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September 23, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Penguins lineup for Sept. 24 at DET


The Penguins released their lineup for Thursday’s preseason game at Detroit, which Jonathan Bombulie will cover for us.

Here’s what it looks like:

4 Rob Scuderi D
11 Kevin Porter F
12 Ben Lovejoy D
17 Bryan Rust F
19 Beau Bennett F
22 Kael Mouillierat F
27 Will O’Neill D
30 Matt Murray G
33 Reid McNeill D
34 Tom Kuhnhackl F
35 Tristan Jarry G
38 Niclas Andersen D
40 Oskar Sundqvist F
43 Conor Sheary F
46 Dominik Uher F
47 Tom Sestito F
49 Dominik Simon F
51 Derrick Pouliot D
55 Sergei Gonchar D
61 Sergei Plotnikov F
71 Evgeni Malkin F
72 Patric Hornqvist F

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 23, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Off day notes


The Penguins have their first day off of camp today, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some afternoon notes.

— How many exhibition games does Sidney Crosby need to get ready for the season? I asked him.

“I only played one last year and felt pretty good. I would say a couple. It’s just good to get a feel for the games. Especially when you’re able to play with guys that you’ve played with for a long time, you probably don’t need quite as many. With new guys, it’s nice to get in some more games too.”

— I wrote about Tom Kostopoulos after he and Jaden Lindo were cut today. Here’s the link.

I mention in that story that Kostopoulos is one of seven players in hockey history to play 500 games in both the AHL and NHL. Here’s the whole list.

DOUG HOUDA 550 561

— The Penguins continue their preseason with a game at 7:30 tomorrow night in Detroit. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and on 105.9-FM.

Here’s a list of players still on the camp roster who have yet to get into a preseason game:

WITH NHL EXPERIENCE: Derrick Pouliot, Rob Scuderi, Nick Bonino (illness), Eric Fehr (elbow), Bryan Rust. WITHOUT NHL EXPERIENCE: Barry Goers, Will O’Neill, Harrison Ruopp, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matia Marcantuoni, Carter Rowney (undisclosed injury), Dominik Simon

— Keeping an eye on the continuing decline of fighting majors, there has been a paltry total of 12 scraps in 28 exhibition games so far.

There was a pretty good one in the Battle of Alberta, though — 6-7 Hunter Smith vs. 6-5 Darnell Nurse.

Bye for now,



September 23, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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When the hurdle is higher


If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably aware that the pairing of Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, with Chris Kunitz on the left wing, looked downright deadly in the Penguins’ preseason home opener last night against Carolina.

Coach Mike Johnston described Kessel’s debut like this.

“He hits holes off the puck really well. If Kunitz gets the puck or Sid gets the puck, they turn and he’s already in an open spot. It’s like a receiver at the right time hitting the hole. I thought he was very good at that. If our guys can find him and get to read off him … And then his speed in open ice. He’s got dangerous speed. Everybody knows his shot. The shot is something that we all knew, but I saw those other two things in his game and I thought that was probably as impressive.”

All true. No doubt. Kessel looked great. The line fit together well. They dominated long stretches of the game.

But I have some questions.

First of all, who did 14-87-81 do this against? I’d say this was a C-plus Carolina lineup. So I went back and looked. All three of the goals Kessel and Crosby combined to score came against the D pair of Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin.

That’s interesting. It wasn’t against Roland McKeown or Jaccob Slavin or any of the other Carolina defensemen that, frankly, I’ve never heard of. It was against Carolina’s best offensive defenseman and the fifth overall pick in June’s draft. The 14-87-81 combo gets credit for that. They weren’t scoring against jobbers.

Still, Faulk-Hanafin isn’t McDonough-Girardi.

It makes me wonder how effective Crosby and Kessel will be when the competition gets tougher, when the cornerback covering wide receiver Kessel is a Pro Bowler.

So I asked Johnston. Here’s what he said.

“The one thing about both those guys, they think the game really well and they prepare for the game. You could hear them on the bench as a line starting to talk about what they saw on the ice and what was available. They’re not going to miss a lot. From game to game, as we prepare as a coaching staff, they prepare as a line. Sid’s a very detailed guy, as you know. Kessel is exactly the same. Even though people don’t think of that, from what I’ve seen so far, he thinks the game and he has great reads out there. His instincts during the game of how he wants to take advantage of a certain defense pair or what he wants to do, I think those guys will work well together.”

Johnston paints the 87-81 pair as a couple of predators looking for the weakest in the pack to pounce on. Maybe they won’t tear up McDonough-Girardi like they did Faulk-Hanafin, but if they see Boyle-Yandle or a pair like that out there, they’ll jump over the boards and tear them to shreds.

