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November 12, 2015

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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

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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

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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,



November 8, 2015

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Postgame: Flames 5, Penguins 2


CALGARY, Alberta — Do you get frustrated over this one or do you let it go?

Do you bang your head against the wall and wonder what’s wrong with Kris Letang, who was a minus-4 that dropped him to a team-worst minus-10 on the season?

I think lumping too much importance on one loss, especially when the Penguins were playing their third game in four nights and finishing a back-to-back set, wouldn’t be prudent.

But I also think the Penguins need to assess how to get more out of Letang.

That, in my opinion, would lead to breaking up the pairing with Ian Cole.

Here’s what Letang told me the other day, in Edmonton, about adjusting to a new defense partner:

“I was playing a certain way,” Letang said. “Had a different partner last year, too. Now it’s a lot of adjustments, and sometimes I’m kind of caught in between.”

How do the Penguins solve this?

Well, they’re not going to trade for Paul Martin, at least I don’t think so.

Internally, I think the best option is Olli Maatta. It also works out that, as far as familiarity, those two have the most out of any defensemen the Penguins have.

It’s time.

Funny, too, because I think as much as Letang could use a change of pace, Maatta could use one, too. At least to ignite his offensive game. I remember Letang telling me in Carolina how he doesn’t want a stay-at-home partner. He wants someone to jump into the play. “And let’s go” was how Letang finished that thought.

Maatta can do that. He’s not limited by playing with Rob Scuderi — you know Scuderi is going to hang back — but there would be a different set of expectations for Maatta skating with Letang.

Here’s what coach Mike Johnston said postgame tonight when asked about Letang’s play:

He plays against a lot of top players. I think any defenseman in the league who plays against top players night in and night out … I don’t know what their numbers normally are. Certainly anybody with a minus, you’re concerned. You want to make sure you’re taking a look at every area of their game defensively. I thought to this point in the year our game game has been good defensively. We had one power play, one empty net and three even-strength tonight.

Gonna keep it short tonight. Not doing so hot, as you can see from the video, and I need to get some sleep before an early flight Sunday.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 7, 2015

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Postgame: Penguins 2, Oilers 1


EDMONTON, Alberta — The Penguins could looked like a hot mess tonight. Doubtful anyone would have blamed them.

To find out less than an hour before the game that Pascal Dupuis was taken to an area hospital for tests that may or may not be related to a blood clot … scary. As I put it to Jeff Zatkoff, we’re not talking about someone here with a stomach bug.

Yet the Penguins didn’t crumble. Not even close. Outside of the first five minutes in the second period, the Penguins were the better team for a large chunk of Friday’s 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.

“You know what Pascal’s gone through before,” coach Mike Johnston said. “You know how key of a player he is in the room. We get (the news) right before the game. You make adjustments to your lineup.

“Our team has gone through this before; (we have) a lot of experience with these types of situations. Just last year, before the game different scenarios have happened. I like how they dealt with it tonight. They came out with a real strong first period.”

First, what we know about Dupuis: The results of today’s tests came back negative. We don’t know what tests those were. Dupuis won’t play Saturday in Calgary, and we don’t know if he’ll be on the trip or head home. We do know that he’ll be reevaluated in Pittsburgh. We don’t know what sort of symptoms Dupuis exhibited.

With Dupuis out, Johnston made the most logical move: shifting Eric Fehr into the role of first-line left wing. Fehr did fine, finishing with a shot, three hits in 16:34.

“He’s played the left side before quite a bit in his career,” Johnston said. “I just like the way he’s been playing lately. I think he’s got his skating legs now. He handles the puck well. Big body guy. As we talked about before, some of our lines there are going to be rotating wingers on them.”

Couple more notes from this one, bulleted:

=How about Daniel Sprong’s defensive play breaking up the cross-ice pass intended for Oscar Klefbom? Some pretty solid defensive work.

“I knew I had to play better in the defensive zone,” Sprong said. “Our line did very well in the D zone. We didn’t give up a lot.”

