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November 17, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Minnesota pregame


Six days ago, the Penguins recorded a rousing come-from-behind shootout win over conference-leading Montreal. They followed that with a clunker against Columbus and an epic clunker in New Jersey.

With those events as a backdrop, I think coach Mike Johnston did a pretty good job after morning skate of setting the scene for tonight’s 7:30 game with the Minnesota Wild.

“We had two bad games on Friday and Saturday. You heard the players. They take ownership for that. They take responsibility for it. We, as coaches, do as well. Now, the thing is now, you have to respond. You have to have a response. What type of response? I look back to the Montreal game. Same type of game we played against Montreal. We didn’t give up a lot early in the game and we started to generate as the game went along. We have to play that same style of game. Minnesota’s like Montreal. They’re a top team.”

There are a lot of storylines involving what it means to be mad at each other and entertainment value — Jason Mackey and Joe Starkey wrote about those in today’s Trib —  but that’s pretty much it in a nutshell with the game a few hours away.

Some other notes from morning skate:

— Patric Hornqvist, who left Saturday’s game in New Jersey in the second period with an undisclosed injury and did not skate yesterday, was a full participant in morning skate. He said he was feeling good, but stopped short of declaring himself in the lineup tonight. Johnston said he hadn’t gotten the final OK from the trainers, but he thought Hornqvist looked good in practice.

The Penguins didn’t do line rushes, but Hornqvist was in a black jersey along with Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby, David Perron, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Beau Bennett was in a white jersey with Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Eric Fehr, Daniel Sprong and Sergei Plotnikov.

Therefore, I think you can expect Hornqvist in the top six and Bennett in the bottom six to start tonight.

— All five players who missed yesterday’s practice with injury or illness — Hornqvist, Cullen, Sprong, Bonino and Rob Scuderi — were back today. Johnston said he will need to get a full report from the trainers before the game, but he expected most if not all of them to be ready to go.

“It wasn’t something that we thought there would be several players out tonight and we had to call anybody up,” Johnston said. “We should be fine with the players we have.”

— Adam Clendening and Sergei Plotnikov are the extras. They stayed out late at the end of morning skate, so if they’re in, it will be a late decision. Here’s Johnston on Clendening, who has dressed just once this season and has been a healthy scratch for 13 straight games:

“Anytime a young guy does go that long with that, we could send him down on conditioning to get some games, if it didn’t look like he would get in, but lately, with the sickness and everything else going on with our team, it looked like he might get in. Are we concerned if he stays out too long? Yes. We have to get him some games because he is a young guy. But evaluating our defense on a nightly basis and determining what we want to do, that’s what we do, as of yet, we haven’t made a change.”

— Speaking of potential call-ups, the AHL doesn’t have fancy stats like the NHL does, but Jason Iacona keeps a handy chart on his blog that digs a little deeper into some WBS numbers. Check it out here.

You’ll see that there is a full handful of WBS forwards with big-time goals for/goals against numbers so far this season — Scott Wilson, Conor Sheary and Dominik Simon chief among them. I wouldn’t think calling one or two up to fill in for the injured or ill would be a bad idea, if the cap allows.

— Finally, let’s take a quick look at what Johnston had to say about the Wild this morning:

“A couple things stand out for me. They’re quick and they’re skilled. Up front, you take a look at their group of forwards, they have quickness and good skill. On the back end, their defensemen make a very good first pass and they join the rush. Certainly when their goaltending came around last year, that’s when they really started to take off as a team.”

Now compare that to what John Hynes said about the Penguins before Saturday’s game in New Jersey:

“When you look at them, they have a great coaching staff. They have excellent goaltending. Both guys can play real well. They’re solid there. On D, they have components of everything. They have guys that can skate, move the puck and defend well. Then we know up front, they have four lines that are deadly. They’re playing really well right now. We know we have to have one of our better games tonight.”

The lesson to be learned here? Hockey coaches could give college football coaches a run for their money when it comes to talking up their next opponent like they are the greatest thing walking God’s green earth.

More later. Bye for now,



November 16, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Extras from Pens practice today


I don’t know if defiant would be the right term, but the Penguins today certainly didn’t buy into all the doom-and-gloom that we’re all probably guilty of perpetuating.

