

The Kings tied for the league-lead in hits last season and use their size to play a physical game. Few teams score against the Kings, though their shots-against is up – 34.7 this season compared to 26.2 in 2013-14.

“They play a very good forechecking type of game,” Hornqvist said. “They’re big and strong, and they like to finish their hits. That’s probably why they’re so good in the playoffs because that’s the way it usually goes in the playoffs. It’s not open hockey. It’s more tight. They’re a big and strong team, so we have to be aware of that and go at them hard.”

News out of the skate: Defenseman Paul Martin returned after missing practice Wednesday because of a stiff back. … Forward Beau Bennett and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo were full participants. Bortuzzo will likely rejoin the lineup next week, Bennett in 11-14 days. … Martin Jones was the first goalie off for Los Angeles, an indication that Jonathan Quick will not start. … Penguins called up Jayson Megna from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but he won’t play tonight. … The Kings have some injury issues. Neither center Anze Kopitar (upper body) nor right wing Marian Gaborik (upper body) are likely to play.

About the Kings: Los Angeles has earned points in eight straight dating back to Oct. 11. Overall, the Kings are 6-1-2. … The Kings are coming off a 3-2 loss at Philadelphia Tuesday in overtime when Brayden Schenn scored on a breakaway at the 2-minute, 24-second mark. Quick made 40 saves for his third 40-plus-save performance of the season. … Toffoli (5-8-13) leads in points. Pearson (7-2-9) leads in goals. … Los Angeles is tied with Chicago for the fewest goals allowed per game (1.67). … The Kings have the biggest group of defensemen in the league according to weight at 213.43 pounds.

The series: Penguins have won six of the past eight meetings dating back to Nov. 1, 2006. … Pittsburgh is 2-1 this season against Western Conference teams and has won 32 of 49 against the West since 2011-12, the most of anyone in the Eastern Conference. … They’re 61-71-18 all-time against the Kings, 41-26-10 at home. … Evgeni Malkin has been dominant against Los Angeles with 6-3-9 in five career meetings, all wins. … Marc-Andre Fleury is 27-10-2 with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in 39 games against the Western Conference the past three years.

Next up: Penguins vs. Sabres, Saturday, 7 p.m.

Links:
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Kings’ home page
NHL.com’s preview and box score

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October 29, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Letang feels for Maatta

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Pretty much no one has a better frame of reference than Kris Letang when it comes to what fellow Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta is going through.

Letang, of course, suffered a stroke early in 2014 and didn’t return until April. Further testing also revealed that he was born with a small hole in the wall of his heart.

Serious stuff, for sure. Same as Maatta’s impending surgery to remove a tumor from his neck that doctors said has an 85-percent chance of being a low-grade thyroid cancer.

“We’re used to dealing with broken bones and stuff like that,” Letang said. “Health issues like that, it’s not something we see often in our sport.”

Or any sport.

Letang said he has talked with Maatta and urged him to get comfortable having his private business become public.

“We’ve talked a little bit. I just told him that I went through a similar situation last year. I was looking for help from the outside,” Letang said. “It’s tough to talk about it, in the media or within the team. You like your private stuff to stay private. I would say he needs to make sure mentally he’s past that point.”

Maatta had been intensely private about the whole thing, even going so far to say that he has not sought the advice of Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, a Hodgkin’s disease survivor.

Now that it’s out in the open, Letang thinks it would be best for his defense partner to not keep to himself, to talk about this with others.

“My best advice is to take time and make sure mentally he seeks advice,” Letang said. “Olli’s a true professional, so he’s going to come back stronger than ever.”

As I wrote in Tuesday’s story, this is not the first time the Penguins have dealt with something like this – not even Letang, either; think goaltender Tomas Vokoun, Lemieux and Sidney Crosby’s concussion.

This oh-no-not-again thought struck Letang, too, as he digested the news about Maatta.