=Jeff Zatkoff has allowed a total of four goals in two starts while facing 81 shots. Can’t ask for much more than that from your backup.

“A lot more comfortable than the first one,” Zatkoff said. “I was into the game quicker.”

The lone goal Zatkoff allowed was one he’d like to have back. It was a rising Klefbom shot from above the circle that Zatkoff should have stopped 100 times out of 100.

Although, give credit where it’s due, he shut the door after that.

“I wasn’t too happy with myself about the first one,” Zatkoff said. “That’s one I’d like to have back. Guy made a good shot. I think I probably should have stopped that. After that went in, I really wanted to lock it down. Fortunately for me the guys got a couple goals there, and we got the win.”

=Olli Maatta and Sergei Plotnikov survived a couple of scary plays. Maatta was crunched by Matt Hendricks at the blue line, and Plotnikov took a puck to the face. Sprong also absorbed a hard hit from Eric Gryba.

=The Penguins’ recent shot suppression continues. They allowed 28 on goal tonight. Their first 10 games featured 324 shots on goal, a 32.4 average. Their past three: 69 and 23 per game.

=Right call on the reversed goal. Patric Hornqvist was absolutely offside. Challenge used well by Oilers coach Todd McLellan. Quick work by their video guy. Exactly how this should come into play. Tonight’s game was better for it.

=The Penguins’ PK was 2 for 2. That’s 19 straight and 29 of 30. They also killed off a delay of game penalty on Ian Cole at 15:55 of the third.

“I think we’re getting good at killing that delay of game penalty in the last four minutes,” Zatkoff said. “Guys did great. We blocked a lot of shots. Even their power play, we didn’t give them much of anything. We had big blocks. Kept ‘em to the outside. I thought all game we were great.”

=Don’t look now, but the Penguins’ power play has scored in four straight. They’re up to 14.3 percent, ranked 21st and nearly out of the bottom-third of the league. Phil Kessel got this one on a shot that “hit some guy in the hand.” Whatever. They’re shooting. And scoring.

All from me for now. Flight to Calgary early tomorrow morning. Talk to you from there.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 6, 2015

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Pregame: Penguins at Oilers, 9 p.m.


EDMONTON, Alberta — Here are 10 observations from Friday’s morning skate.

1. Daniel Sprong will play tonight. Expect him to play right wing on the fourth line with Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr, who will shift to the left side.

2. Jeff Zatkoff will start in net. His first start took three weeks to arrive. He second, one.

3. Connor McDavid won’t be in the lineup tonight. Obviously. This stinks. I wanted to see him, other media members wanted to see him, and the guys who were actually playing the game wanted to see him.

“I know it is a little bit disappointing that (fans) are not going to get that,” Oilers forward Jordan Eberle said. “But there are going to be a lot of years still to come with those two battling.”

4. Speaking of Eberle, he’ll make his season debut tonight after separating his shoulder during the preseason.

It will shake up the Oilers’ top two lines a bit.

You’re looking at:

Taylor Hall-Leon Draisaitl-Jordan Eberle
Benoit Pouliot-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Nail Yakopov

5. Former Penguins center Mark Letestu landed in Edmonton after four-plus seasons in Columbus. Very nice person, and you have to think that having a personality like that in the dressing room, with this young team, is never a bad thing.

“There’s a lot of offensive talent here,” Letestu said. “I think the structure that (coach) Todd (McLellan) has brought has started to be what people see as turning the corner. Being able to stick with games, comeback wins, tight games with teams like St. Louis.”

6. The Penguins went optional this morning. Here’s who participated: David Perron, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Beau Bennett, Sergei Plotnikov, Cullen, Fehr, Sprong, Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Ben Lovejoy, Olli Maatta, Adam Clendening, Marc-Andre Fleury and Zatkoff.

7. Rexall Place is one of my favorite buildings. No, what’s around it isn’t beautiful. It’s certainly not Vancouver, but it’s an old-school building. Then again, I’m a sucker for anything that isn’t a cookie-cutter.

Penguins are 3-0-2 in their last five visits here and are 7-0-2 in their last nine meetings against the Oilers.