“You’ve seen some things,” I asked Phil Kessel. “You know, in Toronto.”

I then asked Kessel something about comparing that being a dire situation to this.

“What are we, 10-7?” Kessel responded. “I think we’ll be alright.”

Leave it to Phil to deliver the money quote of the day.

For print, I chose to write about the clarification between the Penguins being “mad at each other” and simply just upset about how they played Saturday. And, really, their play tracing back further.

There is a difference, as Sidney Crosby and others explained.

Yet there was also no masking the emotion of everything going on with the team right now. It’s been 17 games, more than 20 percent of the season. They should be scoring goals and producing on the power play. They’re not.

Normally as quotable as anyone inside the Penguins’ dressing room, Kris Letang appeared to grow frustrated answered the same questions about the power play.

“We had a couple good chances,” Letang said. “We didn’t score. You saw the same thing that I did. So you know the answer.”

I asked Letang about Evgeni Malkin’s “mad at each other” comment and whether it took Saturday, Sunday and Monday to get it out of their system.

“We talked about different things,” Letang said. “We’re here today.”

Back to Kessel for a second. Crosby talked last week about the power play “flowing.” The Penguins haven’t quite done that on the man-advantage, going 0 for 13 over their past three games.

“It’s not that easy, is it though?” Kessel said. “Teams are good. They have good PKs. You simplify. Get pucks to the net. Get rebounds. Things will start to go in.”

Malkin said step No. 1 for the Penguins would be to shoot the puck more.

It would be tough to find anyone inside or outside the dressing room who would disagree.

“Some periods we have two or three shots to the net,” Malkin said. :It’s nothing for our team. We have four good lines. We should shoot and go to the net.”

Crosby gave a very solid blow-by-blow assessment of the power play. Basically it’s a lot of stuff. Could be bad passing. Or getting out of their own zone, as we’ve heard before.

“There’s been some nights where our passes haven’t been crisp,” Crosby said. “You make one bad pass on the power play, now they’re pressuring, now you start forcing things. It’s difficult. You have to take pride in when you make a pass you’re giving a guy a good opportunity to make a play after that.

“The other thing you want to look at is our breakouts. As we enter the zone well, our skill takes over. If we’re choppy getting in there, again, you start to get pressure, you start to make mistakes because you’re forcing things.

“When I talk about execution, making good passes. When you do have a play, not forcing things.”

Comparing this in my head to not hitting and carrying that with you into the field in baseball, I asked Crosby whether their frustration with the power play was feeding into other things.

“When you’re doing things well, you automatically feel good about it,” Crosby said. “You trust that it’s going to go in eventually. When you’re not executing, when you’re not sharp, it probably has a better chance of carrying over five-on-five than it would if you’re firing on all cylinders.”

The Penguins have experienced both sides of that coin this season.

Finally, coach Mike Johnston was asked today by Trib columnist Joe Starkey about his job security. Didn’t really expect Johnston to say “yes.” He’s not the type. But Joe makes a fine point: It’s often not enough for a head coach of this franchise to win; they must do it a certain way.

Anyway, here’s Johnston’s response to Starkey’s question.

“The main thing as a coach that you feel uneasy about is how your team performs. It’s a nightly thing. I never worry or even think about job security. I think about our game, how we’re playing, how much I’m getting out of individuals. Those are the most important things to me. Are we winning games? Are we winning the right way?

“Sometimes you win a game and maybe you win it and look at it and say, ‘We have to be a lot better.’ It’s all objectively how are we playing and how can we be better?”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 15, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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New Jersey postgame


With the benefit of hindsight, you can see that things were lining up for a horrific performance for the Penguins tonight.

Externally, they were playing on back-to-back nights with travel in between, facing a New Jersey team that preys on turnovers.

Internally, the Penguins were coming off a stretch where they were winning (9 of 10 at one point) without playing particularly well. Sidney Crosby still hasn’t found any kind of offensive groove, Kris Letang is struggling all over the place, the power play is messy, and great goaltending has been masking some flaws.

