From a hotel in Ft. Myers Fla., a good morning (skate) to the Dear Readers…
= Penguins lines/pairings from the AM practice
Actually, there is no morning skate for the Penguins. A decision was made after the 6-3 loss at BB&T Center on Friday to scrap the session – no surprise given the back-to-back game situations.
Coach Dan Bylsma is expected to meet with the media before the Penguins take on Tampa Bay. Any updates will be passed along then, most likely via the Twitter machine.
= Injury Update
- D Kris Letang (lower body) joined teammates for practice Friday at Florida, his first session since Sept. 27. He also worked extra after the session, with a focus on absorbing contact.
- RW Matt D’Agostini (lower body) did not practice Friday, though he did skate on his own after the team session. Bylsma has said D’Agostini could resume practicing around Wednesday or next Friday The Penguins play at Philadelphia on Thursday.
- RW James Neal (upper body) did not practice Friday. He is not on the Sunshine State trip. He is week-to-week.
- LW Jussi Jokinen took a puck to the face Friday, but returned to play at Florida. There was no indication he would miss the game at Tampa Bay.
- D’Agostini and G Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) are on the long-term injury list.
= Watch for This n’At
- Marc-Andre Fleury will be back in net for the Penguins when the face the Lightning on Saturday night. Fleury is 3-0-0 and has allowed only three goals on 82 shots. It is the best start of his 10-year career.
New Jersey, Buffalo and Carolina rarely tested Fleury consistently, though there were moments when he was required to, and made, sensational saves.
Tampa Bay is a significantly stronger offensive outfit than any of the Penguins’ opening four opponents, so a return to the tight team defense that was a hallmark of games at Consol Energy Center is paramount for a chance to earn a split from the first road trip of this season.
Fleury had noted Friday that Florida was a better offensive club than its statistics had suggested. The Panthers then went out and clawed the Penguins for twice as many goals as they had previously allowed.
The loss cannot be totally pinned on backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who was making his first NHL start. (See the game story below.)
Still, Fleury – at least the version of him that has opened this season – probably only surrenders three of the goals Florida scored on Friday.
- Friday did mark a return to sanity – hopefully it was not temporary – with the faceoff issue. The Penguins and Panthers combined for 58, after the Penguins’ previous two games averaged 73.
Sidney Crosby has taken 104 faceoffs through four games, a pace that would give him 2,132 on the season. That is just stupid, even for one of the best centers on the draw in this sport.
Speaking of centers on the draw, each of the Penguins top four are handling that business: Crosby (61 of 104, 58.6 percent), Evgeni Malkin (23 of 41, 56.1 percent), Brandon Sutter (28 of 49, 57.1 percent) and Joe Vitale (26 of 39, 66.7 percent).
This is a small sample size, but Malkin going over 50 percent for faceoffs over the course of a season would mean a lot for the Penguins’ puck-possession intentions – and it could lead to crazy opportunities for Neal and that wicked release.
= The Read
- Zatkoff accepted the blame for the Penguins’ first loss, but teammates were a lot more troubled by how they played in front of him: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/4866722-74/penguins-zatkoff-bylsma#axzz2hTPmsTrA
- The almost-famous Penguins notebook: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/4866729-74/penguins-friday-game#axzz2hTPmsTrA
= Hear Here:
Pre-game TV/radio hits:
Rossi: None scheduled for this fine Saturday.
Be Excellent to each other,