“I think it’s something in the water, I guess,” Letang said. “That’s the first thing that came to my mind, ‘What’s wrong with the water?’ It’s all our team. From Vokoun to me and now Olli, it’s pretty sad for our team because it looks like it doesn’t give up on injuries or health issues.”

Maatta, like all Penguins players, marveled at how mature Maatta has been throughout this entire process. That amazement extends to the media, too, just in case you were wondering.

Fans seem to have a healthy admiration for Maatta as well, at least judging by the loud ovation he got when he was introduced prior to Tuesday’s 8-3 win over the New Jersey Devils.

“The one thing that comes to my mind when we talk about Olli is maturity,” Letang said. “For a guy his age, the way he acts on and off the ice, with that situation, just proves to everybody that he’s a true professional and really mature for his age.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

Some Wednesday #TribHKY links:

Penguins overcome early deficit to rout Devils

Rick Tocchet and Jaromir Jagr liken Maatta’s situation to Lemieux, by Josh Yohe

Yes, Jagr is still playing. And he’s good, too.

Some postgame blogging from last night

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October 29, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: More from the Pens’ 8-3 rout

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Tuesday’s 8-3 win over the New Jersey Devils made little sense.

There was Craig Adams, out of the penalty box, scoring on a breakaway.

And the Penguins hanging eight on the defense-first Devils, seven of them unanswered.

Also the local hockey club looking lifeless for much of the first 30 minutes before springing to life with Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal in the second period.

The only thing that seemed to make any sense whatsoever is the Penguins getting scoring from several sources.

Seven of their eight goals from different players, the only repeat being captain Sidney Crosby’s two.

On the season, the Penguins have four players averaging a point or more per game.

“There are other key things in the game for me – like seven different players scoring,” coach Mike Johnston said. “There were contributions through our lineup.”

One of them came from Steve Downie, who scored his first goal as a Penguin.

Downie was part of a second power play unit that has proven to be plenty effective – a nice luxury considering the No. 1 grouping has been the best in the league through eight games.

“We just stuck with our system,” Downie said. “We stuck with the program. We got pucks deep when we needed to. We did the things we needed to do.”

The eight-goal performance – the first time New Jersey has given up that many since 2006 – came on the heels of a 3-0 win at Nashville last Saturday.

If you forget the first 30 minutes of this one, the Penguins have looked downright dangerous in their past two performances.

“We had a good team effort in Nashville,” Downie said. “We followed it up tonight. Our power play led the way. It was nice to get the win.”

Don’t look now, but Malkin has been outstanding with an eight-game points streak to start the season.

Crosby, meanwhile, registered multiple points for the fourth time in eight games.

“When you’ve got probably the two best players in the world, they can change a game so quickly,” Patric Hornqvist said. “Obviously those two help a lot. But everyone was working hard. We just want to keep going now.”

I was particularly impressed with Simon Despres, especially his outlet pass up the right wing boards to Patric Hornqvist, who finished for his fourth goal in five home games.

“He (Despres) made a great pass,” Hornqvist said. “He saw me get off the bench.”

That goal was nice, but it was Hornqvist’s north-south feed to Malkin on a five-on-three advantage that got the Penguins going.

“We got a little mad in the second period,” Hornqvist said. “Usually when they get a 3-1 lead, the game is going to tip on their side. But the five-on-three got us going. After that point, there was no question who was going to win the game.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 28, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Devils, 7 p.m.

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The Devils look like the Penguins a mere 11 days ago: The power play’s fantastic, but the penalty kill is a mess.

New Jersey is second in the league behind the Penguins with the man-advantage, while they’re dead last down a man. The Devils have only killed six of their past 13 penalties.

The Penguins (4-2-1), meanwhile, are coming off perhaps their best performance of the season during a 3-0 win at Nashville.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis scored, while Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves to register the 29th shutout of his career.

“I think we realized that we if we played that way, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win every night,” Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said. “It was a team effort. Everyone did their job.”