It all came crashing down tonight in Newark.

Once a couple of power plays went sour in the first period, it was on. New Jersey scored once in the first and again in the second. There was little to no push-back after that, just a few bursts of frustration. Bobby Farnham and Lee Stempniak added kick-in-the-teeth goals in the third and your final was 4-0.

The team held a players-only meeting after the game. A sample of quotes after reporters were let in:

EVGENI MALKIN: “We’re not playing right. We’re not working hard. I know it’s tough right now. We’re mad at each other. We need to stop, look in the mirror and start working. We’re not working.”

SIDNEY CROSBY: “We didn’t compete. We didn’t deserve to win.”

JEFF ZATKOFF: “It didn’t seem like we were committed. We looked tired. Just didn’t have it tonight. I mean, no excuses. That’s the way it was. It just felt like we were chasing the game all night.”

MIKE JOHNSTON: “Rather than push through it, we sort of gave in. We need a better effort, better intensity.”

In addition, Patric Hornqvist left the game with an injury in the middle of the second period. I know he took a Malkin shot up high in the first period, but I can’t say for sure that’s where the injury happened. Johnston didn’t have an update on Hornqvist’s condition after the game.

All in all, safe to say the most dismal showing of the young season. Johnston said he’s confident the players will respond positively to tonight’s developments. I get the feeling the fanbase doesn’t share that confidence.

Bye for now,



November 14, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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New Jersey pregame


New Jersey coach John Hynes’ contention, more or less, is that tonight’s matchup against the Penguins is just another game for him. There’s a certain level of motivation and preparation that is required to win any NHL game and you’d better have it against every opponent, not just the ones that passed you over for promotion.

It’s hard to believe that, of course. Put yourself in Hynes’ shoes in the summer of 2014. In four years as head coach in Wilkes-Barre, his teams went 186-102-20 and led the league in goals against three times. He was coming off back-to-back trips to the AHL’s conference finals. The Penguins interviewed him, flirted with Bill Peters and Willie Desjardins and ultimately hired Mike Johnston.

How could he not want to beat the Penguins’ brains in tonight?

I’ll give you two reasons, though, why he might be telling the truth.

1. Hynes’ connection to the current Pittsburgh team, from players to management, isn’t really that strong. Jim Rutherford didn’t hire him. Ray Shero did. Hynes only worked with Rutherford for about a year. And as far as players go, check out this chart. It’s a list of players who have played in the NHL this season that Hynes coached during his five years as head coach in Wilkes-Barre.


You’ll notice that the list of players on other teams is about twice as long as the list of Pittsburgh players. Calling Maatta a Hynes guy is a stretch. He played three games for WBS in the 2013 playoffs. Rust is hurt and won’t play tonight. When it comes to players, there are only three in the Penguins’ projected lineup that Hynes has any kind of a past with. That’s not necessarily a big deal.

It also says something about the Penguins’ organizational philosophy on drafting and developing players, does it not?

2. Hynes’ explanation for why he doesn’t have any hard feelings towards the Penguins makes a lot of sense. Here, see for yourself:

“No. Not at all. It’s part of the business. One of the big reasons I’ve had the opportunity to be with New Jersey is I was hired by Pittsburgh and was really given great resources and a fantastic environment in Wilkes-Barre to not only develop as a coach but work with good teams and good players and great communication with the NHL staff. To me, it was a great experience. Things work out the way they’re supposed to work out. I’m happy I’m here and excited to coach tonight.”

In other words, yeah, he could still be upset about getting passed over in 2014, but he’s in the NHL now and his team is doing well, so why bother?

Other notes from today’s morning skate:

— The Penguins didn’t have a formal morning skate, but Adam Clendening and Sergei Plotnikov, who were healthy scratches last night, did skate. Coach Mike Johnston will meet with reporters at 5. We’ll probably get a better idea of the lineup then.

— Jeff Zatkoff is expected to start in net. A fun little series of stats I like to break out from time to time (apologies if you’ve seen it here before): Zatkoff’s career NHL numbers are actually slightly better than Marc-Andre Fleury’s.

