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January 8, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Bruins 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

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I chose in my game story to take a closer look at the Penguins’ power play, which is generating chances but no goals.

This is problematic for a couple reasons. One is that games are decided by goals, not chances. Another is that teams such as Montreal and Boston, Pittsburgh’s last two opponents, have tried to clog the neutral zone. This frustrates the Penguins, much the opposite of what Tampa Bay did in its willingness to play a more open game.

If this continues five-on-five, the Penguins need an alternative form of offense. It hasn’t come from the power play, and I’m not sure I’d suggest turning to the penalty kill, although it has been solid, to generate many goals.

The mystery of the Penguins power play is quite something. The unit scored on 24 of 68 chances through 21 games — 35.3 percent of the time, the best in the NHL. Not so much over the past 19, as I wrote.

“We’re getting chances” has been a familiar refrain. But sooner or later that has to get frustrating, I would think.

“It might wear on us a little bit,” forward Beau Bennett allowed. “You want to produce when you’re on the power play. You want to be a guy who helps out the team in that way, but I think we’ll get better going forward.”

Many of you laughed about Trib columnist Rob Rossi drawing what he believes would be a better power-play setup, with Sidney Crosby in the right corner, Evgeni Malkin along the right-wing boards and David Perron in the left circle.

It’s an interesting option, for sure. One I would not dismiss.

But enough with the power play.

What I did like tonight came from Malkin and Beau Bennett together. They were extremely good.

I don’t know whether Beau Bennett is ready to be The Guy next to Malkin. We’ll need more than 60 minutes to judge. But Malkin’s pass from behind the net and Bennett’s finish for the Penguins’ first goal was a thing of beauty.

“I thought we had a lot of chances each period,” Bennett said. “It’s something to build on, first time playing with those two guys this year. I thought we did some good things.”

Is anyone in the NHL playing better than Malkin right now? It’s a fair question, in my opinion.
He has points in 30 of 40 games, 12 multi-point efforts in there, including tonight. He attempted 12 shots tonight, and six were on goal. His blast from above the circle for the Penguins’ second goal was a clear assertion of of his dominance.

By the way, he now has a team-high 45 points. Crosby has 43.

“I thought ‘Geno’ had a real good night,” coach Mike Johnston said. “I thought that line was a consistent threat all night. They had pressure. They had speed. They controlled the puck when they had it in the offensive zone.”

It’s clear the Penguins are lacking a net-front presence.

They put 39 shots on Tuukka Rask and didn’t score on a single rebound. Blake Comeau would be a welcome addition. Even better would be the return of Patric Hornqvist. Especially on the power play and especially when opponents are thwarting the Penguins’ transition game.

“The other night, I don’t think we did a very good job in front of (Montreal’s Carey) Price,” Johnston said. “Tonight we did a better job, but we have to find those pucks. It’s a matter of when the rebound hits the goaltender, having a heavy stick and being really strong around the net on those loose pucks.”

Club practices a Southpointe Thursday at noon. Will see yinz there.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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January 7, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Bruins, 8 p.m.

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It’s Rivalry Night. Finally. Welcome to the legendary Mike “Doc” Emrick, whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time this morning. Just a human and a wonderful conversation about Pittsburgh, about meeting eventual wives … bunch of good stuff.

Not only does this one offer a late start, but it pits the Penguins against a perennial playoff contender in the Boston Bruins.

Oh wait. What? Yeah, that’s right. The Bruins aren’t in the playoff picture at the moment. Ninth in the Eastern Conference. Behind Toronto. Just doesn’t feel right.

“Even right now where they are in the standings, I don’t think we’re paying much attention to that,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We’re expecting to play one of the best teams tonight.”

The numbers are ugly for the Bruins. They’re 4-2-4 in their past 10, 1-1-3 in their past five, 0-0-3 in their past three. They’re 7-9-2 on the road. Their road power play is 4 for 45, an 8.9-percent conversion rate that ranks 26th.

How bad have things gotten in Beantown? Well — this may sound familiar — Torey Krug and Brad Marchand reportedly got into a scuffle at practice Tuesday.

Need more?

In being named CEO of Delaware North Boston Holdings, which controls the Bruins, Charlie Jacobs called the team’s performance “unacceptable” and talks about a top-to-bottom review — they never to find the unsung heroes in those examinations.

