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December 7, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Saturday’s bounce-back huge

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The Penguins’ 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday was worth two points in the standings. It pushed them back into a first-place tie with the Islanders, who suffered a 6-4 loss to the Blues yesterday.

Felt like much more, though.

The Penguins lost back-to-back games in October and learned something about finishing games after cratering at Joe Louis Arena in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings.

It happened again in November, the Long Island debacle of a 5-4 shootout loss followed by an ugly 4-1 defeat at Nassau Coliseum.

A defeat Saturday would’ve been the third set of back-to-back losses – the first, though, not on back-to-back days – and it would have come amidst a boatload of injuries and with a trip to Madison Square Garden looming.

The Penguins might not feel invincible, but a loss Saturday coupled with a possible loss of forward Patric Hornqvist to a concussion wouldn’t have been good.

No information was available on that, by the way. Maybe today, though I doubt it. More likely is tomorrow after the morning skate.

The Penguins have five regulars out for various reasons: Hornqvist, defenseman Kris Letang (groin, skated yesterday; expected back within a week), forward Beau Bennett (lower body, possible return tomorrow), Chris Kunitz (fractured bone in foot, out at least another 10 days, probably closer to three weeks).

“When guys are out of the lineup, you’ve got to be desperate out there,” captain Sidney Crosby, who didn’t score for the 16th time in 18 games but did make a slick pass to Christian Ehrhoff for the winner.

Few players in the Penguins dressing room were happy with a 3-0 loss to Vancouver Thursday. This included Evgeni Malkin, who scored twice against Ottawa and currently has the fourth-most markers in the league at 14.

“It was tough,” Malkin said. “The last game we didn’t play good, I didn’t play good. This game was much better.”

“We didn’t feel the Vancouver game was a good game for us,” coach Mike Johnston added. “I thought (Saturday) was better.”

I wrote for Saturday’s paper that 10 Penguins averaged 50 seconds or more per shift against the Canucks. Only three did it against the Senators.

Further, the Penguins fired 21 pucks at Vancouver goaltender Eddie Lack on Thursday, a season-low total. They had 33 shots on goal Saturday and 58 attempts.

After Mike Zibanejad and David Legwand scored in the second to forge a 2-1 lead, center Brandon Sutter tipped a puck that Malkin also touched, and the Penguins responded with their best stretch of hockey in the third period.

“The third period was our best,” Sutter said. “We were taking it to them at the end.”

Another key bounce back, in my opinion, came from defenseman Olli Maatta, who had a bad turnover against the Canucks but responded with an assist Saturday. He was a plus-1 in a team-high 24:03 of ice time, including 3:52 on the power play and 2:35 shorthanded.

Maatta attempted four shots, put three on goal, didn’t turn the puck over and blocked a shot. The Penguins are 5-0 this season when he records a point.

That’s it from me. About to board my flight to Newark via Cincinnati.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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December 4, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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The Canucks are in town tonight, and a year ago this wouldn’t be all that sexy of a matchup.

It is now.

Vancouver (17-7-1) is playing exciting, upbeat hockey under first-year coach Willie Desjardins, who happens to be a close friend of first-year Penguins coach Mike Johnston, who also believes in exciting, upbeat hockey.

“They’re playing really good hockey right now,” Penguins forward Marcel Goc said. “We have to make sure that we’re ready from the start of the game. Don’t give them easy chances. I also think we have to play our game. We want to hold the puck as much as possible and create chances of our own without giving them too much.”

The Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, are at it again. On the same line, no less. The Canucks are weak, however, when it comes to defensive scoring – just 35 points from the group, third-worst in the NHL.

Here’s guessing special teams will be big. The Canucks scored three power-play goals the last time out to snap a three-for-27 slump. The Penguins, meanwhile, haven’t had more than three power plays in 11 games dating back to Nov. 8.

They’re three for 22 during that stretch.

Funny, they averaged 4.3 power plays per game over the first 13 contests, just 2.0 in the 11 since.

Both teams boast top 10 PK units.

“Like every game, I think special teams are big,” Goc said. “Doesn’t matter if you get power play opportunities; you want to make sure you take advantage of them. If we have to kill, we want to make it as easy as we can for our goalie to see and stop the first puck. We have to make sure we don’t give them any second chances.”