JEFF ZATKOFF 2.53 0.918 0.652
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY 2.57 0.912 0.616

This is fun with small sample sizes of the highest order, of course. Fleury has played about 25 times as many NHL games as Zatkoff. But it’s fun nonetheless.

— Back to Hynes for a moment. He and Johnston had in-depth discussions about Xs and Os last season, of course, since WBS was expected to play the same systems, more or less, as the parent club to make things easier for call-ups. I asked Hynes if it was different preparing for an opponent whose systems were so familiar to him:

“There’s not a lot of varieties, really, in the league. I know Mike’s done a good job. He’s an up-to-date coach. I know they have made some adjustments even from last year. Even though you know each other – there are coaches that are friends throughout the league – each game is different. You gotta try to find a way to be the better team that night.”

— Finally, I asked Bobby Farnham if it’s easier or harder to get under the skin of players he knows well. I remember talking to him about this once before when he was in Wilkes-Barre, preparing to play against Harry Zolnierczyk, his college roommate. Do they know his tricks and thus avoid them? Here’s what Farnham said:

“I think they might know me a little bit, but I’ve done it before. It’s one of those things where you see guys and they’re you’re friends and by the end of the game, they’re swearing at you and things like that. That’s just the way it goes. Off the ice, it’s a different story.”

On the ice, it should be fun to watch the Bobby Farnham Show tonight.

More after the game. Bye for now,



November 14, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Postgame: Blue Jackets 2, Penguins 1


The second period has perhaps become more than a secondary issue for the Penguins. Two more goals allowed tonight. That follows the debacle Wednesday against Montreal.

Sure, they made games out of both. Even beat the Canadiens. But is this something the Penguins need to be aware of going forward?

“We need a better second period so when we come in the third we’re not trailing by two, trying to come back in the game,” Marc-Andre Fleury said.

Fleury was asked why this is happening.

“I don’t know why,” Fleury said. “We have to find out and make sure it doesn’t happen too much.”

It extends to individual stuff, too.

Sidney Crosby did not score in the second period — or, obviously, the game. That marks 16 consecutive regular-season games played where Crosby did not score in the second period. He has one assists in his past 26 regular-season games. (Courtesy: Bob Grove)

“For whatever reason, we haven’t been good in the second period,” Crosby said. “Longer change. It’s even more important to execute in the second period with that longer change, to make sure that you’re getting fresh bodies on. With getting hemmed in your own zone, you get in trouble.”

=Fleury was again spectacular. Reached back with his stick to stop one. Stopped 26 of 28 overall. But, again, he didn’t get much support goal-wise.

“He’s been solid for us,” Crosby said. “He’s giving us a chance. Hopefully we’re not throwing too much at him or allowing too much to get at him. There are times where we’re going to make mistakes, and he’s kept us in the game. A game like tonight, a two-goal lead, he kept it at that and gave us the chance to get ourselves back into it.”

=Olli Maatta and Kris Letang played together the majority of the night, save for special teams.
Coach Mike Johnston said he was happy with what he saw.

“I think Olli’s game is starting to come around,” Johnston said. “I really like how his game is coming. Especially on the blue line. We need to get more shots through from the point. I thought Olli was one guy who was trying to get his shot through, was working across the line, moving across the line, joining the play a little bit, trying to create. Certainly that pair had its skating legs tonight.”

=Couple things that jumped out at me from the stat sheet: The Blue Jackets outhit the Penguins, 38-20. … The Penguins committed 12 giveaways to the Penguins’ two. … Daniel Sprong played just 5:39. He took two shifts in the second period.

=Johnston talked about the Penguins needing to have a “shooting mentality” on the power play, so I thought about where the Penguins stacked up when it came to Corsi For Per 60 minutes. Basically this measures how many shot attempts they have on the power play, and it lessens factors such as number of power plays or games played. It creates an even playing field.

The Penguins are 23rd in the NHL, about where I’d expect them to be.

This was evident Friday, but it wasn’t necessarily a case of passing too much. Their breakouts were fairly disjointed tonight. Sometimes they didn’t even happen; I remember one sequence where four skaters went back and gathered speed, and Evgeni Malkin just rushed the puck himself. Not ideal. This created to not much zone time for the Penguins, who finished 0 for 6 with five shots in 10:59.