If that’s true, it means two things. One, the pressure will be on Johnston to get them the best matchups. Two, they’re going to score a whole lot of goals together.

Bye for now,



September 23, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Impressions from Penguins’ 7-3 win


Phil Kessel predictably downplayed the significance of his first game in a Penguins uniform.

Just another opportunity, Kessel said. Have to develop some chemistry. Get to know the linemates a little.

Boy, that didn’t take long.

Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz enjoyed quite the get-to-know-you session during Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center, one that could be measured by three goals, seven points and flat-out dominance.

“It was fun,” Kessel said. “Just getting a feel for it out there. Obviously have some work to still do, but it was a good start.”

And the chemistry?

“I thought it was alright,” Kessel continued. “Obviously it was the first time playing together, so as we go, it will build. We’ll learn some things about each other and work from there.”

Using only his left hand, Kessel finished a ridiculous tic-tac-toe play at 19:48 of the opening period, capping a four-goal Penguins outburst that put them ahead for good. He went forehand to finish a Crosby feed at 10:57 of the second and nearly completed the hat trick in the third.

Kunitz didn’t score but contributed two assists and won the faceoff that led to a power-play goal from Sergei Gonchar. Crosby set up Kessel, picked up a secondary assist on Kessel’s first goal and scored backhanded while fending off pressure, a fantastic effort even for Crosby.

“They looked pretty good, huh?” Olli Maatta responded when asked for his assessment of the Penguins top line.

Johnston praised Kessel’s ability to “hit holes off the puck,” something he likened to a wide receiver in football finding the soft spot in a zone … or at least that’s what I assumed he meant when he dropped a football reference postgame.

“If our guys can find him and get to read off of him … He has dangerous speed,” Johnston said.

Kind of an up-and-down night for Gonchar. On the ice for three goals against. Scored one of his own. Hey, at least it was on the power play.

Here’s Johnston on No. 55:

“Real good job on the power play. Gonch is a real good power-play player. He moved the puck well. Good deception. I thought him and (Brian) Dumoulin were a little bit hesitant in their own zone. I didn’t think they closed on people quick enough. They have to close on people quicker to be able to seal those plays and get the puck moving the other way. That’s probably the big thing that they can take out of that game.”

I wrote about Maatta for Wednesday’s print edition. Really, looking at this game, you could probably have thrown a dart blindfolded at the Penguins roster and found some intriguing storyline.

Pascal Dupuis returning from blood clots. Kessel’s debut. The first stop on the Chris Kunitz Redemption Tour. Sergei Plotnikov’s first game in North American.

I chose Maatta. Kind of happy how it worked out, too, after he gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead early when he blasted a pass from Evgeni Malkin past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward.

Maatta finished a plus-4 with that goal and an assist while playing 20:22, including 3:17 on the power play and 2:08 shorthanded. Registered four shots and blocked two. This from a kid who had a second major shoulder surgery just months after having a cancerous tumor removed from his thyroid.

A couple of Maatta gems:

On playing with Letang: “It was easy, I guess. He makes me look pretty good.”

On taking contact: “I think I got a couple of good (hits), which tested me and tested the shoulder. Felt good. The main thing is battling in corners. That felt good. You just have to get your mind into it. It’s a lot mental, too.”

On his goal: “Malkin saw me. I didn’t even have to yell. He sees that kind of play. He’s that good of player.”

Couple of quick hits here to wrap up:

=Johnston was really happy with what Kunitz did: two assists, even rating, three shots on goal and a hit in 15:57.

“I like Kuni’s jump,” Johnston said. “I thought he had a lot of jump (Tuesday). Good legs. He’s had good legs all camp. It looks like he has a lot more energy. That’s a positive sign for him right now.”

Johnston called him one of the “leading candidates” to play left wing on the top line.

=What to make of Daniel Sprong? Well, a lot. And we’ll get there.

But for now, Johnston said he’ll “get a long look” through training camp. Johnston also praised the selection of Sprong at No. 46.

“Sprong has a good stick,” Johnston said. “He’s strong on the puck. His awareness, he sees people all over the ice; he has good deception. I’m excited because he’s going to be a top winger.

“To get top wingers in an organization that has very good centers is very positive. That was a good pick by our scouts, especially getting him where we got him. All camp he’s gotten better.”

BE GRATEFUL to each other,



September 22, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Game night notes


A few bits of news from the morning skate Tuesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex:

=Forward Bobby Farnham missed practice Tuesday after plowing into the boards Monday at Columbus.