This is also coach Mike Johnston’s first crack at New Jersey’s defense-first style.

“We’ve looked at teams that play that way,” Johnston said. “We’ve had a couple so far this year that clamp it down in the neutral zone. We’ve looked at some options, presented those options to the guys. It’s a matter of recognizing which is the best option.”

The Penguins’ PK is 15 for its past 15 after allowing six goals in the first three games. They went from 60 percent (nine for 15) on Oct. 17 – dead last – to 80 percent (24 for 30), which ranks 17th.

“We’re figuring things out,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “I think guys are executing better. Whether it be position or a hard play with the puck, getting it 200 feet, whatever it happens to be, we’re doing a better job of it now.”

Jaromir Jagr (career line of 707-1,054-1,761) also returns to Consol Energy Center, an event if ever there was one – and I only mean his media scrum. I’ll have more on that in Wednesday’s notebook.

News out of the skate: D Robert Bortuzzo and F Beau Bennett skated prior to the morning skate then were full participants. Bortuzzo could be back in five or six days, Johnston said. Bennett’s probably looking at “later next week.” Lines and pairings were status quo.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Devils: New Jersey (4-2-2) improved to 4-1-0 on the road with a 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa on Saturday. Jagr scored his NHL-record 19th game-winning goal in OT. … G Cory Schneider (33 saves) made his eighth straight start. He’s now 4-2-2. Schneider should exceed 70 games. … Devils (28.6%) have the second-best power play behind the Penguins. … C Adam Henrique (3-5-8) leads in scoring. … LW Mike Cammalleri (5-2-7) leads in goals, but he was elbowed in the jaw last Friday and will miss the game.

The series: Penguins split four games with the Devils last year. They beat Schneider twice and lost to Martin Brodeur twice. … They’re 54-46-7 all-time at home against New Jersey, 38-55-16 on the road. … Fleury’s splits bear that out: 13-9-3/2.11 GAA/.930 save percentage at home versus 4-13-1/3.07/.892 on the road. … The teams combined to go 0 for 28 on the power play last season. … New Jersey outshot Pittsburgh 118-92 in the four games.

Next up: Penguins vs. Kings, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Links:
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Devils’ gameday page
NHL.com’s box score/preview

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 24, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Some thoughts from Joe Louis

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DETROIT – Can you start practice two-thirds of the way through?

Might not be the worst idea given the Penguins’ recent struggles late in games.

First Dallas, now Thursday’s 4-3 loss at Detroit.

Which was worse? I’m taking this one.

They had so many chances. From Jimmy Howard robbing Sidney Crosby to the Penguins’ team-wide inability to get the puck into an open net, this was a game they should have won.

Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were their impressive, usual selves, but they should have never been given an opportunity to make such an impact.

“We can’t play on our heels,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “We have to play on our toes.”

>>>It will be interesting to see how the Penguins address this one.

The penalty kill has seemingly righted itself – 12 for its past 12 – after giving up six goals in the first three games. But, seriously, how do you practice late-game situations?

Can you?

“If you’re not smart and you don’t match their desperation, it will give them a chance to get back into it, especially with the talent and skill that they have,” Crosby said. “Up a man, it’s not easy. You have to find a way to execute in those situations.”

>>>The Penguins are not executing on the power play.

Sure, Thursday was better than Wednesday as far as getting set up and getting some sustained zone time, but they’re 0 for 5 over their past two games.

Not a huge cause for concern, but I’m wondering how much of this has to do with the other team adjusting.

>>>I thought Simon Despres was outstanding tonight – after a subpar game Wednesday.

He finished a plus-1, with six hits and an assist: that beautiful outlet pass that sprung Chris Kunitz.

Blake Comeau played arguably his best game as a Penguin: two assists, a plus-1, four shot attempts, three hits and two takeaways.

Liked him on a line with Dupuis and Malkin at center.

That’s it for me. Josh Yohe has the club in Nashville through the weekend.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 23, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m.