We’ll ditch the news out of the skate segment, since it was optional, in favor of this randomized little thing:

***Forward Craig Adams will play his 313rd consecutive game tonight, tying Ron Schock for the Penguins’ record. He’ll have a chance to break it Saturday against Ottawa – ironically where the streak started back on Oct. 18, 2010.

***Thomas Greiss was the first goalie off the ice, meaning he will make the start. It’s his sixth of the season and his first one at home.

***Robert Bortuzzo will serve the first of his two-game suspension for his hit on Jaromir Jagr. Brian Dumoulin will replace him. No word on a pairing, given the skate was optional. It’s weird, too, all of the Penguins defensemen are lefties.

***Johnston clarified the groin injury to Kris Letang. Expect him to be out about two weeks, which would put his timeline at not this coming Saturday but next. Roughly. These things, as we’ve learned, change.

***Goc (bruised foot) is expected to return and skate on a fourth line with Adams and Zach Sill.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Canucks: Vancouver is playing the fourth game of a season-long, seven-game road trip. … Canucks are coming off a 4-3 victory over the Capitals on Tuesday. Goaltender Ryan Miller made 22 saves for his NHL-leading 16th win. Daniel Sedin had a pair of power-play goals and tied Markus Naslund for most in franchise history with 114. … Vancouver ranks fourth in goals per game at 3.08. Pittsburgh is third at 3.33. … Daniel and Henrik Sedin lead the team with identical score lines of 6-18—24. … Linemate Radim Vrbata has scored a Canucks-best 11 goals. … Vancouver is two points behind Anaheim in the Pacific Division.

The series: Penguins have won four straight against Vancouver and 12 of the past 17 meetings at home. … Last season, both games advanced to a shootout. The Penguins won both. … Since 2010, the Penguins are 46-17-7 (.707) against the Western Conference, the best record among teams from the Eastern Conference.

Next up: Penguins vs. Senators, 1 p.m., Saturday

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

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December 3, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Bortuzzo hit transcript

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Transcribed from the NHL Department of Player Safety explanation …

Robert Bortuzzo delivered a late, violent hit to New Jersey forward Jaromir Jagr, knocking him out of the game.

Jagr is carrying the puck along the right-wing boards against Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin, as Bortuzzo shadows New Jersey forward Scott Gomez coming down the slot.

After Jagr makes a pass to Gomez, Bortuzzo leaves his man to hit Jagr. The puck is already in front of the net before Bortuzzo initiates this hit along the end boards.

Well after Jagr has released the puck and at a point after which a body check is no longer legal, Bortuzzo drives through Jagr’s chest and chin with his chest and shoulder, knocking Jagr out of a tied game in the second period.

This is interference.

What elevates this hit to merit supplemental discipline is its extreme lateness, its predator nature and the significant head contact that results from the way it is delivered.

Bortuzzo neither launches into Jagr nor hits with his elbow. However, given how late this hit is, there is no part of his body with which Bortuzzo can deliver a legal body check.

What’s more, since Jagr should have no reason to expect to be hit this late, he is defenseless at the moment of contact. Since this play is entirely in front of Bortuzzo and he can see that Jagr has passed the puck, the onus is entirely upon Bortuzzo to avoid contact completely, and he has ample time to do so. Instead, he drives forcefully through this dangerous hit.

To summarize, this was interference, Although Jagr required medical attention and did not return to the game, he is not expected to miss any more time. Bortuzzo has neither been fined nor suspended during his 84-game NHL career. The Department of Player Safety has suspended Robert Bortuzzo for two games.

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December 3, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Malkin, Bortuzzo and more

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I haven’t heard Penguins coach Mike Johnston take credit for much. It’s not his style. He sort of did it Monday, though, following a 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils while discussing forward Evgeni Malkin’s energy level.

“I thought it happened at the end of the second period,” Johnston said. ‘I put him on a line with (Brandon) Sutter and (Steve) Downie, and I thought all of a sudden he got some energy there.

“Then when I put him back in the middle of the game with (Blake) Comeau and (Jayson) Megna, Comeau and Megna were having a pretty good night. I thought the three of them in the third period may have been our best line.”

It would be tough to argue.

Malkin, of course, scored the game-winner. On a nifty little pass from Comeau, too. Malkin has probably been the Penguins’ most consistent player thus far, and that’s a good thing, writes columnist Rob Rossi.

Megna, who played with Malkin for the first time, was asked how he adjusted to playing with Malkin. Given I recently reported a story about such a thing, I thought his answer was interesting.