Coach Mike Johnston called it a “day-to-day type of thing” and that it looked worse than it really was.

“(It was) kind of awkward,” Johnston said. “As the guy changed his direction, ‘Farns’ looked he caught an edge and went into the boards that way.”

=Also missing practice were forward Nick Bonino (illness) and defensemen Tim Erixon (undisclosed). Bonino was a late scratch Monday because he wasn’t feeling well.

=Forwards Dominik Simon and Jaden Lindo were listed on the roster for the Carolina game but were held out to get more practice work, Johnston said.

“I want them over here today in this practice,” Johnston said, motioning to Rink No. 2. “Give them a little bit more of a feel.”

=The only two players with NHL experience to not appear through two preseason games are forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Rob Scuderi.

=Here’s some video from this morning of a breakout drill, following by a sweet shot from Pascal Dupuis.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 22, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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


A preseason game against a team that finished the previous year with 71 points — and few expect to exceed that mark — normally doesn’t have this much intrigue.

But the Penguins’ preseason home-opener tonight against Carolina doesn’t lack for story lines to follow.

Here are five:

1. Phil Kessel will play his first game at Consol Energy Center. It’s exciting, but he’s more worried about playing on a line with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby.

“Just going out there and trying to get a feel for the game, get a feel for the linemates,” Kessel told me after the Penguins’ morning skate at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “It’s just more of a feel, right?

“It will be a new experience, but, like I said, I’m just trying to get a feel for playing with my linemates and get a feel for the game.”

2. Cancer, Mumps. Another shoulder surgery. A concussion.

The Penguins’ top two defensemen — Olli Maatta and Kris Letang — are superbly talented. They’re also coming off significant injuries and have had an unexplainable run of bad luck.

They reunite tonight, with the expectation of anchoring the team’s defense.

“All summer you start wondering when you’re going to be back healthy and playing again,” Letang said. “It’s the first step toward a regular season game, but I’m pretty excited. It’s going to be fun to be part of a game. Adrenaline is going to kick in.”

3. Same deal for Pascal Dupuis, who’s back after his issue with blood clots.
Dupuis skated on a line Tuesday morning with Daniel Sprong and Jean-Sebastien Dea, who are 18 and 21, respectively.

4. Sergei Gonchar makes his return to Pittsburgh — on a PTO. Gonchar didn’t talk this morning. Was still working out when the media entered the dressing room, then left.

Perhaps it was to make sure his conditioning is in tip-top shape, which is something that coach Mike Johnston talked about after.

“In practice so far, I like the way he’s handled the volume,” Johnston said. “It’s a heavy load in training camp. Sure the guys skate and are in great shape, but when you put practice together and you’re going for 90 minutes at a fairly high pace, that’s demanding.

“For older players, I think it’s always, ‘Do they have that jump in their legs? How do they handle game situations where there’s more physical battle?’ Those are the things we’re going to look for in Gonch.”

5. Chris Kunitz is the Penguins’ top-line left wing.

Doubtful many of you thought that’d be the case when his name was dangled — sometimes inaccurately — as part of the Kessel trade.

Regardless, he’s here and two years removed from a 35-goal season. Is he that player or the one who battled through an iron deficiency and a severe goal drought last season?

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 22, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Game Night Notes


Jeff Zatkoff doesn’t need to write a full-fledged redemption story. He didn’t fall off the face of the earth last season.

But he did lose his job as Marc-Andre Fleury’s back-up to Thomas Greiss and he was overshadowed by AHL rookie of the year Matt Murray in Wilkes-Barre last season.

So as he returns to the NHL and his spot behind Fleury this year, maybe he needed a little boost like he got Monday night,

He stopped all 23 shots he faced in two periods as the Penguins beat Columbus 1-0 in a shootout in the preseason opener.

“It’s fun. I kind of had some ups and downs last year and wanted to come into camp and prove myself again at this level,” Zatkoff said. “I never lost faith in myself, but after last year, you want to get back and get started again.”

Zatkoff’s relief goalie, Tristan Jarry, stopped all seven shots he faced in the third period and overtime, then turned back three Columbus attempts in the shootout. Beau Bennett converted in the third round for the Penguins.

“I give Jarry a lot of credit too,” coach Mike Johnston said. “Coming in in the third period and having to face 3-on-3 and having to face a shootout, that’s very tough for a young goaltender. He did a very good job.”

— The game would have gone to 3-on-3 no matter what as the NHL wants to give teams a chance to get used to the new tie-breaking procedure.

“We need to experience those situations as we got through training camp,” Johnston said. “It’s very different than anything else you’re going to see – man-on-man coverage in the zone, quicker changes. It’s tiring, 3-on-3. It’s not like a normal shift. Your shift has to be 25 to 30 seconds.”