“As players, we created that,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “But we have a good opportunity to turn things around with half a season left. We’re still right there as far as the standings go. No one’s going to do it for us. We have to do it as individuals and as a team.”

The Bruins have 44 points through 40 games, their lowest total since coach Claude Julien’s first year in 2007-08. They’ve made the postseason every year since then, yet injuries and inconsistency have plagued the Bruins big-time.

“Right now we’re looking at the standings, we’re looking at where we are in the year, and we know we need to turn things around,” center Patric Bergeron said. “It definitely needs to start as quick as possible.”

Penguins forward Chris Kunitz doesn’t want it to happen against the Penguins, on Rivalry Night.

“I don’t think you ever take a team for granted,” Kunitz said. “No matter what stage they’re in or how they’re playing. We have to make sure we play our game and do the best we can out there to make sure they don’t get onto their roll playing us.”

News out of the skate: Defenseman Paul Martin is still a game-time decision. … Center Marcel Goc is sick and won’t play. Winger Zach Sill will place him and will also see time on the penalty kill. … Olli Maatta skated before practice. … Bruins rookie David Pastrnak, who’s five games into his NHL career, will not play tonight; Boston is saving him for Thursday against the Devils.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM

About the Bruins: Bergeron leads them in points (28), Marchand in goals (11). … They went 5-6-3 in December, their first month with a losing record since going 5-7-1 in February 2012. … Bergeron has a ridiculous 59% faceoff success rate, which ranks second in the NHL behind Montreal’s Manny Malhotra (61.9%). … The power play has actually not been the culprit. Boston has notched a power-play goal in five of its past seven. … The Bruins were outshot, 36-20, in a 2-1 shootout loss at Carolina on Jan. 4.

The series: Penguins are 7-2 in their past nine games at Consol Energy Center. … They’re 8-1-1 in their past 10 against Boston, winning four in a row. … The last seven games in the series have been decided by a single goal. … Penguins won the only previous meeting, 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 24. … That game, Evgeni Malkin scored the winner, Marc-Andre Fleury got No. 300, and Beau Bennett suffered a lower-body injury.

Up next: Saturday, at Canadiens, 7 p.m.

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

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January 4, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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‘A pretty good first night’

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The Penguins didn’t have their best night offensively during Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center.

One of their worst all season, I thought. Not many quality scoring chances at all.

It would be hard to blame David Perron, who roughly 24 hours prior flew from Denver to Pittsburgh, in the middle of a road trip, to start a new life in a new city with a new team.

Perron finished with six shots on goal and eight attempts in 15:47. He had 74 hits in 38 games for the Oilers and exceeded that 1.94-per-game average with four hits against the Habs.

And, oh yeah, the goal, the snipe from the inner-edge of the left circle.

“David had good poise with the puck,” coach Mike Johnston said. “You could see when the puck hit his stick, he’s got his head up, he’s looking to make a play. He had a quick-release shot on the goal. He had a couple other touches, a couple other deflections around the goal.

“It was a pretty good first night for him. Coming in, just traveling in, then all of a sudden jumping in with a new team and playing, I like what he did there. (captain Sidney Crosby) and him at times had some chemistry there.”

Perron was reserved in his postgame comments.

“With the last couple days here, the energy wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be,” Perron said. “I was running on adrenaline and trying to push myself as much as possible.”

I was impressed with Perron. He has solid hands and you could practically see him thinking on the ice. Also liked the hustle, backchecking and creating a turnover.

Loved his quote on Crosby’s pass: “That was probably the best pass I’ve ever received,” Perron said. “Over two sticks. I had a good portion of the net to put it in, so it felt good.”

When I talked to Perron over the phone the day he was traded, he talked about wanting to make plays in the neutral zone, not simply dumping the puck in. His new coach likes that. Perron has also hinted a couple times now at using his speed through the neutral zone. His new coach likes that, too.

“It’s a system that I think is going to fit my game pretty well,” Perron said. “A lot of speed in the neutral zone.”

“It was only the first game,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s going to get used to the system and everything. Pretty excited.”

Many are. And for good reason.