“He’s not a hard player to play with,” Megna said. “You just have to go out there and do your job. He’s going to be around the puck making plays. I guess the most important thing is just be ready because he makes a lot of plays that not a lot of other players can make.”

Been an interesting ride for Megna. Since being recalled Nov. 22, he’s played on the fourth, third and second lines.

Malkin finished as a plus-1 in 16:52. He had seven shot attempts, four on goal, went 6-4 in the faceoff circle and delivered one hit.

>>>Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will have a hearing (date and time TBD) with NHL Player Safety for his hit on Devils forward Jaromir Jagr.

It probably warrants it, though I don’t think it was an overly dirty hit. Maybe a bit late.

The hit incensed Devils coach Pete DeBoer, who said World War 4 would’ve broken out had someone done that to Sidney Crosby. Maybe. We’ll never know. I just want to know what happened during World War 3. I missed it.

“I thought it was a liberty,” DeBoer said. “It was a headshot. It doesn’t matter whether it was a shoulder or an elbow. It was a shot to the head.”

DeBoer was asked to clarify the World War 4 comparison.

“It’s a self-explanatory statement,” DeBoer said.

OK then. Moving on …

Bortuzzo remains the one Penguins player who can truly agitate an opposing team’s star. Simon Despres can hit people. So can Chris Kunitz (when he’s healthy) and Comeau.

Bortuzzo is a pain in the you know what, and he knows it. It’s something good teams desperately need, to not allow the opposing stars to get comfortable.

“He’s obviously a high-end talent,” Bortuzzo said of Jagr, whom he pestered all game. “If I can play hard on him and try to make his night a little bit harder, that’s what I’m going to do against any teams’ top players.”

>>>By the way, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury leads the NHL with five shutouts and has tied his career high in them for a season … in December.

You might not have noticed because he wasn’t forced to do much except stop five pucks in the first period.

Should also point out that the penalty kill was 4 for 4 tonight, which is notable because the Penguins were only 11 for 16 in that department over the previous four games.

Club practices at 11:30 a.m. at Consol. I’ll be there. In the meantime …

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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December 2, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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November was a good month for the Penguins.

They posted 10 wins, tying a franchise record from 2010 and 1995.

Captain Sidney Crosby led the NHL in points with 18. His 16 assists also are the best in the league.

The Penguins led or were tied for 693:39 of 858:25 time played in the month or 80.8 percent.

It should also not be ignored that nine of the team’s 14 games came on the road.

“When you look at the schedule on paper before the season started, it’s definitely an area of concern,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “When you go on the road, sometimes you’re just happy to be .500. That’s a pretty good record in this league.”

The Penguins exceeded .500, of course. They went 7-2-0 away from Consol Energy Center, the only two losses being the biggest duds of the season: 5-0 at the Rangers on Nov. 11 and 4-1 at the Islanders on Nov. 22.

The productive month has helped the Penguins amass a 16-5-2 overall mark for a total of 34 points that stand as the second-highest total in the Eastern Conference, the most in the Metropolitan Division.

Their plus-26 goal differential is tied with Chicago for the best in the league.

“I really believe your goal differential is a very important stat,” coach Mike Johnston said. “There’s two parts to it: scoring and keeping goals out of your net. Defensively we want to be sound. We want to have confidence in games. We talked earlier in the year about making sure we feel comfortable in any games, whether it’s a 2-1 game or a 1-0 game. We feel very comfortable in that type of game.

Now, December, the New Jersey Devils and questions about whether Crosby will be available tonight. Neither Crosby nor defenseman Robert Bortuzzo took part in the gameday skate, and their statuses are very much in the air.

Jonathan Bombulie of the Citizen’s Voice reported that minutes after Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes fielded a phone call, forward Scott Wilson left practice. Hmm …

