Some quick, late-afternoon hits, prior to the Penguins playing the Rangers at what feels like brand new Madison Square Garden:
= Confession: MSG has always been my favorite US arena at which to cover a game. There is energy in this building that cannot be duplicated and the setup was unique. Used to be that the hallway outside the visitor’s dressing room had pictures of famous Garden performers ranging from Liberace to Triple H, and there was wicked cool photo of Mick Jagger from what this Stones fanatic presumes in the 1972 tour, which was reportedly their best. Anyway, the visiting room has moved, and though it’s nicer and bigger and more accessible, the hallway has lost some of its charm. That said, the inner bowl of the under-renovation arena looks spectacular, and the new media areas are dramatically improved. (Not that any reader cares about media areas.) My point is that the Garden appears to be getting the face lift a building with this much history deserves, and not a minute too soon.
= HC Dan Bylsma said G Marc-Andre Fleury would start tonight and that other lineup decisions would be “game-time decisions.” Seems he was being most coy about D Kris Letang, who was set to continue undergoing tests this afternoon. Unclear is whether Letang has passed a baseline concussion test since Saturday night or whether he even needs to, even though Letang has insinuated he needed to take the baseline test. (If this strikes you all as very confusion, well, welcome to my world.)
Here is what is known: Letang, whose nose is broken as a result of the headshot from Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty on Saturday night, practiced this morning at the Garden, but that doesn’t mean he will play tonight. Bylsma danced around what his options would be if Letang did not play, though the AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is close enough to Manhattan that a recall of another defenseman could be made in time for the game – except that Letang would have to be ruled out before pregame warm ups, unless the Penguins have one of those travel-by-map options used so effectively in the most recent Muppets movie.
= Bylsma said he wasn’t surprised that RW James Neal was fined $2,500 by the NHL for a not controlling his stick and clipping Canadiens D P.K. Subban on Saturday night – and, yes, most people with the Penguins organization have acknowledged that Subban slew-footed Neal before Neal’s stick flew up into Subban’s face. A player needs to control his stick, Bylsma suggested. Here is my suggestion: the NHL needs to control Subban, who is becoming a menace with these bush league antics.
= I have a lot of faith that the NHL will start clamping down on Subban based off the decision by head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to suspend Pacioretty for three games because of the hit on Letang. Say what you want about the league’s previous discipline action, but Shanahan has proven firm and consistent, for the most part, since replacing Colin Campbell on this post. Was I to write a headline to summarize Shanahan’s reign so far: “Shanny scoring big with suspensions”
= C Jordan Staal seems quite relieved that his brother, Marc, a Rangers defenseman, has resumed skating. Marc Staal is dealing with a concussion that, though perhaps not Sidney Crosby-like, is serious nonetheless. Jordan has been hesitant to discuss details of his brother’s concussion dealings, but I sense the situation has been wearing on him, and there was a bit of a bounce about Jordan when it became known Monday that Marc had resumed skating. Great family, from my limited experience meeting Jordan’s parents and brothers, and so I suggest we keep Marc in our thoughts.
= Paid my first visit to the NHL’s NYC offices after the morning practice and it was eye-opening. Caught up with many NHL folk I’ve come to know well over my years on this beat, and seeing the setup of the offices provided me a good bit of insight into how things work. For example, there are enough big conference rooms that they could be considered luxury suites. Also, there are four floors filled with staffers and high-ranking officials, so there is always something going on within earshot. The studios where Shanahan films the discipline ruling videos is smaller than the videos make it out too look, and there is an entire wall of editing rooms where employees whom I can only presume never sleep were busily working to cut footage for NHL Network programming and NHL.com content. Speaking of the dot-com friends, well, they are positioned close to this way cool collection of cut off sticks that actually serves as a separation wall from another department. (I need to look into one of those for the Brookline pad back home.) Anyway, there was almost too much to take in for me to recall, but even the elevators were standout what with their images of current (Crosby) and former (Mark Messier) NHL greats. Plus, a walk down a stairwell takes one past wall images of legends such as Lester Patrick. My personal highlight was the Stanley Cup wall, with its accurate (flaws and all, see: “ILANDERS”) remakes of the Cup-ring engravings for past winners. Also, my mere presence may have caused a flower to wilt at the desk of NHL communications coordinator Nicole Buckley. Indeed, I’m that much of a negative presence.
Cheers until the puck drops,