Jonathan Bombulie has the club tomorrow in Newark. I’m off and will be watching on TV just like yinz.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 13, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Pregame: Penguins vs. Blue Jackets, 7 p.m.


The Penguins will welcome Gibsonia native Brandon Saad and the (somewhat) resurgent Columbus Blue Jackets to Consol Energy Center for a 7 o’clock faceoff tonight.

For Saad, it’s his first game here in his new uniform. He’s playing for a relatively new coach, too, in John Tortorella, who was honest and engaging with reporters prior to Friday’s morning skate.

Columbus (4-12-0) is in a hole, but it has won two of four and four of nine since “Torts” took over.

“I didn’t know too much about him,” Saad said about Tortorella. “You hear things, but I had never met him personally or anything like that. Talking to a couple guys and getting to meet him, he really cares about his players. He wants to get the best out of his players and teach them as best as he can. I think he’s done a great job so far. I’ve liked him a lot. It’s still early. We have a long way to go.”

Saad has five goals, including four on the power play, and eight points in 15 games. As someone who was also contending while with the Blackhawks, coming to Columbus and losing eight in a row to start the season was not easy to talk, Saad said.

Former coach Todd Richards was fired after seven of those losses; Tortorella was hired on Oct. 21.

“There’s always going to expectations or pressure,” Saad said. “I think the biggest thing is just staying relaxed and having fun. I think in the beginning especially we were a little tight out there on the ice and a little nervous. That led to losing games and kind of snowballing. It’s been an adjustment, but I think we’ve been better as of late.”

In case you missed it, here’s the podcast of today’s Pens Roundtable Show

A few things to know about Columbus:

=The Blue Jackets have a five-on-five goal differential of minus-16. That’s really bad.

=Their power play is good. They’re 12 for 58, a success rate of 20.7 percent that ranks 10th in the NHL.

=Penguins have won four of five meetings with the Blue Jackets here in Pittsburgh.

The Blue Jackets aren’t close to a playoff spot, which Tortorella acknowledged this morning in a way that only he can.

Yes. John Tortorella and playoffs. Great quote. Wish Jim Mora had been there.

“Let’s not even talk about playoffs,” Tortorella said. “I don’t even look at the standings right now. Or the stats or anything. It’s about trying to get better.”

News out of the skate:

=Was optional this morning. Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby, David Perron, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Rob Scuderi took the option.

=Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal, setting up Jeff Zatkoff will make his first-ever start in beautiful Newark, N.J. on Saturday. I’m sure he’s beyond thrilled.

=Sergei Plotnikov was the last forward on the ice, Adam Clendening the last defenseman, indications both could be healthy scratches tonight.

A little about the Penguins:

=They’re winning 51.5 percent of their faceoffs this season, which ranks fifth in the NHL. That ties the best faceoff percentage of the Crosby/Malkin Era, which was seventh in 2012-13. It also represents a marked improvement from the 49.1 percent (19th) the Penguins won in 2014-15.

=Crosby’s last 14 games have been monstrous, with six goals and 20 points.

=Penguins have won 10 of 12 overall. … Phil Kessel has a four-game active point streak. … The Penguins are 8-0 this season when scoring first.

All from me for now. Talk to you later tonight from the rink.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 12, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Post-practice notes (Thursday, Nov. 12)


Wrapping up a practice day at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex …

=No line rushes today. A lot of two-on-none drills, chip plays off the boards, etc. Stuff designed, it seemed, for players to skate with the puck with confidence.

=Kris Letang wins the Most Quotable Player award today. (There’s actually no such award, FYI.) Letang looked up from his stall to see a circle of media forming. Letang joked that he may talk, depending on what we asked. Well, he talked. And then some. Typical for him. Here are some gems from that exchange:

On getting hit/elbowed by Andrei Markov taking an interference penalty:
“Every time I get hit from behind like that and there’s no call … it was kind of my way to disagree. Obviously they called a penalty that I don’t even think … I don’t know, I don’t think it was close to a call but whatever. What happened happened. We had to turn the page.”