(Other) news out of the skate: Marcel Goc (foot) and Pascal Dupuis (blood clot) skated on their own about an hour before the gameday skate. … Dumoulin was called up early this morning and has 2-10—12 in 22 games this season, and his plus-16 rating is tied with fellow Baby Penguins defenseman Taylor Chorney for the AHL lead.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Devils: They’re 9-11-4 overall and 3-5-2 over their past 10, good enough for fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey has a minus-13 goal differential. They’re 6-8-1 on the road. … Cory Schneider (9-10-3, 2.59 GAA, 2 SO, .915 save percentage) will start, making this 24 of 25 for the workhorse. … Their PK has been decent lately, killing 33 of 35 (94.3%) over the past nine games. … They’ve lost four straight and are 0-2-2 during the stretch. … Patrick Elias has no goals in five games, one in his past 23. … With center Travis Zajac on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, the Devils have signed center Scott Gomez, who had been practicing with them all season, to a two-way contract worth a prorated portion of $550,000 at the NHL level. Gomez has hardly been hot of late, with 6-32—38 in 123 games the past three years split between the Canadiens, Sharks and Panthers. … Jaromir Jagr leads in points (15). … Mike Cammalleri, who practiced at center Monday and could play there depending on the statuses of Gomez and fellow center Adam Henrique, leads in goals with 10.

The series: Penguins won the only other meeting this season – 8-3 on Oct. 28. They held a 33-19 advantage in shots and converted three of seven power-play opportunities … you know, back when they got that many per game. … Devils are 2-8-1 in Pittsburgh since 2010-11. … Schneider is 0-3-0/4.15/.836 against the Penguins all-time.

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

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

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November 29, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Pens not pushing issue

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Make this about the lack of power plays all you want, and it’s not wrong. There haven’t been very many. Nine over the past six games and 17 over the past nine.

But power-play chances don’t just fall from the sky. They’re not lottery tickets. They don’t grow on trees. You have to earn then. And the Penguins aren’t.

“There was no effort,” defenseman Kris Letang said following a 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center on Friday. “They outbattled and outworked us.”

And outpower-play … never mind. The Penguins were a man-up one time Friday. That’s the fourth time in six games they’ve had one or none chances. They have three power-play goals during that stretch.

“Tonight we didn’t deserve a power play because we didn’t really work,” Letang said. “Usually when you work in the offensive zone, you create stuff. They have a tendency to take penalties.  As of tonight, I don’t think we deserved any better.”

A lot of this is because of the dip in shots for the Penguins. They’ve been outshot in five of their past six games. Only twice during that span have they reached 30 shots.

Not since Nov. 15 against the Rangers have the Penguins reached coach Mike Johnston’s desired number of 35; the Penguins had 38 that game.

“They outworked us,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s not fun saying that after a game. That’s something that can’t happen.”

Few power plays are earned in the defensive zone, which is where the Penguins were stuck for much of this one. 

“It started in our own end, not getting out clean and not getting that much going on the offense,” defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said.

And it finished … with a big thud.

“I thought Carolina had more energy than us tonight, for sure,” Johnston said. “We tried. There were moments in the game where we captured it back, but it wasn’t enough.

“I give them credit for how they played, with their speed and quickness. But we weren’t on our game. We have to be on our game. Then it’s a better measuring stick.”

Josh Yohe has the club in Carolina tomorrow. Wish him well on one of his favorite trips.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 28, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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Scoring first doesn’t necessarily mean having a strong start, captain Sidney Crosby said.

It seems like an appropriate idea with back-to-back games against Carolina starting tonight.

The Penguins have scored first in 17 of 21 games so far, and they’re 12-3-2 in those games. They’ve scored first in eight of 10 homes, and their 30 goals in the opening period are more than anyone else – even the Lightning (27), who’ve played two fewer games.

But, in Crosby’s mind, a strong start doesn’t equal scoring first. The Penguins didn’t have particular strong first periods during a home-and-home with the Islanders, Crosby said, and that needs to change.

“You look back to that two-game series, our first periods were not good,” Crosby said. “Just making sure we start the right way, no matter what the score ends up, just make sure that our mentality and focus are there.

“It’s nice if you can get that first one, but you have to make sure if you do get it, you’re playing the right way. Then (you have to) maintain that same level of play the rest of the game.”

Which, on paper anyway, doesn’t figure to be too terribly hard. The Hurricanes make their first visit to Consol Energy Center with a record of 6-12-3. Their leading scorer, Riley Nash, has less than half as many points as Crosby, and they’ve lost six of their past seven.

“Every team in this league is really, really good,” forward Patric Hornqvist said. “We need to come focused and do our thing. If we do that, we know we have a good chance to win here tonight.”