Club’s off tomorrow. So am I. Will talk to you Monday from practice here at Consol.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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January 3, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Looking back and ahead to Saturday

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Before we preview tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, I wanted to touch on a few leftovers from Friday’s 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

First, I thought Evgeni Malkin, Andrew Ebbett and Bryan Rust were really good together. Not saying I wouldn’t replace one of them for David Perron — I would — but they were largely responsible for the win, probably as much as captain Sidney Crosby’s playmaking.

Ebbett had his first multi-point game since March 14, 2013 and scored on his birthday for the second time in his career, also doing it in 2009. His goal was his first with the Penguins, while Rust’s one assist was his first in the NHL.

Malkin, meanwhile, snapped a three-game scoreless streak with a goal and an assist.

“I actually thought that Geno and Ebbett — Ebbett had a really good game tonight — and ‘Ruster’ were one of our better lines early in the game,” coach Mike Johnston said. “We had some good balance.”

Now, he needs to settle on a nickname for Rust; we’ve had “Rusty” and “Ruster.” Need to pick one.

I would also continue to play Steve Downie with Crosby. Why? Well, because Downie can. And no one on this current roster — not counting Patric Hornqvist or Pascal Dupuis — have worked with Crosby.

Downie had a pair of goals Friday, and I thought what he said about Crosby after the game was telling.

“I thought (linemate Nick Spaling) and I kept it simple, tried to get him the puck as much as possible,” Downie said. “He makes plays that not a lot of people can make. It’s just about putting the puck in the net for him. I thought tonight we buried our chances.”

Johnston noticed.

“ ‘Downs’ is an underestimated player,” Johnston said. “He’s a guy who people look at as a physical, hard, antagonizer. He does so much more. You saw (Friday) with the puck down low in the zone. He makes good plays with the puck. He hangs on to it, makes good decisions. I really think he can play with top-end players, for sure.”

OK, Montreal. The Canadiens (25-11-2) are tied with the Lightning atop the Atlantic Division with 52 points. They’re coming off a 4-2 win at New Jersey on Friday, with two goals from Michael Bournival (including the first of his NHL career) and one apiece from Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec. P.K. Subban had three helpers.

Goaltender Carey Price played last night — his 400th career game — which means we’ll probably see Dustin Tokarski opposite Marc-Andre Fleury. Can anyone guess the other two goalies for Montreal who have played 400-plus games? Pacioretty leads the Habs with 15-14–29.

Montreal doesn’t hit much. They had 15 hits last night, only eight from their defenseman and six from Alexei Emelin.

Yet, the Canadiens have won five in a row and eight of nine. Should be a good one. Johnston talks at 5 p.m. Will have updates after.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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January 2, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Debut of Penguins Roundtable

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In between general manager Jim Rutherford trading for David Perron, Craig Adams fighting Evgeni Malkin or Steve Downie returning, you may have missed the debut of the Trib’s Pens Roundtable show.

It will be on TribLIVE every Friday afternoon from 1-2 p.m. It’s me, fellow beat man Josh Yohe and TribLIVE Radio’s Ken Laird talking about pucks for an hour.

Here’s the podcast of our first show. Hope you like it.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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January 2, 2015
by Josh Yohe


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Which defensemen should the Penguins trade?

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Greetings, hockey fans. Happy New Year! Hope your celebrations were fun and safe.

You know what isn’t fun or safe? Being Jim Rutherford in the next couple of months. There is a lot of pressure on GMJR to deliver a couple of impact wingers before the trade deadline. It is widely assumed by the fan base that trading a couple of defensemen is the simple solution to acquiring forwards. This makes perfect sense to me.

However, we must take into account the salary cap situation, some injury issues that could disrupt Rutherford’s plans and the reality that the Penguins don’t want to trade away all of their young players.

I’ve ranked the organization’s top 10 defensemen. Here’s a look at where each stands, who is a candidate to be traded, and some other nuggets.

No. 1 Kris Letang

 

He’s having arguably his finest season and is a legitimate star. Letang isn’t going anywhere, of course. For the Penguins to compete for a championship, Letang needs to stay healthy and play even better, particularly on the power play. He’s in his prime and looks terrific.

