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November 12, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Flush Rangers loss … quickly

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NEW YORK – Little can be extracted from the Penguins’ 5-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Better yet, little should be extracted from the Penguins’ 5-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

This was a blip.

Only a blip.

Nothing to freak out over.

“Definitely not the start you want to have,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said of falling behind 3-0 in the first period. “I think we all believe with the guys that we have here that we can make a run for it and come back.”

One of the more ridiculous suggestions I heard tonight had to do with Rangers forward Tanner Glass sweeping away a possible Penguins goal and what would have happened had he not done that.

Please.

Like the Penguins would have immediately turned it around and put forth a season-best performance.

They didn’t have it against the Rangers, and that’s OK. It was evident from the start.

It’s November. They’re human. And these things happen. When you win seven in a row – and look like the best team in the NHL doing it – there’s some slack you’re afforded.

“Whether we won however many in a row, at this point, that’s no excuse,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We weren’t good enough.”

I liked how head coach Mike Johnston explained the Penguins’ effort – or lack of it.

Normally it might sound alarms that a head coach was questioning his team’s effort, but so did his captain. And neither was even close to wrong after this one.

“I thought they were quicker to loose pucks than we were,” Johnston said. “They had a step more in their jump. But it was also the compete and the battle on the loose pucks. You have to engage when you’re going for those pucks. I didn’t think we had the same level of intensity that we normally have had. We’ve been a great starting team. Tonight wasn’t a very good start for us.

The timing of it is questionable, to say the least, especially given their recent history with the Rangers; you would think this is a team they have a significant amount of hatred for, even if a win Tuesday wasn’t going to erase the postseason.

I asked Johnston whether he had any inclination this was coming. No way, Johnston insisted.

“No, none at all,” Johnston said. “Morning skates are fairly routine. You look at your team, you don’t always measure your team at a morning skate, but it looks like we had a lot of jump, a lot of energy. We knew the importance of the game.”

The importance of the game? The importance of a regular season game in November?

It’s not a ton. Not compared to the last time these two teams met, that’s for sure.

The most important thing the Penguins can do is forget this loss, not dissect it. By dwelling on it or thinking too much about it, they’re only going to give it more credit than it deserves.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 11, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at New York Rangers, 7 p.m.

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NEW YORK – A win tonight won’t make Tuesday, May 13 seem any less strange.

It won’t remove the picture of Dan Bylsma and the suit he wore and the frustration on his face while standing behind the Penguins’ bench from my brain.

A win tonight surely won’t do much for this current group of Penguins, who are off to a 10-2-1 start following that crushing second-round series loss.

“When you play a team in the playoffs, the emotion and the intensity is always a tad bit higher than maybe it typically would be when you’re meeting a team for the first time in the regular season,” captain Sidney Crosby said Tuesday morning following the Penguins’ gameday skate at Madison Square Garden. “They have new faces, as do we. Both teams have probably turned the page. That being said, things always seemed to get ratcheted up a bit when you’ve seen team that much in a short period of time.”

This will obviously be the first meeting since then, and, man, are these teams coming in on different trajectories. The Penguins have won seven straight. The Rangers lost to the poor, poor pitiful Oilers, 3-1, on Sunday.

The Penguins have killed 37 consecutive penalties, and their power play is at 37.5 percent (21 for 56). That percentage is almost three times as high as the Rangers, who are at 13.2 percent (five for 38).

Defenseman Dan Boyle (fractured hand) and Ryan McDonagh (separated shoulder) are on injured reserve, with Boyle reportedly only a game or two away. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s goals-against average is 2.79 – or 29th best in the NHL.

“There’s obviously some revenge from them there,” Rangers defenseman Carl Hagelin said of the Penguins making amends. “At the same time, they’re a hot team. For us, we’re the underdogs tonight. We just want to go out there and do everything we can to play as close to 100 percent as we can play.

“It’s time for us to show our fans here at home that we’re a good team.”

A win tonight for the Penguins would give them their longest winning streak since March 2-30, 2013 and would be the longest win streak in the league this year.

News out of the skate: Defenseman Olli Maatta skated for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove a potentially cancerous tumor from his thyroid gland seven days ago. … Forward Beau Bennett skated for part of practice in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, then left the ice. The Penguins recalled him at around 1:45 p.m. … No changes to combos or pairings. … The Rangers sent Ryan Malone (Upper St. Clair) to Hartford of the AHL yesterday. … Looks like Rangers defenseman John Moore will return from his suspension.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Rangers: Rangers have won one of five games in November and are allowing 3.14 goals per game, 24th in the league. … Sunday marked the fourth consecutive game where the Rangers allowed four or more goals. … Lundqvist’s GAA isn’t pretty, but it’s better than it was. Since allowing back-to-back six spots Oct. 12-14, he’s at 5-2-1 with a 1.95 GAA. … Malone hasn’t gotten much of a chance in New York. Was scoreless his first six games, then a healthy scratch the past three before getting sent down. … Rick Nash (11-3-14) leads in goals and points. Derick Brassard (5-7-12) has been solid, too.