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Of all days where a practice would probably do some good.

The Penguins had problems last night during a 5-3 loss to the Flyers at Consol Energy Center.

In the neutral zone.

Defensive breakdowns.

On the power play.

Plenty of stuff to clean up. Only with no time to do it, thanks to tonight’s 7:30 game against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

“With back-to-back games, you have to sort of catch your breath after the game, take a close look at it on the flight to make sure that we’re narrowing down to exactly what we need to do to win (Thursday) night and bring those points forward,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.

Will Johnston really be able to cull what went wrong against Philadelphia into two or three talking points?

We shall see.

I’m expecting goaltender Thomas Greiss to spell Marc-Andre Fleury. Not only could the team use a change of pace, but it makes zero sense to play Fleury in back-to-back games, then rest him Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday before New Jersey on Tuesday.

Johnston also said he wanted to see defenseman Robert Bortuzzo practice Friday in Nashville before inserting him into the lineup. So, seemingly no Bortuzzo, not tonight anyway.

I’m wondering if this is where they try to insert forward Andrew Ebbett and defenseman Scott Harrington into the lineup, perhaps for Craig Adams or Zach Sill and Rob Scuderi, respectively?

I also wouldn’t be shocked if they kept Scuderi in the lineup and sat defenseman Simon Despres, whose giveaway led to the eventual game-winning goal by Philadelphia’s Matt Read – and Despres got a good look, too, as he can be seen skating back at quite the leisurely pace.

The power play failed to establish much established zone time at all. It finished with one shot the entire game compared to 27 games in the first four games of the season.

“I thought we were separated from each other on the breakout,” Johnston said. “We have to come as a wave on the breakout, then you have more options. Once we get set up in the zone, we’re going to create some chances.”

News out of the skate:
No skate this morning. Johnston will be available at 5:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Red Wings: Detroit comes into this one 3-1-2 after a 2-1 overtime loss at Montreal on Tuesday. Alex Galchenyuk of the Canadiens scored with 3:09 left in regulation, then David Desharnais won it 56 seconds into OT. … Red Wings have been great defensively (1.5 GAPG) but not so great offensively (2.0 GPG). … Their PK is a perfect 18 for 18, while their power play has converted just two of 24 chances (8.3 percent). … They welcomed Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) back Tuesday. He had an assist in 18:05. If you haven’t seen his backhander from the slot in the third period that was disallowed, I would recommend checking that one out. … Five of Detroit’s six games thus far have been one-goal games. … Forwards Henrik Zetterberg (2-5-7) and Gustav Nyquist (4-1-5) and goaltender Jimmy Howard (2-1-2, 1.77 GAA, .937 save percentage) are their leaders.

The series: Penguins went 2-0-1 against Detroit last year, with Evgeni Malkin netting 3-2-5 over two games. … This is the first of three meetings; next one is Feb. 11 at Consol Energy Center, then again at home on March 15. … This is the first of 17 sets of back-to-backs for the Penguins this season. … They went 20-11-3 in back-to-backs in 2013-14, including 9-6-2 the first night and 11-5-1 the second night. … Starting tonight, the Penguins play seven of their next 10 on the road.

Next up:
Penguins at Predators, Saturday, 8 p.m.

Links:
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ home page
The Red Wings’ home page
NHL.com’s preview and box score

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October 22, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Flyers, 8 p.m.

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Mike Johnston has heard things.

About the intensity of the Penguins-Flyers rivalry. The physicality, too.

About the excitement and buildup for it.

“I’ve heard a lot and watched it from afar,” the Penguins’ first-year coach said. “Certainly the playoff series’ they’ve had, the games during the season … I know the intensity, the emotion around the game, and as I mentioned (Tuesday), as a coach, I’m really looking forward to it.

“With an 82-game schedule, some games blend into each other; this one really stands out. When I looked at the schedule originally and saw we were playing against Philly, on Rivalry Night, I thought, ‘Boy, that’s going to be an exciting game.’ We have the first one here. We’ve got to take advantage of it.”