On being a minus-11, the third-worst such figure in the NHL:
“I don’t pay attention to it. I’ve been doing a lot of video all my life. I’m still doing it at my age. If I look at it, I should not worry about it. It’s out of my control. There are five guys on the ice. If I would commit 14 turnovers that wind up in the back of my net, that would be different. That’s not the case.”

Quick interruption: Plus/minus stinks as a stat. I hate it. I don’t blame Letang for not caring. That wasn’t even the point of the question. You’re just not used to seeing a minus-11 next to Kris Letang’s name.

A better evaluative tool — and one the Penguins use — is scoring chances for/against. So, let’s look at that a minute and decide on Scoring Chances Against Per 60 (SCA60). Letang ranks 18th-worst among NHL defenseman who have played at least 100 minutes this season at 30.44.

Is this cause for a gigantic freak out? No. Is it good? No, not really. From 2006-15, Letang’s SCA60 is 26.61. There’s definitely room for improvement, but I get why nobody is hanging their hat on a minus-11. Anyway …

=Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cullen missed practice today because of maintenance days. Wouldn’t read too much into this. Their equipment was at the facility, an indication that there was at least some intent on them practicing. Coach Mike Johnston called them “a little under the weather.” We’ll see if they’re on the ice for Friday’s morning skate. Would expect they will be.

=Lot of talk about shuffling lines, about the new-look third line, about Patric Hornqvist’s big-time goal. Here’s a little more Hornqvist:

On moving to a new line:
“I think it sparks the whole team when you move the lines around. You want to show the coach or your teammates we’re better than what we were. In Calgary, that was not a very good game from our side. Changed the lines. We got going. We had a great first period. Then we got away from it a little bit in the second. Then we came out really hard in the third. Then won the game. Big step for our team.”

On putting pressure on himself to score:
“Obviously you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you’re struggling scoring goals. You want to be out there around the net and find those loose pucks. That’s been my problem this year so far. Keep working on it. Hopefully I get those pucks around the net here soon.”

=Sidney Crosby brought up an interesting point:

“I think with the way we play, our second periods should be consistently good. We play a pretty fast game. With a longer change, it’s something you can take advantage of in the second period. We’ve had our fair share of good ones. Most recently we’ve not done as good of a job.”

Obviously Wednesday stunk. That was as bad of a period as I’ve seen the Penguins play. But check this out.

In the second period alone this season, the Penguins have a allowed 25 fewer scoring chances than they’ve generated. That’s the fourth-worst ratio in the NHL. The 141 they’ve allowed are the second most.

All from me for now. Dark Star Orchestra tonight at Stage AE. Can’t wait.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 12, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Montreal post-game


Coaches usually only get criticized after losses, so I think it’s fair to point out that I thought Mike Johnston had a really good night tonight in a win for the Penguins.

Before the game, Johnston was asked what the key to beating Montreal was. This was not an easy question. The Canadiens came in outscoring their opponents by 30 goals so far this season.

“You have to play a steady game, I think, with them,” Johnston said. “You can’t let things slip at any time because they can score.”

At the time, I dismissed it as a piece of fairly generic coachspeak. Looking back, he was exactly right.

The Penguins were good in the first and good in the third, but they “let things slip” in the second. Badly. They were outshot 13-1 and fell behind 3-2 on goals by Brendan Gallagher and Brian Flynn. The Flynn goal could have been an especially brutal gut punch because it came on the kind of unscreened shot from the wing that Marc-Andre Fleury has been stopping in his sleep this season.

Johnston doesn’t do the riot act like his counterpart in the Montreal locker room does. He maintains a professorial tone most of the time. But in this case, he unleashed his version of a paint-peeler.

“I didn’t like the way we were playing,” Johnston said. “I think anybody watching that second period … when you trade chances with a very good team like that, you just can’t play that way. You can’t cross the line, drop the puck, make back passes, body passes.”

I’m not saying Johnston’s motivational speech was magical or anything, but he definitely pushed the right button.