The series: Penguins have won 10 of the past 14 regular season games at Madison Square Garden. … They held a 2-1-1 last year, although the Rangers had more goals (13-12) and shots (133-118). The teams combined for eight power play goals in 30 chances. …  … The Rangers have earned at least a point in each of their last three home games against the Penguins, outscoring them, 14-6, during that span.

Next up: Penguins at Maple Leafs, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

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

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November 6, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Jets, 8 p.m.

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba – You’d be hard pressed to find two hotter teams.

The Penguins are riding a five-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 23-4. The Jets, meanwhile, are 5-0-1 over their past six.

Eight o’clock at MTS Centre, you’ll be watching.

“It’s a good challenge for us,” Penguins forward Blake Comeau said. “They’ve been playing some really good hockey. We’ve been playing good hockey. It should be fun.”

It’s funny, everybody wants to label this thing as the Penguins are an offensive juggernaut, the Jets sound defensively.

Won’t argue completely – Winnipeg goalies have given up six goals during that stretch – but haven’t the Penguins been the better team defensively? At least recently?

“Teams see Pittsburgh as an offensive team, but if you look at our record lately, we had one goal, three of four shutouts,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “We’ve started to play well defensively. With our team, it’s a matter of everyone playing and taking responsibility for their own zone, everybody coming back, reloading above on the forecheck.”

Minnesota was smart on Tuesday. The Wild didn’t take many penalties, although the Penguins did cash in once, 12 seconds into a delay-of-game call on Marco Scandella.

The Jets, whose PK is tied for fourth in the league at 88.2 percent, have provided their opponents 51 power-play chances so far, tied for third-most in the league.

With the Penguins’ power play at 41.3 percent, Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian knows his team needs to be careful.

“Breakdowns will happen,” Bogosian said. “Penalties will happen. If they get on the power play, they’re able to do some pretty nice stuff. We have to make sure we’re being smart about things.”

News out of the skate: Not much, honestly. Penguins went option, and most took the option. Scott Harrington, Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Zach Sill, Craig Adams, Marc-Andre Fleury and Thomas Greiss comprised the group that took the skate.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Jets: Like the Wild, the Jets’ power play had been struggling – 7.7 percent – before breaking out with a pair of goals during Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Nashville. Andrew Ladd and Mark Scheifele got ‘em. … The Jets’ PK went four for four against the Predators’ and ranks fourth in the league at 88.2 percent. They’ve been busy, too, having been a man-down 51 times this season. Only two teams have faced more. … Bryan Little (5-5-10) leads in points. Little, Ladd and Blake Wheeler are tied for the team lead in goals with five apiece. … Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is 4-0-1 over his last five starts with a 1.15 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.

The series: The Penguins own a four-game win streak over the Jets. … Since the Jets moved to Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season, the Penguins have won seven of nine games and have outscored them, 40-24. … Pittsburgh is 40-11-2 all-time against the Jets and swept the season series in 2013-14. … Since 2011-12, the Penguins have an Eastern Conference-best 34 wins against the West. Boston is second with 30.

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

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

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November 5, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Pens’ biggest deterrent?

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ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Penguins welcomed back defenseman Robert Bortuzzo to their lineup during Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Minnesota at Xcel Energy Center, though he may not be their biggest deterrent.

That title – according to coach Mike Johnston, anyway – could belong to the Penguins power play, which scored another goal against the Wild and is 19 for 46 (41.3 percent) on the season.

Johnston believes teams are playing extra safe around the Penguins power play, careful to not give them too many opportunities.

“Nowadays, if you look at the game and say, ‘Do we need a tough guy? How physical does your team have to play?’ ” Johnston said. “Our power play is the best deterrent we have out there.

“Certainly teams are intimidated to take penalties now. They want to be careful on us. As a result, if teams are trying to be careful taking penalties, then you get a little bit more space, you get a little bit more opportunities to take pucks to the net.

“Our power play has been dangerous. It’s going to go through it’s ups and downs throughout the year, but it’s certainly well-coordinated right now.”

No kidding. Chris Kunitz got one tonight, his fifth to tie Evgeni Malkin for the team lead. Beautiful redirect, too, of a Malkin shot from the top of the left circle.
What has also been good, in my opinion anyway, is the Penguins current iteration of a third line – Nick Spaling, Brandon Sutter and Steve Downie – and defenseman Rob Scuderi.