8. Watch David Perron tonight. He’s been much, much better of late. There’s something more to this, which I will get to eventually, but he has a history in Edmonton.

Scored a career-high 28 goals while playing here in 2013-14. Had three points in two games against the Oilers last year. Has three points in his last four games this season. Drew a nice crowd this morning.

“When it’s not going your way, you have to make sure the other details are there,” Perron said. “It’s nice to score one, get some confidence and start making more plays.”

9. All this talk about the Penguins allowing too many shots, Fleury’s saving their butts, whatever. While some of that may be true, it might be a good time to point out that they’ve allowed 41 shots combined over their past two games. That’s pretty good.

10. If you missed the Pens Roundtable Show from earlier, here’s the podcast.

All from me for now.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 5, 2015

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Malkin extras, plus more off-day stuff


VANCOUVER, British Columbia — No shortage of stuff to talk about this afternoon. Figure I’ll start with my one-on-one interview with Evgeni Malkin following practice earlier today at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, a delightful conversation.

Malkin spoke candidly about a lot of stuff, about focusing on defense — had to ask him what a young Geno would think of that — and wanting to make a deep playoff run. I’ll link the story when it’s posted to the web.

In the meantime, here are a few teasers that I couldn’t fit.

Malkin on Sergei Gonchar in his new role:
“He played 20 years in the NHL. He knows everything. He knows the game, life. He’s a good guy. Whether it’s friends or teammates.”

On new linemate Phil Kessel:
“We’ve not played together a lot. We just started playing together four games ago. I like him. We’re still learning how to play with each other. Every game I feel like we’ve played better. We control the puck. I give him the puck, he gives me the puck back. He’s a great guy and a good player.”

On Sidney Crosby’s early-season scoring struggles:
“Of course we’re nervous when Sid is nervous he can’t score. We understand how he works hard every practice. We try to support him. Work hard in practice. We know we can win. It’s a little bit of bad luck.”

Coupe more things from today, bulleted:

=Derrick Pouliot had an incident over the weekend that he regrets. That has nothing to do with his hockey development, general manager Jim Rutherford told me today. The Penguins aren’t going to keep Pouliot in Wilkes-Barre longer than they would have normally and make more out of this than necessary. He screwed up. He knows it. There will be punishment. And hopefully everyone will learn from it.

=Also in that second link, Rutherford elaborated on Daniel Sprong getting healthy scratched. Basically goes something like this: They’re OK with it. Being a healthy scratch — and working with coaches here on the side — is better for his development than junior.

=Connor McDavid won’t be playing Friday when the Penguins take on the Oilers. Too bad. Wish the kid well in his recovery. Was excited to see him live, as were several Penguins.

Eric Fehr:
“It’s unfortunate for the game and obviously for the Oilers as well. When you have good, young stars like that, I think it gets all the fans excited. It’s just another player that people are circling the date on the calendar to go watch. It’s unfortunate that he’s got to miss some time, but that’s part of the game.”

David Perron:
“It would have been nice. It raises the level of everybody when you play against good players because you want to make sure you know who you’re playing out there. When you’re on the ice, you see if he’s out there. You want to make sure that you don’t make a mistake defensively, structure-wise. I think it raises the level.”

Believe that’s all I got for now. Time for a sushi lunch in Vancouver and an evening flight to Edmonton. There have been worse days, that’s for sure.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 5, 2015

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Postgame: Penguins 3, Canucks 2


VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Marc-Andre Fleury got some help tonight.

From his offense.

From the Penguins’ special teams.

From his goal posts.

From the hockey gods.

The result: a 3-2 Penguins win. It’s now five in a row and eight of nine.

“Makes a big difference,” Fleury said of getting contributions from special teams. “The games are always so close. When your special teams can beat theirs, it gives you better odds of winning the game.”

Sidney Crosby scored on the power play.

Eric Fehr had a shorthanded tally for the second consecutive game.

Those you can read about in my game story.

Here, let’s focus for a bit on the absurdity of the evening, shall we?