News out of the skate: Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal. … Other than that, not much. … Beau Bennett did not skate today.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Hurricanes: Hurricanes are coming off a 1-0 defeat at Florida on Wednesday. … Forward Alexander Semin is one point away from 500 for his career. … Signed to a five-year, $35-million by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford while he was in Carolina, Semin has no goals and five assists this season. … Former Penguin Jordan Staal has a broken fibula, which he suffered Sept. 23 at Buffalo, and will be out at least another month. … Carolina’s penalty kill is decent; it ranks 13th at 82 percent and has gone 14 for 15 over the past seven games. … Nash leads in points with 15. Jiri Tlusty leads in goals with eight.

The series: Penguins won the 2013-14 season series, 3-1. Pittsburgh has won five of six and eight of 10 against Carolina. … Penguins have 10 wins in November, one shy of tying a team record (1995, 2010). … Hurricanes have the NHL’s worst road record at 2-9-2. … Crosby has an 11-game points streak against Carolina, which dates back to Dec. 7, 2009.

Up next: Penguins at Hurricanes, Saturday, 7 p.m.

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

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November 26, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m.

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After playing eight of their past 10 games on the road, the Penguins return home and will host the Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center tonight at 7:30.

“It seems like we’ve been out of town for awhile,” forward Nick Spaling this morning following the team’s gameday skate. “It’s nice to be able to play in front of our fans. It’s a great place to play. I think everybody’s excited to get back.”

The Penguins (14-4-2) avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season by topping Boston, 3-2, on Monday when Evgeni Malkin scored 32 seconds into overtime at TD Garden.

The win, of course, was No. 300 for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who will be rocking the yellow pads tonight.

Five of the Penguins’ next six games will be at home, starting with the Leafs (11-8-2), who have scored nine goals over their past two games during quality wins over the Lightning and Red Wings.

“We’ve seen them several times this year,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “They’re a team coming in here with some confidence after two wins against good teams.”

Phil Kessel leads the Maple Leafs in goals (11) and points (23). Toronto (3.19) is the third-highest scoring team in the league behind the Penguins (3.50) and the Lightning (3.46).

Their PK is seventh at 84.9 percent, but the Maple Leafs have allowed just three power-play goals over their past 10 games.

“They’re a team that’s very good in transition, very good off the rush,” Johnston said. “They can counter against you fast. When you play those teams, it’s your forecheck and your back pressure that puts you in a position to defend against it.”

Beau Bennett will be out “a couple weeks,” Johnston said at this morning’s optional skate. His place will be taken by Jayson Megna, who was called up last Saturday and made his season debut Monday in Boston.

The Penguins are 2-0 in the season series, outshooting Toronto, 81-56. This is the final regular-season meeting in 2014-15 between the two teams. The Penguins are three for eight on the power play in two games against Toronto, nine for 11 on the penalty kill.

Malkin, who’s on pace to score 40-plus goals for the third time in nine seasons, has 47 points in 26 career games against Toronto.

Jonathan Bernier (7-5-2, 2.54, .919) will start in goal for the Leafs.

“Those were hard-fought games,” Spaling said of the two previous meetings. “Back and forth. They have a lot of skill, a lot of speed. We have to do a better job of containing that tonight, I think. We know what they can bring, and I think it’s going to be another good game.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 25, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: The goal that delivered No. 300

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BOSTON – I wrote about Marc-Andre Fleury for Tuesday’s paper, and rightfully so. He did, after all, win his 300th game with a 3-2 overtime decision over Boston at TD Garden.

Did it faster than everybody except for Martin Brodeur and Terry Sawchuk, too.

But I just as easily could have focused on the game-winning goal, a three-on-two rush in overtime that saw captain Sidney Crosby pass to Evgeni Malkin for a one-timer that Malkin buried past Tuukka Rask from the right circle.

“We (were) three-on-two,” Malkin said. “I know Sid (was) looking to me because we (were) three-on-two. Sid (is a) good assist guy. He passed me (the puck). I (tried) to shoot it hard.”

Which Malkin did.

And it worked because Kris Letang, a defenseman, provided the center drive.

“I was just trying to buy time for Sid to make a play,” Letang said. “I was not trying to get the puck there. I was trying to rush and push that D-man.”

That coach Mike Johnston had Crosby and Malkin on the ice together in a four-on-four situation was notable.

“We tried it a couple games ago, and I really like them together,” Johnston said. “I was hesitant early in the year. I wanted to get a little bit of balance, but I thought they had some great chemistry.”