 

No. 2 Paul Martin

 

Assessing Martin’s season has been difficult. He’s been perfectly fine, though I don’t think he’s played at last season’s level. Granted, that would be difficult. Martin was arguably the Penguins’ best player in the 2014 postseason. It was just an awesome performance. He hasn’t been bad this year, but I feel like his level of play has slipped slightly. That said, Martin and Letang are so good together. It will be tempting to keep Martin through the season simply to let those two play together for the duration. That said, Martin is an unrestricted free agent this summer and seems quite unlikely to return to the Penguins. Will they trade him? Perhaps, though I’d be careful. If you’re going to trade a player of Martin’s caliber, you better be getting a big return. Still, it remains very possible.

 

No. 3 Christian Ehrhoff

 

I didn’t like his game in October. Or maybe I just needed a month to fully appreciate Christian Ehrhoff. What a good player. He’s very economical with the puck, makes excellent decisions, owns a booming shot and remains, at 32, an above average skater. He isn’t the least bit physical and isn’t what I’d consider a shutdown guy. Interestingly, the Penguins haven’t displayed any interest in putting him on their top power play. I don’t see the Penguins trading Ehrhoff, even though you could receive something decent in return. GM Jim Rutherford really, really likes this guy. It’s more likely he receives an extension or walks this summer. A trade is unlikely. He’s just an unassuming, quality top-four defenseman. Those guys don’t grow on trees.

 

No. 4 Olli Maatta

 

Here’s where things get interesting. Will Maatta be healthy for the second half of the season and the playoffs? You tell me. Maatta visited one doctor and was told he needed surgery to repair his balky shoulder and that his season could be finished. So, he sought a second opinion and was told that he merely required a month of rehabilitation. I’ll respect the doctor’s opinion here. I’m no doctor, after all. But it sounds like the kind of injury that could linger. Maatta has been through so much already this year, it really wouldn’t be fair for him to sustain another shoulder surgery. Still, it’s impossible to predict how his shoulder will respond and whether he can play top-four minutes in the playoffs. He could find himself as Letang’s defense partner if he is healthy, especially if Martin is moved. I can’t imagine the Penguins trading him, certainly not now, as his health has become an issue because of the shoulder problem.

 

No. 5 Simon Despres

 

How about this guy? Simon Despres has suddenly given the Penguins a ton of flexibility. Is he a top-four defenseman? Yes, yes he is. Despres has been magnificent all season, a physical force who still possesses plenty of untapped offensive ability. You can see the offense methodically starting to come in Despres’ game. The physical play has been stunning. He’s a beast. And he’s also a fine puck-moving player, the kind of guy who usually makes a good first pass. There isn’t much to dislike here. Despres isn’t perfect – he has a bizarre habit of falling down for no reason and does occasionally make glaring mistakes – but he’s been really, really good. I believe Despres’ emergence allows the Penguins to trade someone like Martin, should they choose to. I wouldn’t have said that three months ago. But Despres is a different player now. Would I trade Despres? Heck no. You’ve got him for cheap this season and next. Take advantage of it.

 

No. 6 Rob Scuderi

 

The advanced stats community isn’t a big Scuderi fan, and it’s no secret that the 2013-14 campaign was a total disaster for the veteran. But give Scuderi credit. He has been much better this season and has been a fine defense partner for the developing Despres. In fact, Scuderi has been good enough this season that I suspect the Penguins could trade him to get rid of his contract. But perhaps they don’t want to. With the possibility that the Penguins could lose Martin and Ehrhoff this summer, the Penguins could be extremely young on the blue line next season. Yes, the young guys are great talents. But keeping one veteran around isn’t a bad idea. And like I said, this guy is playing much better this season.

 

No. 7 Robert Bortuzzo

 

I’m a Bortuzzo fan. He’s perfect solid. If he’s your No. 6 defenseman, you’re doing fine. He works relatively cheap and wouldn’t fetch a huge return in a trade, so I don’t know that dealing him makes sense, unless he’s part of a package deal. He’s one of those guys who just needs to stay healthy and play every night. He’ll keep getting better. He’s never going to be a star, but he should have a perfectly long NHL career.