>>>First, the third line.

How about Downie’s vision to set up Spaling on his goal after he pounced on a loose puck and turned play back around? Impressive stuff.

“It was a good play by the defense keeping it in,” Spaling said. “A play where he created something out of a broken play. He gave me a pretty open shot there.”

We’ve talked about Sutter being steady, reliable and strong defensively. He’s an underrated shooter, too, as evidenced by the shot he whipped under Darcy Kuemper’s blocker.

Spaling can play with darn near anyone and has some nice finish. Like I said, like the combo.

>>>Who’s still complaining about Scuderi? Hands, anyone? Didn’t think so.

He’s been extremely solid, but one play from tonight sticks out for me.

Simon Despres throws an ill-advised cross-ice pass to … well, no one. Open ice. Gets picked off, possible odd-man rush the other way.

Scuderi never was caught out of position and calmly poked the puck away before anything substantial could develop.

I think it’s time we start recognized that here’s someone who admitted he struggled last year, pledged to change it and did. It’s an amazing concept, actually owning up to something.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 4, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Wild, 8 p.m.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. – Matt Dumba has seen this before.

Dumba, who’s currently a defenseman for the Minnesota Wild, played for Penguins head coach Mike Johnston with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League, and he said this morning that he can see a few similarities between Johnston’s old team and his new one.

“I can see some of the stuff on the power play, just little things that some of our skilled forwards could do in Portland,” Dumba said. “Now, ‘M.J.’ has the weapons to use them here in the National (Hockey) League as well. That’s pretty cool.”

The Penguins power play, of course, has been the best in the league at 41.9 percent (18 for 43). Pittsburgh is No. 1 by more than 10 percentage points.

His forwards? Johnston’s top four has 60 points in 10 games.

Evgeni Malkin, who’s riding a 10-game points streak to start the season, has a team-best five power play goals. Chris Kunitz is second with four power play goals, and Sidney Crosby is tied for the team lead with 10 points.

At 7-2-1, Johnston is the fourth coach in franchise history to win seven or more of his first 10 games.

Is Dumba surprised by all of this? No way.

“M.J. was so good with us in Portland, one of the best coaches I’ve had,” Dumba said. “He’s just such a smart man and goes about doing his stuff quietly. He’s very intellectual and knows the game well. And he’s been here before. He was an assistant coach in Vancouver. I think the transition has been pretty good for him.”

News out of the skate: D Robert Bortuzzo will make his season debut – he hasn’t played since a preseason game on Sept. 25 – and will skate on a pairing with Christian Ehrhoff. Paul Martin was with Kris Letang at the morning skate, Rob Scuderi with Simon Despres. … Goaltender Thomas Greiss will start in goal. … Johnston said the Penguins will be providing more information on defenseman Olli Maatta within the next 24 hours.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Wild: The Wild are the best five-on-five team in the NHL. They’re averaging 3.40 goals per game, but only two of the 34 have been on the power play. They’re tied with Tampa Bay in five-on-five goals at 29, despite playing two less games. … The Wild (7-3-0) have outshot their opponent in every game and hold a 350-229 edge in that category. … G Darcy Kuemper, like Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, is tied for the league lead with three shutouts. … LW Zach Parise (4-6-10) leads Minnesota in points. LW Jason Zucker (5-2-7) leads the Wild in goals.

The series: Wild hold a 10-4-1 edge, 4-2-1 at Xcel Energy Center. … Pittsburgh and Minnesota split the season series last season, with each team winning at home. Penguins held a 56-46 edge in shots and kept the Wild scoreless on seven power play chances. … Fleury did not appear in either Wild game last season. … While with Phoenix/Arizona, Greiss stopped 55 of 58 shots for a .948 save percentage and a 1.51 goals-against average.

Up next: Thursday, at Winnipeg, 8 p.m.

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

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November 2, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Pens dominant, Sabres frustrated

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How good are the Penguins right now?

The penalty kill has gone 26 straight without allowing a goal.

The power play posted its third three-goal night and is now 18 for 43 for a conversion rate of 41.9 percent.

Marc Andre-Fleury hasn’t allowed a goal in 1:54:46 dating back to the second period of Tuesday’s 8-3 win over New Jersey.

Enjoy it. Things aren’t even close to as enjoyable about three hours north of here.

Buffalo is a mess. And on this night, apparently, they were non-existent – on and off the ice.

Sabres coach Ted Nolan was asked after the game if accountability was an issue, something that came up because the locker room featured a bunch of empty stalls.

“If we win a game, they’re all in there and want to talk,” Nolan said.  “When we lose, they want to hide. No one is going to come in and help us. The only way to get through tough times is you have to be tough. We’ll test our mental will the next little while.”