But …

“What made the play was Letang going to the net,” Johnston said. “He went right through the middle of the ice and created a little bit of hesitation by their defense. It’s nice to have that option, for sure.”

Johnston confirmed that Beau Bennett suffered an injury with about 7:30 to go in the second period during a hit from Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller.

Johnston said Bennett could have played, but he didn’t want to push him.

“Beau got injured in the second period,” Johnston said. “We didn’t feel in the third that it was worth pushing him. We’ll revaluate it tonight just to see. They felt that he could go back out. He tried it. I just didn’t think he was sharp. Sometimes when that happens, that he’s not fully ready to play, it’s better to put somebody else in.”

Johnston was also happy with Jayson Megna, who made his season debut. Megna finished with four hits and no shot attempts in 8:39 while playing on the fourth line with Marcel Goc and Craig Adams.

“I compliment Megs tonight,” Johnston said. “We talked about adding him to the roster and coming up, a young guy, he’s played well in Wilkes. I thought he had a really good game tonight. You could see his speed dangerous out there.”

Club practices tomorrow. Josh Yohe will have your coverage. I’ll be traveling back from Boston.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 24, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Bruins, 7 p.m.

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BOSTON – It hasn’t been worse than this.

The Penguins went 0-1-1 against Philadelphia and Detroit Oct. 22-23, same as they are after the Islanders swept them in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday.

One was in a shootout, the other at Nassau Coliseum.

Neither, as forward Patric Horqnvist said following the Penguins’ gameday skate at TD Garden, was acceptable, as the Penguins try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.

“This is a big game for us,” Hornqvist said. “We have to get out there, put our work boots on and really work hard.

“We didn’t play good enough on (Long) Island. You can lose. But you can’t lose the way we did. We need to get back on track.”

The Penguins (13-4-2) are playing a depleted Bruins (13-9-0) team that started five rookies last game.

Brad Marchand is a game-time decision, the same as 2014 first-round pick David Pastrnack, who’s not injured but could make his NHL debut. Chris Kelly and David Krejci are out.

The Bruins have lost 53 man-games to injury, but don’t expect the Penguins to be broken up about it; they missed 529 last season.

Watch center Patrice Bergeron tonight. For my money, he’s the best faceoff guy in the league. He ranks third in percentage at 59.5 but has the most total wins. He regularly posts killer Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

For the Penguins, forward Chris Kunitz hasn’t done much of late, with one point over his past six games, and he acknowledged as much this morning.

“I have to get back to being successful by going to certain areas, being physical, getting on the forecheck,” Kunitz said. “It’s something I haven’t been doing as of late. Got to shake things up and go out there and earn everything you need.”

Make no mistake, this is a crucial game. It could mean a three-game losing streak and a bunch or questions about what’s wrong with the Penguins’ top forwards.

Or it could be a much-needed rebound.

“It’s important that losing to the Islanders in a shootout and losing to them on their ice, we come back with a good game here,” coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s important for our game.”

Seems almost like an afterthought given the juggling on the Penguins’ top lines, but Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal tonight, his second crack at getting win No. 300.

News out of the skate: The Penguins did some line shuffling. Sidney Crosby skated between Nick Spaling and Hornqvist. Evgeni Malkin was between Kunitz and Blake Comeau on the second line. … Zach Sill stayed out for some extra work, an indication that Jayson Megna could play in his place. … Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara skated on his own early at TD Garden. Chara tore the PCL in his left knee on Oct. 23 and has missed the past 14 games; the Bruins are 9-4-0 during that stretch.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM

About the Bruins: They’re banged up. Bad. Krejci, Marchand and Kelly missed Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Canadiens. Ditto for defenseman Chara and Adam McQuaid, who’s also out. … Bergeron (5-11—16) leads the Bruins in goals (tied with Carl Soderberg and Seth Griffith) and points. … You might have heard of goaltender Tuukka Rask, who’s 10-6-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. Rask was the first goalie off at the skate and will start.

The series: Seems hard to believe, but the Penguins are 7-1-1 in their last nine against Boston and 6-1-1 in their last eight visits to TD Garden, although they were 0-1-1 here last season. … Penguins went 1-1-1 in the season series against the Bruins in 2013-14, despite outshooting Boston, 92-68, in those three games. … They scored on three of 10 power plays and the PK was five for six. … Kunitz, coincidentally, has a nine-game points streak against Boston dating back to Feb. 4, 2012.

Up next: Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

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

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