 

No. 8 Derrick Pouliot

 

What a talent. I’ve talked with about 10 different people in the organization regarding Pouliot in the last two weeks. Everybody is smitten with this kid. Everyone. People in the front office, Penguins coaching staff and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaching staff all think he is going to be a star. By all accounts, drafting him with the No. 8 pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft was a wise move by the Penguins. Is there a chance Pouliot could be traded? Well, sure. If the Penguins intend on making a blockbuster trade in the next few months – we know they’re going to be active, just not to what extent – Pouliot’s name will pop up. He’s by far their best prospect. Most believe he is a can’t miss, future NHL all-star defenseman. Those guys don’t come around often. Pouliot isn’t untouchable. For the right deal, the Penguins would consider trading him. But the only way the Penguins would trade Pouliot is if they receive an overwhelming offer. They don’t want to trade this kid and the odds of them doing so are small. I suspect he’ll be back in Wilkes-Barre soon, and that’s fine. Look at the depth chart and the number of impending free agents next summer. Starting in October, Pouliot will have played his final AHL game. Heck, if a couple of guys are traded away or injured during the rest of this season, Pouliot could be in Pittsburgh to stay. He’s not a great defensive player, but he’s an offensive wizard. The likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin thoroughly enjoy playing with him, and you can see why.

 

No. 9 Scott Harrington

 

He’s going to be a very, very solid NHL defenseman. You can just tell. Harrington doesn’t possess Brian Dumoulin’s size, and probably isn’t as slick a skater. But the organization likes him a lot. Harrington has wonderful defensive instincts and is remarkably comfortable in his own skin. He knows he’s a defensive defenseman, albeit one with perfectly decent puck skills, and he’s OK with that. Harrington projects as a Rob Scuderi type, but will be much better with the puck and is a better skater. Is he going to be a top-four guy? Yeah, I think so. Worst case scenario, Harrington turns into a very reliable No. 5 or No. 6 guy. Nothing wrong with that. But I think he’ll be even better. Is he attractive trade bait for other teams? Absolutely. Do the Penguins want to part ways with him? Absolutely not. He isn’t untouchable, but the return would have to be significant.

 

No. 10 Brian Dumoulin

 

The Penguins still view him as a very attractive prospect, even though his miserable night at Madison Square Garden last month was somewhat memorable. This guy doesn’t project as a star, but he definitely is an NHL-ready player who simply needs to see more game action. Will the Penguins trade him? It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. They like him, but they like Harrington more. I don’t know that Dumoulin could fetch a significant return, but he could be part of a package. Of course, if they want to keep him, there’s nothing wrong with that. He’ll be a solid enough pro.

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January 1, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Penguins 2, Hurricanes 1

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A game story off of Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes could have gone a thousand different ways.

Maybe two thousand.

I chose Beau Bennett. I wrote about the Penguins winger, and what a healthy Bennett could mean for this
team.

Spoiler: good things.

They need scoring punch. Their goals per game in December dropped 1.38 from the first 23 games of the season. Their power play is struggling, with three goals in 51 chances over the past 16 games.

Bennett — and the second power play unit — provided the most push with the man-advantage all night. His line with Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz created both Penguins goals.

“I thought that line had a very good game,” coach Mike Johnston said after. “They had some great chances. They were responsible.

“Beau Bennett was a help. Beau Bennett and Sutter were a good combination, and I think Kunitz topped it off there.”

You can read the game story for Bennett.

Here are a few other nuggets.

—Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and forward Craig Adams returned and played great. Ehrhoff was especially solid, I thought.

“I felt pretty good,” Ehrhoff said. “A couple of times I wish I had quicker feet. But that’s normal after being out for two weeks. But I felt good.”

I could have just as easily taken the game story a different route and focused on Marc-Andre Fleury. He was simply spectacular. He denied Jiri Tlusty and also Jay McClement in impressive fashion to help the Penguins snap a four-game losing skid.

“It seems forever since we got a win, you know?,” Fleury said. “Great feeling. We’re home. It was a tough battle and a close game until the end. We’re happy to see Sutter score a big goal.”

Fleury stopped 23 of 24 shots.

Johnston wanted to limit Sutter’s minutes late and used Andrew Ebbett on four shifts — Johnston’s estimate — between Bennett and Kunitz. Ebbett won a key faceoff and got a secondary assist on Kunitz’s goal.

The Penguins (23-9-5) avoided losing back-to-back home games for the first time all season and improved to 7-2 in their past nine home games against Carolina, 10-3 overall in their past 13 against the Hurricanes (10-23-4).