To win the first of four meetings this season, the Penguins will need to also win the special teams battle, something they didn’t do last season.

Pittsburgh went one for 21 on the power play in the five-game series against Philadelphia last season, while the Flyers converted six of 15 chances.

The Penguins are coming off a seven-for-seven performance against the Islanders Saturday night on the penalty kill, and they would like to make it two straight without allowing a goal on the PK. Defenseman Olli Maatta played a career-high 6 minutes, 21 seconds on the penalty kill against the Islanders. I’d expect more of the same here.

Another key will be clearing the net of forward Wayne Simmonds, who leads the Flyers with five goals and seven points. Also dangerous are forwards Claude Giroux (2-5-7) and Jakub Voracek (2-5-7) and defenseman Mark Streit (1-5-6).

The Flyers have the fourth-best power play in the league this season at 29.2 percent, converting seven of their 24 chances.

Johnston talked about this following the morning skate – how he prepares his penalty kill. I thought the answer was fantastic. In depth and nerdy. He said he prepares only a few bits of info for the power play, but the PK gets more of an in-depth scouting report.

“You prepare your power play with a few bits of information on the other team’s penalty kill, but you prepare your penalty killing unit exactly as to what they’re doing, how are they successful, what types of plays are they running, how are we going to shut down those plays,” Johnston said.

“You’re really a lot more detailed on the other team when it comes to the penalty kill and shutting down their power play. We’ve watched it the last couple of games. They have a really good power play. Their puck movement is good. Their shots from the outside, when you have Giroux on one side and Voracek on the other, you’ve got some great shooter on the outside. Streit’s good up top.

“Simmonds has been one of the top net guys. We talked about with our guys, with Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist how important a good net guy really is on the power play. The details of how to kill against their power play have to be gone through specifically.”

News out of the skate: Forward Beau Bennett and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before the morning skate. … The team recalled forward Andrew Ebbett and defenseman Scott Harrington from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Both played Tuesday night and recorded two shots apiece in a 4-0 loss to the Albany Devils.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM

About the Flyers: Believe it or not, the Flyers are tied for the league-lead in fewest penalty minutes per game. Dead serious. The number is 7.2 per game, half of what they recorded last year to league the NHL. … Flyers dropped to 1-3-2 after a 4-0 loss at Chicago on Tuesday. … Defenseman Braydon Coburn is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and there’s a strong possibility he could play tonight. … Vincent Lecavalier (lower body) is out through the end of the month. … Goaltender Steve Mason played Tuesday, expect Ray Emery to start.

The series: The Penguins have lost the season series in three of the past four years and went 1-3-1 against Philadelphia in 2013-14. … Philly holds the all-time edge, 93-143-33, while the Penguins have been better at home with a record of 60-52-23. … Special teams were huge last year. The Penguins failed to score on 20 of 21 power plays, while the Flyers were 6 for 15 with the man-advantage. … Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is 24-15-2 all-time against Philadelphia with two shutouts, a 2.85 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

Next up: Penguins at Red Wings, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

Links:
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Flyers’ gameday page
NHL.com’s preview and box score

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October 21, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Q&A with Steve Downie

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When Steve Downie talks, you listen.

Or at least I do.

Downie talked today and addressed crushing Frans Nielsen at the end of Saturday’s game against the Islanders, as well as the upcoming Flyers game, his first in the series as a member of the Penguins.

Here’s part of the media scrum today with Downie, who revealed that he and his wife went to the Penguins Halloween party as nerds.

“It wasn’t the best costume, but it was funny,” Downie said.

Q: What’s it going to be like facing the Flyers?
A: They’re a physical team. They like to intimidate teams. They like to play the body first. We have to be ready for their compete level. We know they’re going to come in here and work as hard as they can. We have to match that.