Buffalo has been shut out in five of eight. They have one power play goal in 12 games. They had 18 shots tonight – three in the first period.

“When you don’t work, you don’t fight, you don’t compete and you don’t battle, that’s what’s going to happen,” Nolan said. “This is the National Hockey League. It’s the best players in the world. People usually battle like a son-of-a-gun in order to keep that position in this league because there’s only 700 or something jobs in it. You want to make sure you’re not the one they’re thinking about moving or sending or trading or whatever.”

Fellow beat man Josh Yohe caught up with Cranberry Township native Mike Weber in the Sabres locker room, and he had plenty to say about the Sabres’ struggles.

“I don’t know,” Weber said. “We’ve been working. It’s one of those things. It’s frustrating for a player like myself. I want to do more. But if I try to do more, I might make mistakes. We have to find a way to trust each other to do each other’s jobs. It’s extremely frustrating. We need to find a way right now.”

Weber evidently grew more angry by the sentence – which would be a good thing in his mind. The Sabres aren’t mad enough, according to Weber, following Saturday’s 18-shot performance.

“We need to get mean. Get angry. Get nasty,” Weber said. “There isn’t enough anger. There isn’t enough intensity. We’re not a team that should be dumping the puck in and then flying by guys. Every man has to pick it up. We need to be nasty. If we’re going to go down, we need to go down swinging. We haven’t been that team.”

The Penguins have – although they haven’t gone down much. Only a late collapse against Detroit, Tyler Seguin of Dallas and the Flyers’ inexplicable dominance at Consol Energy Center comprise the team’s major hiccups thus far.

Club’s off tomorrow. We have some meaty Yohe analysis coming Monday.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 1, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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There’s pretty much no reason the Penguins should lose to the Buffalo Sabres at Consol Energy Center tonight.

Then again, pieces of paper and stats don’t play hockey games. People do.

The Penguins (6-2-1) know – or least they’re really, really good at faking it – that they need not take the Sabres (2-8-1) lightly.

“They’re going to be pretty desperate,” said Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who played for the Sabres from 2011-14. “They’re going to work hard. For us, the key is to match their intensity.”

Few can match the Sabres’ futility. Buffalo is averaging 1.09 goals per game, which is nearly three less than the Penguins.

They average 21.2 shots per game – 3.9 less than anyone else – and they’re also last in shots allowed at 36.7.

Eight Penguins have six or more points. Drew Stafford (1-5-6) is the only Sabres player with that many.

“You know they’re going to be hungry,” Ehrhoff said. “We have to make sure we bring our work ethic right from the start and play our game.”

I wrote about Penguins center Evgeni Malkin for Saturday’s paper. In case you’ve been living under a rock, he’s been red-hot with points in nine straight games to start the season.

If he can make it 10, it will be the fifth consecutive year a Penguins player has put together a scoring streak of 10 or more games.

The team, Penguins, have won three in a row while outscoring those opponents, 14-3.

Not that defenseman Kris Letang thinks the Penguins can afford to overlook Buffalo.

“We have a lot of things to improve, especially with the new system, new guys, new coaches,” Letang said. “I think we have to be focused on what we have to do and don’t worry about the opposition. We need to focus on the way we need to play to be successful.”

Sabres forwards Cody Hodgson, Chris Stewart, Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta have combined for one goal and six points in 11 games.

Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Malkin have 21 goals and 49 points in nine games.

“Obviously they have some pretty big weapons up front,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said. “When they have guys like that, it’s just a matter of trying to limit their time and space as much as possible, making sure our defensemen are focused on their gaps and we have back pressure from our forwards.

“They have some skill to make plays, but if we keep taking steps in the way we’re working, we’re going to be competitive.”

News out of the skate: Literally nothing. No newsy topics to ask about. Combos and pairings stayed the same.

TV/radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Sabres: What wasn’t said above? Well, they returned first-round pick Sam Reinhart to juniors yesterday. … Gionta is Buffalo’s career scoring leader vs. the Penguins with 18-20-38 in 52 games. … Defenseman Josh Gorges has blocked an NHL-best 51 shots. … Center Tyler Ennis (4-1-5) leads in goals. … Former Penguin Bryan Trottier is in his first season as a Buffalo assistant coach.

The series: Penguins swept last season, 3-0. They outscored the Sabres, 12-2, and outshot hem, 103-70. … Crosby was the Penguins’ leading scorer at 2-3-5. Forward Craig Adams (1-3-4) was second. … Penguins have won seven of the past 10 games against the Sabres in Pittsburgh. … They lead the all-time series, 77-61-38.

Next up: Penguins at Wild, Tuesday, 8 p.m.

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

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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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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