The Penguins racked up 71 shot attempts compared to only 46 for Carolina and held a 39-25 advantage in shots on goal.

Sutter recorded the game-winner when he whipped a puck past Cam Ward blocker side at 18:18 of the third period.

“On the goal, I called for it,” Sutter said, “and (Bennett) put it right on my tape.”

The Penguins also got a key penalty kill — on a Kunitz slashing minor at 6:33 of the third.

All told, it was a much-needed way to open 2015.

Club practices tomorrow at noon. Talk to you then. Happy New Year everyone.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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December 31, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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The Penguins need offense, preferably from their power play. They’ve scored 11 goals over their past six games. They haven’t scored more than four in a game during that stretch, which dates back to Dec. 15 against Tampa Bay.

Yet, they have just nine regulation losses, tied for second-fewest in the NHL.

Pretty impressive stuff, but not a statistic that will hold, especially if the power play doesn’t start converting.

I loved coach Mike Johnston’s answer to Phil Bourque’s question about simplifying the power play. Just outstanding, and I will post it below. No introduction necessary.

“Since I came into the NHL in 1999-2000, I’ve always worked with the power play on each of the teams I’ve been with as assistant coach or associate coach. The key thing for all power plays … it was the same when you played, the same over time, is what do you need for a good power play?

“You need to generate shots from the point. You need a good net guy. Those are the two key ingredients. In the last little while, we haven’t done that as well. To execute well and create seams and those types of opportunities, you need a good point shot. You need good net traffic.

“I still think with our power play, the biggest issue we’ve had over the past month has been personnel changes. It’s been one player after another, whether it’s been Sid out, Hornqvist out, Kunitz out and Letang out, we’ve had everybody off that power play to a degree, and it’s really changed the dynamic of that group. They haven’t been in sync.

“I liked the first step; the entries last game were great. Now I maybe have to resort to getting more point shots. Then now we make the play off the point shot. Those seams will start to open up.

“Power plays are always under the microscope at the NHL level because it’s an easy stat. Power play and penalty kill are easy stats. Early in the year, for the first 15 games, our power play was phenomenal. Our penalty kill, for the first five, was awful. Then we’ve evened it out through the middle portion. Now our power play has been struggling.

“But it is an easy thing, and it’s like scorers. Why aren’t guys scoring? Well, it’s a feel. It’s a confidence thing. Good scorers have that, and right now our power play just doesn’t have that. They’re going to get it. They’re very good players. Do we have to add a little bit more structure to it? Yes. But I believe we had structure before as well.”

Carolina, which topped the Penguins here for one of their four road wins, does present a decent challenge, even though former Penguin Jordan Staal is questionable for the game.

Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlusty and Eric Staal are all legitimate threats, and Johnston noted as much this morning.

“They’re forward depth is good,” Johnston said. “I like their top three lines. They have a good balance of scoring on those three lines. The game we played against them here, we allowed them some time and space, a lot of shots against us, especially in the first and second periods.

“When we went down there, I thought we were better at eliminating time and space for their forwards. Adding Jordan Staal to their group tonight is a big plus. With both Staals and (Nathan) Gerbe on that line, that was a very dynamic line.

“Recognizing where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, that’s what we have to do tonight. Also, I think, now that we’re hopefully getting some bodies back, we need to play our game and really start to refocus on our game and make sure our habits and our details are really good.”

News out of the skate: Defensemen Olli Maatta and Paul Martin skated early, as did forwards Steve Downie and Zach Sill. … Expect forwards Beau Bennett and Craig Adams, as well as defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to play. … No Downie, Maatta, Martin or Sill. … Skate was optional, and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Marcel Goc, Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi took the option.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Hurricanes: Carolina has 24 points, the fewest in the Eastern Conference and the second-fewest in the entire league behind Edmonton (23). … In 13 December games, the Hurricanes have 13 goals. … Jordan Staal returned from a 35-game absence and made his season debut Monday against Montreal. Staal, a former Penguin, fractured his right fibula during a preseason game Sept. 23 against Buffalo. He centered a line with his brother, Eric, and  Gerbe then eventually Elias Lindholm. Jordan Staal played 19 minutes over 26 shifts and finished with three hits, two shots and was 15-10 on faceoffs. … Tlusty, who leads the Hurricanes with 10 goals, returned Monday after a seven-game absence and played on a third line with Victor Rask and Chris Terry. … Alexander Semin is out with an upper-body injury, though he was cleared to practice Tuesday. … Carolina ranks next-to-last in goals per game at 1.97.