— Bobby Farnham had a standout game for the Penguins, hitting on the forecheck and looking effective on the penalty kill.

Johnston on Farnham: “The way he’s noticeable is speed and hitting. It’s just so evident out there. He gets on loose pucks hard. He makes the other team’s defense pay a price and they know when he’s on the ice. He played his game very effectively. If he keeps that up, I believe he knows what his trademarks are as a player. I really like that in him, and he brings it every night.”

Farnham on his PK shifts: “It was nice. It’s been one of those things where you’ve done in down in Wilkes-Barre off and on for three seasons now. It was nice to get out there and try to show what you can do on the PK as far as speed and disrupting the breakout.”

— Physical defenseman Reid McNeill had a memorable game, tangling with Scott Hartnell and fighting Jared Boll.

“McNeill’s interesting because he’s a gritty guy,” Johnston said. “He plays that game. He’s also quite mobile for a big guy. I like the way he skates. A couple times, Atkinson was coming down and Atkinson is a fast guy to the outside, and I thought McNeill handled him well. And he makes forwards pay a price in the corners.”

— Defenseman David Warsofsky had some good moments as well, showing off his skating ability.

“He’s a skilled defenseman,” Johnston said. “He’s got a lot of poise. I thought he quarterbacked the power play well. He’s a skilled guy. He’s an elusive guy back there. Not overly big, but as long as he doesn’t get hit, he can move the puck and escape traffic.”

— Today is the 10th anniversary of Sidney Crosby’s first exhibition game with the Penguins. It was was a 5-4 overtime loss played in front of about 4,500 fans in Wilkes-Barre on Sept. 21, 2005.

Crosby assisted on a Mark Recchi goal 8:28 into the first period. He split a pair of defensemen and carried a puck to Tim Thomas’ crease, where Recchi knocked it in. “In a couple years, he’s going to be scary,” said Mario Lemieux, who had two assists in the game.

Another young forward who would go on to some renown, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, scored twice. Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan VandenBussche and Ziggy Palffy had goals for the Penguins. A guy named Zdenek Blatny scored the winner for Boston on Jocelyn Thibault.

— If you bought tickets for tomorrow’s preseason home opener, you’ll get to see some star power for your money. The team announced Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang are scheduled to play.

— The first pairing of Kessel and Crosby, even for an exhibition game, will be an historic occasion on some level. Kessel, however, doesn’t seem to be getting too worked up. “You’re just getting into it,” he said. “It’ll be the first game of the preseason. You just try to get better throughout camp and try to get ready for the first game of the year.”

Bye for now,



September 21, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Three-on-three ‘a topic of conversation’


“It’s a topic of conversation.”

That was Penguins assistant coach Gary Agnew, to me, talking about three-on-three overtime, which will take place during tonight’s preseason opener at Columbus regardless of score.

It’s one of three times prior to the regular season that the Penguins will be able to practice it against someone other than themselves.

“We’ve watched video. We’ve discussed it on and off for the last month or two. There’s been no answer yet,” Agnew said. “We’re still debating. I think those three games where we’ll get to try it in the preseason will help us determine whether we go two (defensemen) and one (forward), one (forward) and two (defensemen) or three forwards.”

Could the Penguins deploy Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel for three-on-three OT?

It’s unlikely, honestly.

There has to be some defensive component.

What’s more likely is utilizing one defenseman and two forwards. Your defensemen could be Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, and the forwards are probably Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Patric Hornqvist to start, the next cut something like David Perron, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, depending on production.

The debate, as Agnew said, centers around who will play and how.

Do Crosby and Malkin go out together? Do they each anchor a unit?

What if the Penguins are playing, say, the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin or the Lightning, with their many offensive talents. Would it be smart to go with two defensemen?

“Our issue is our advantage,” Agnew said. “We have a lot of guys who can play it. There are enough guys in the locker room who can play three-on-three. It will be exciting.”

Agnew also brought up a few things I don’t believe we’re giving enough credence.

“Tactical things like where the players are situated on the bench — it’s a long change again — and how we want to handle faceoffs,” Agnew said. “There’s a lot of strategy that has to be tested.”

Chipped Ice take: Crosby-Hornqvist and Malkin-Kessel, assuming Crosby and Kessel play regulation together and Malkin and Hornqvist did the same. If not, flip. The idea being to utilize skills and chemistry the opposing team wasn’t already preparing for.

Letang and Maatta are the defense. No sense reinventing the wheel. They’re both extremely underrated defenders and great skaters — necessary traits in three-on-three.