Some notes:

— The beleaguered Ian Cole-Kris Letang D pair was on the ice for Montreal’s two goals in the second. They were then split up. Letang went with Olli Maatta and Cole went with Rob Scuderi. The Maatta-Letang pair was on for Patric Hornqvist’s clutch tying goal. Again, not magical, but Johnston pushing the right button. Maatta, by the way, also scored a first-period goal when a Phil Kessel shot deflected in off his pants and is a plus-11 for the season.

— I thought the Penguins were building systematically to Hornqvist’s tying goal in the third period. They got some zone time, then they got some shots, then Nick Bonino hit a post, then paydirt. That strikes me as the best way to go about a comeback against a good team, rather than trying to hit a home run here or there.

— You probably know the stat, but here goes anyway. The Penguins won a game they trailed after two periods for the first time since Jan. 5, 2014 against Winnipeg. They went 0-31-6 between comebacks.

— While we’re talking about comebacks, Pascal Dupuis’ was decent, was it not? Miss two games with medical concerns, then score 13 seconds into his return. That’ll work.

— Between the third-period heroics and Dupuis’ comeback, it would be easy to overlook Sidney Crosby’s performance tonight. Two assists and the game-deciding shootout attempt is a good place to start. He was the engine that drove the offense.

— Fleury left the ice for about two minutes for repairs after Lovejoy’s stick caught him under the left eye during a net-front scramble. He had a nice gash and a few stitches after the game. Fleury said he was worried for a moment because it was near his eye and his father lost an eye to an errant stick. He joked about the incident and the stitches in typical Fleury fashion, saying he looked like he belonged with the rest of the team now, but that had to be a harrowing moment.

Bye for now,



November 11, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Gameday: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 7:30 p.m.


It’s not exactly revelatory, but the home team’s top line should be a focal point when the Penguins host the Montreal Canadiens tonight at 7:30 at Consol Energy Center.

After a brief scare in Western Canada, Pascal Dupuis will return to Sidney Crosby’s left wing. Speaking of the captain, he has two goals in 14 games. And Beau Bennett will get a shot on the right side.

“We’ll see what happens tonight during the game,” Dupuis said of that line. “It will be the first one (with three of them together). It might take a little adjustment.”

Here’s Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu on Crosby’s struggles. Thought this was interesting.

“It’s also scary at the same time. He’s the best player in the world for a reason, and he’s about to take off soon, I’m sure. We’re going to go into the game with the same approach. He’s a special player. We’re not too worried about his stats right now. We have to respect the player that he is.”

Something else to take out of Wednesday’s morning skate was Daniel Sprong playing left wing on a line with Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr.

This isn’t a big thing for Sprong.

“If I play left wing tonight, that’s no problem,” Sprong told me. “I worked on getting the pass to my backhand. I feel comfortable. Just trying to help the team out anywhere I can.”

Sprong was off much earlier than Sergei Plotnikov, who rotated rushes at that spot, an indication Sprong will play over Plotnikov.

Neither the fourth line nor the first will have it easy tonight.

The Canadiens are an NHL-best 13-2-1, including a 7-0-1 mark on the road. They have nine players with double-digit points; the Penguins have two. Their five-on-five goal differential — a solid barometer of how solid a team truly is — is a ridiculous plus-15.

“You have to play a steady game with them,” coach Mike Johnston said. “You can’t let things slip at any time because they can score. Their shooting percentage is good. They’re a team that doesn’t give up a lot. Special teams have been good for them so far this season.

“You have to recognize it’s probably going to be a one-goal game. You have to be able to hang in there throughout that.”

Because Johnston brought it up, here are those numbers. Ridiculous, again.

Power play: 15 for 55, 27.3 percent, 3rd in the NHL
Penalty kill: 48 for 54, 88.9 percent, 2nd
Shooting percentage: 12.0, 1st in the NHL

Back to the top line, though. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Bennett. Earlier in his career, I’m not sure he was fast enough to keep up with guys like Crosby and Dupuis. He admitted as much while speaking to reporters after practice at Monday.

Things are different for Bennett this season. Sure, there’s still the obvious concerns over him staying healthy. I don’t think those have gone anywhere. But he’s been a different player this season. Gotta wonder how it meshes with those two.