There was Phil Kessel drilling a puck into the crossbar so hard that it caromed back and onto the Penguins bench, like Keith Hernandez and the Magic Loogie in Seinfeld — yes, I know it’s based on a more serious even, the assassination of JFK.

How about Jannik Hansen seemingly beating Fleury, only to see the puck hit the post to the left of the netminder. Fleury later rubbed it to say “thanks,” his usual.

Or Fleury lunging to get a piece of a puck shot by Brandon Sutter.

Or when he was out in the circle to stop a Bo Horvat shot that Olli Maatta eventually blocked.

Just a lot of … stuff tonight.

But good stuff. Consider, the Penguins committed just two giveaways and weathered a pretty heavy second-period storm, especially a strong opening 7:22 when the Canucks held an 11-4 edge in shot attempts and turned the tide quickly.

“When they had the back-to-back chances in the second period, Fleury made some really good saves,” coach Mike Johnston said. “Other than that I thought defensively we played well.”

Fleury is 7-1 in his past eight starts. He has a 1.38 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.

Yet he wasn’t the story. At least not the whole one.

Truth be told, I’m not sure there was a singular story to this one. That could be a good thing. A lot of players and units contributed. Haven’t even mentioned David Perron, who scored his first goal of the season after several strong games.

The PK zapped four Vancouver power plays to stretch its streak to 17 consecutive, 27 of 28.

That Eric Fehr goal was also a thing of beauty.

“Just saw it was a delayed penalty. I was coming up ice, thought I could take a bit of a chance knowing there was a delayed call. Just tried to drive wide and put it on net.”

As if he needed to, Fehr also further ingratiated himself with his new teammates by taking on Derek Dorsett, who seemed more than a little upset about a Kessel cross-check into the boards — for which Phil was penalized.

“It was interesting,” Fehr said of the dust up with Dorsett. “I just wanted to get in for the line change. He was hanging on to me, so I just gave him a couple pushes. Fortunately we got a power play out of it. Got a little bit of momentum there with the goal.”

Practice tomorrow here at 11 a.m. my time, 2 p.m. yours. Talk to you from there.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



November 4, 2015

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Morning skate notes (Nov. 4 at Canucks)


VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Not a ton to come out of the morning skate this morning. No line rushes, but I wouldn’t expect much to change with the Penguins’ success of late.

Chris Kunitz skated. Had missed the previous two days because of “maintenance.” I’m expecting him to play tonight against the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

Daniel Sprong stayed out a long, long time after. Either Kunitz plays, or a really, really tired Sprong gets the nod.

Here’s what Kunitz said this morning:

“It’s nice to be out there with your teammates. Felt good out there. We’ll see how everything reacts. Hopefully I’ll be able to go tonight.”

I asked whether there’s any additional clearance he needs to get:

“See how I react to being on the ice. It’s been a few days. Hopefully everything goes good, and I’ll be ready to go. I won’t know until I get here tonight.”

Something to watch tonight — and always — is the interplay between the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel.

Coach Mike Johnston talked about how the Penguins plan to defend them:

“We don’t play a man-on-man defense, we play more of a zone. So we’re not going to change that. But when we’re playing them, we have to recognize that their short-pass game is really good. If you’re on Henrik and he makes a play, you have to stick with him, at least for three or four seconds. Then you can roll into your zone coverage. But if you don’t stick with him, they make that give-and-go play as good as anyone in the league. They also work theback of the net very well. We have to be careful behind the net. We have to take away some of those plays.”

Couple notes on the series: Canucks swept the season series last year, as Eddie Lack and Ryan Miller each posted shutouts. … Penguins have been victorious in three of their past five visits to Vancouver. … Penguins’ last goal against Vancouver (Crosby) came Jan. 8, 2014.

Couple additional Penguins notes: Penguins have posted a winning record in Western Canada in each of their past five visits. … Have killed off 23 of 24 shorthanded chances the last seven games. … Nick Bonino has blocked eight shots in his last three games. … No Penguins forward has surpassed that total in 11 games. … Olli Maatta is a plus-7, which is fourth in the NHL.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,


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