The series: The Penguins are hoping to avoid losing back-to-back home games for the first time all season. … They’re 6-2 in their last eight home games against Carolina. … Overall, the Penguins have won nine of their last 12 meetings with the Hurricanes. … Carolina has four road wins this year, but one of them came here on Nov. 28. Tlusty had a pair of goals, while Gerbe and Patric Dwyer also tallied. The Hurricanes outshot the Penguins, 35-22.

Next up: Friday vs. Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.

Links:
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December 31, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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More on Paul Martin’s return

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The Penguins hope to get a solid infusion of players back Wednesday. There’s a solid chance forwards Beau Bennett and Craig Adams, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and goaltender Thomas Greiss could all be back after missing multiple games.

By the weekend, defenseman Paul Martin should be back, too. Or at least he hopes so. It was an undisclosed injury keeping Martin out.

“I think I can, but I’m pretty sure I’m not playing (Wednesday),” Martin said Tuesday after practice at Southpointe. “I’d like to play by the weekend. Looking ahead, we don’t play until (next) Wednesday (against Boston). It feels better every day. As it continues to get better and feel better on the ice, I think it’s going to short; not too long.”

The Penguins, winless in their past four, need a lot of things, but they really need Martin. He’s a solid defender with maybe the best stick skills on the team. He leads them in blocked shots with 58. He’s a mainstay on the second power play, could play on the top unit and not look out of place and leads the Penguins in shorthanded ice time per game at 3:13.

The key, Martin insisted, is not pushing. He wants to come back at full strength with an eye toward the rest of the season.

“I want to get out there as soon as I can and chip in and help as soon as I can,” Martin said. “But the closer I come back to 100 percent, the more it will help down the stretch.”

Martin and Ehrhoff both talked today about how difficult it’s been to sit out. Martin didn’t take contact. Ehrhoff did. Martin, who has one goal and six assists in 31 games, said watching the team struggle and not being able to do anything about it was definitely all the incentive he needed to get back in there.

“When you’re out for awhile and watching it on TV, you’re skating by yourself with (strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar), I think it gives you that incentive to start feeling better and want to be out there with the guys.”

As I wrote about for Wednesday’s paper, there was a good vibe at Southpointe today. Guys are excited to get teammates back. There was energy usually not seen around a team that has lost four in a row.

“It was great today,” coach Mike Johnston said. “In the dressing room for the first time, when we have our meetings in the morning, usually the injured guys are on the ice. We had a lot more players in. We had a lot more guys in practice. Even ‘Marty’ was out there today in practice, which was a good sign.

“Hopefully he will be getting closer to play. It’s a big boost to be able to get some guys back in our lineup, for sure.”

Morning skate tomorrow at 10:30. Talk to you from there.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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December 29, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Saturday’s game tough to move

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One thing I’ve been cautioned on this job is never say never. Whether it’s a trade involving Derrick Pouliot or this Saturday’s home game against Montreal, it’s important to remember that anything is possible.

Considering Pouliot is now on the Penguins’ No. 1 power play, we’ll address Saturday’s game instead.

Don’t expect the time to be moved given the fact the Steelers have a home playoff game against the Ravens at 8:15 p.m.

For one, both hockey teams play Friday, the Penguins at home against the Lightning, the Canadiens at New Jersey.

By NHL rules, the visiting team can agree to move the game at the home team’s request. But considering there are back-to-backs for both teams, there’s only two hours of play; the earliest the game could start is 5 p.m.

Also remember that Montreal is in Canada, and this game will be the centerpiece of Hockey Night in Canada. It would be like us moving Monday Night Football. It could happen, but it’s not likely. I don’t see Montreal agreeing to it, TV rights and priorities aside.

Oh, and Sidney Crosby is kind of popular in Canada, in case you’re curious.

Plus, what would shifting it to 5 p.m. really do? Yinz would be leaving, as the Steelers crowd was coming. Maybe it allows for fans to get from one to the other, but I think we’re going to be stuck with a crowded Downtown scene Saturday.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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