“He’s managed the puck really well,” Johnston said of Bennett. ‘I like how he carries the puck, how he makes plays with the puck. Also his competitiveness is really a key thing for me. If it’s there night in and night out, he can move around in our lineup.

“His loose-puck compete and battles defensively along the boards have been way better. That’s a big part of his game. It allows him to do what he does so well with the puck.”

A few additional preview-related notes:

=The David Perron-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel line has evolved quite nicely. Perron had zero points and averaged 2.0 shots per game before joining the group. Those numbers are four points (in six games) and 3.33 shots per game since. Kessel produced three points in seven games pre-Malkin, seven in seven with Malkin.

=These teams met here on Oct. 13, when a 3-2 loss dropped the Penguins to 0-3. If you remember, Max Pacioretty scored the first two goals of the game before Kris Letang tied it, and Tomas Fleischmann ended it. Bennett had a game-high six shots on goal.

=Speaking of Pacioretty, he told a really interesting story this morning about how he got into hockey. His parents never played. Then, he fell for the 1994 New York Rangers. He and his dad would watch games on the fold-out couch in their living room. He was hooked. More on this in the notebook, but it’s timely because the Canadiens’ fathers are on the trip.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 9, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

6 comments so far - add yours!

Dupuis, Crosby, Bennett, more


The top news item of the day is the return of Pascal Dupuis after he missed two games over the weekend with symptoms that could have been related to a blood clot.

Dupuis said he wanted to keep the precise details of the symptoms between himself and medical personnel, but he gave some insight into what happened last Friday.

“It was something I saw on my leg there that didn’t seem right,” Dupuis said. “Obviously we play a contact sport. I blocked a shot or I got slashed. Everything happens so fast out there that I probably don’t remember how it happened. I just had to make sure.”

He was checked by doctors in Edmonton and again in Pittsburgh, then was cleared to take part in Monday’s practice in full. Coach Mike Johnston said he expects Dupuis will be cleared for Wednesday’s game with Montreal.

Other notes from today’s practice, starting with a lineup:

— Dupuis-Crosby-Bennett



— Bennett was with Crosby during the latter stages of Saturday’s game in Calgary. Here’s coach Mike Johnston on why he has Bennett in that spot:

“His competitiveness has picked up a little bit,” Johnston said. “More and more pro games, that’s going to be a key thing for him. I saw some positive signs. He’s a good puck possession guy. When he has the puck on his stick, he makes good plays. He controls the puck. I believe he started the season with some confidence and is carrying confidence.”

— Crosby didn’t seem surprised that he had a new right wing. When the production isn’t where it needs to be, these things happen.

“Regardless of who you play with, most guys’ roles don’t really change,” Crosby said. “You just try to be aware of guys’ strengths and where they like to go. Other than that, just a matter of kind of finding a rhythm.”

— I could make a statistical case that Crosby was improving while playing with Hornqvist as opposed to playing with Kessel so far this season.

Points per game with Kessel: 0.43
Points per game with Hornqvist: 0.67

Individual scoring chances per game with Kessel: 2.9
Individual scoring chances per game with Hornqvist: 3.5

Team high-danger scoring chances per game with Kessel: 4.4
Team high-danger scoring chances per game with Hornqvist: 4.5

But these are just minor statistical differences we’re talking about. Nothing that would stop a coach from trying different combinations with Crosby until something clicks.

— You’ll notice no changes to the D pairs. Jason Mackey made a compelling case in today’s paper in favor of Kris Letang playing with Olli Maatta. I think Letang playing with Brian Dumoulin might be worth a look too. Regardless, if those changes are coming, they weren’t made in time for today’s practice.

— Last thing: I noticed the Penguins working a lot on puck retrievals and breakouts today, so I asked Johnston about it.

“We try and do those as much as we can, just putting our defense under pressure, different types of pressure, so they learn to read and react to the pressure,” he said.

That makes a lot of sense to me. If there’s one tactical thing that would get the Penguins’ offense going, I think it would be the defensemen and forwards (centers especially) reading and reacting off each other quicker and more effectively in the D zone. Then your centermen can get going through the neutral zone to bigger and better things.

Bye for now,


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