If it’s Jeff Zatkoff and not Marc-Andre Fleury, I’d maybe be more open to a two-defensemen look, provided I feel strongly enough about my second and third pairings.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 21, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Bennett, Bonino a pair



Chaz Palla/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

After three days of Penguins training camp, there have been a few constants:

Phil Kessel talking to the media. Seriously. He’s 3 for 3 on scrums, talking more than Sidney Crosby. Maybe call this the Jen Bullano/Jason Seidling Coefficient.

Mike Johnston’s hair has looked impeccable … although, really, was there any doubt?

Beau Bennett and Nick Bonino have not left each other’s side.

Probably pay more attention to the last one than the first two. It dates back to informal workouts, too.

Bonino and Bennett have been on the same line all three days, and it’s an intriguing pairing — to me, anyway — for the purpose of deploying Bennett in a role for which he’s suited.

You know, kind of the opposite of giving him fourth-line shifts alongside guys such as Maxim Lapierre, Craig Adams and Zach Sill. Which, somehow, actually happened.

I asked Bennett afterward about spending so much time with Bonino.

Turns out it’s something he has noticed, too.

“It’s been good so far,” Bennett said. “Getting them chemistry up, it’s been a smooth transition. He’s a great player. It’s been really good.”

Is that something he could see something sticking?

“We play similar styles,” Bennett said. “He’s thinking out there. He’s not pushing the pace too much. We kind of play the same way. We can definitely read off each other and be successful.”

Bennett has said frequently that he’s at his best when he’s playing smart, thinking and making plays. Of course, it also helps when he’s healthy enough to follow, which hasn’t happened as frequently as anyone would have liked. Another read-and-react guy could be interesting.

Johnston also said Sunday that Bennett would be in the mix to assume one of the top two left wing spots, joining Pascal DupuisChris KunitzSergei Plotnikov and David Perron.

Bennett and Bonino will both play Monday in Columbus, likely together. Will be interesting to see what they do together.

Quick programming note: I’m off today. Jonathan Bombulie has the club here and in Columbus.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 20, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Camp notes


Jason Mackey and I have been doing some single-subject blog posts the last couple of days. Just scroll down a bit and see. I think they’re pretty interesting. He broke down the all-star power play a bit today. I wrote about guys who can score and fight last night. We both took different angles on the PK yesterday.

My blog bread-and-butter is bulleted notes, though, so I’m getting back to that today.

— The exhibition opener crept up quick. It’s tomorrow at 7 in Columbus. It won’t be televised, but WBS play-by-play man Mike O’Brien and Phil Bourque will have the call on radio. Having listened to his calls regularly for the last few years, I am sure you’ll like O’Brien. He’s has a nice balance of personality and no-nonsense play-by-play. He ‘s a pro.

— I expect a much more star-studded lineup Tuesday night at home against Carolina than tomorrow in Columbus. That’s just the nature of preseason hockey. Phil Kessel’s Pittsburgh debut, for instance, is set for Tuesday.

— Speaking of Kessel, he came into the locker room and did a pleasant media scrum for the third straight day this morning. Maybe the mood will change once there are tough questions to answer, I don’t know, but for now, he’s downright jovial with reporters.

— Mike Johnston broke up players into two groups today that will approximate the Pittsburgh and WBS rosters for the start of the season. The four fringe forwards practicing with the varsity were Bobby Farnham, Conor Sheary, Tom Sestito and Kevin Porter.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Sheary. I think a line combination of Sheary-Bonino-Bennett could be a sneaky little scoring line.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Sestito. The Penguins open the season with a road trip to Dallas and Arizona. Dallas has Antoine Roussel, who is a real physical force, and Arizona has giant John Scott and the always rambunctious Steve Downie. Might want to have some muscle for those games.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Porter. Of all the fringe forwards, I think he’s the only one with penalty killing experience in the NHL.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Farnham. He’s Bobby Farnham.

— When I was watching special teams drills the other day, Beau Bennett shocked me with how good he looked on the penalty kill. Very active stick. Good at reading the play and anticipating. I’m not saying he’s going to be a PK specialist or anything, but he might be worth a look.

— During that same drill, I saw why Sergei Gonchar is still a candidate to play in the NHL. The first time he touched the puck, he got a shot through traffic that Patric Hornqvist tipped for a great scoring chance. Matt Murray made a nice save. The second time he touched the puck, he sent a shot under Hornqvist’s armpit and over Murray’s shoulder for a goal.

— Finally, a tip of the cap to former Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, who announced his retirement today. A finer gentleman you will not meet.

Bye for now,


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