Q: You played for Philly. Is it weird being on this side?
A: I like being on this side. (Laughter) It’s going to be a fun game, so I’m looking forward to it. We have to match their intensity level and come to play the smart way.

Q: Walk us through the situation with Nielsen and Hamonic.
A: I thought they came out and played a physical second (period). They started taking runs at our D. At that point, I thought maybe I’ll start hitting them back a little bit. Take the pressure off our D a little bit. I made a hit. I thought it was a clean hit. I’m going to play hard. I’m going to play the body as hard as I can. There’s a time and place for that. I thought that was the time.

Q: What about the end of the second period, when you were seen jawing with goaltender Jaroslav Halak?
A: That’s part of the game. That happens on every team. You have to answer the bell when it comes and play a disciplined game.

Q: Year-to-year, is there ever a difference in the rivalry?
A: That’s a tough question. You play for the jersey on you. I forgot about Philly. My focus is here in Pittsburgh. This is where I want to be. I’m excited to be here. Excited to be a part of this organization and this group of guys. It’s been a good start. We just have to keep it going.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 21, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Harrington, too early for trends and the PK

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What to make of defenseman Scott Harrington being sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey league?

No clue.

Was a bit of a surprise, I’ll admit.

I was told – and had fairly strong reason to believe – that management wanted him to do more than sit in the press box. That didn’t happen.

The reasons will remain a secret, at least until Tuesday at practice when we get to ask around. I know this, though: Bringing Harrington up, and sitting him next to Rob Scuderi, was not by happenstance. Harrington is a key piece of the Penguins’ long-term future; Scuderi, at 35, is not. But the latter has won a couple of Stanley Cups, and learning from Scuderi would not be the worst thing for Harrington.

“It’s been great,” Harrington said. “I’ve learned a lot from all the defensemen on the team. They’ve been very helpful with giving me some pointers and stuff like that, making me feel welcome. Every day is a learning experience for someone in my position. Just try to soak it all up as much as you can.”

I asked Scuderi what the relationship with Harrington was like. He, like always, took time to think about the question and provided an intelligent response.

“Hockey is a sport where it’s more about observation,” Scuderi said. “Every once in awhile you might have a conversation about a particular play, but it’s more about looking at what a guy does than individual situations.

“I know that’s what I did. I think for the most part that’s what other guys do.”

>>Amid all the scoring for the Penguins’ top-six forwards, there are a few deficiencies – but Mike Johnston said it’s too small of a sample size to get worked up over.

In four games, the Penguins’ bottom-six and defensemen other than Kris Letang and Olli Maatta have combined for one goal (Blake Comeau) and two assists (Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff).

Could be a problem if we’re, say, 10 games in. But not four.

“For statistics, it’s still so early in the season,” Johnston said. “Ten games gives you a little bit more of a measuring stick on where you’re at in special teams. Or where you’re at with your depth in scoring.”

>>Funny how last week we were asking what’s wrong with the Penguins’ penalty kill, and Monday Johnston got a question about assistant coach Gary Agnew’s work with the unit.

Guessing reality falls somewhere in between.

I’ll say this: The goals allowed has dropped from three, to two, to one, to none. Amazing to see a pro sports team seemingly identify a problem, admit it, work to fix it, then have it improve.

Seems a novel concept, no?

Against the Islanders, especially five-on-three, the Penguins’ PK was exceptional.

The net-clearing problems were lessened, there were sticks in lanes, and they were able to clear the puck with ease when they did get a stick on it.

“I know early, with the three games against Anaheim, it didn’t look very good,” Johnston said. “But that was the first game. We did have some new people killing. We’ve got a couple new things we’re trying to do on the kill. It’s really evolving.”

Johnston said they haven’t incorporated some additional forechecks that they will eventually. Right now it’s pretty much an exclusive 1-3 look.

“We do have some other things we’re going to add to that,” Johnston said.

Practice Tuesday. Philly Wednesday. In Detroit Thursday.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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