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October 18, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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The Penguins won the Metropolitan Division last season. By quite a bit, too — 13 points.

If they plan on doing the same this year, the Penguins will have to handle the upstart Islanders, a team with plenty of skill and one they’ll see five times this season.

“With the couple of additions they had and who they had there before, I think it was only a matter of time,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think you’re seeing now they’re having some success because of that.”

Islanders forward John Tavares leads the league in scoring. He also spoke with quite a bit of reverence this morning when asked about challenging the Penguins in the division.

“These teams have been division opponents long before I was here,” Tavares said. “There’s been that, and they’ve been one of the premier teams for awhile now. We’re trying to work our way to getting back to that kind of level of consistency with making the playoffs. They’re a team you have to go through quite a bit. It brings a lot of games, a lot of intense battles, and it’s a lot of fun.”

The Penguins won three of the four games in the series last season, outscoring the Islanders 16-13 and outshooting them 139-117.

Crosby has more points against the Islanders than any other opponent; goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s four shutouts against the Islanders are tied for the most that he has against any opponent; and the Penguins’ 62 home wins over the Islanders are the most they’ve recorded over any opponent.

This offseason, the Islanders added names like Boychuk, Leddy and Halak to Tavares, Okposo and Nelson, creating buzz and expectations. They’re one of only two teams in the NHL that has yet to lose in regulation, and their power play is ranked second behind the Penguins.

“We’ve watched them closely the past few days to get a feel for them and the changes they’ve made,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “Certainly their defense has a lot of depth. They spread out their minutes on defense. They feel that they can play their group against anybody, at least their pairings.

“Up front, I see that they counterpunch really quickly. They’re quick in transition, and they’re very quick in the offensive zone. They do have some elite players.”

News out of the skate: Forward Pascal Dupuis was a full participant and joined his regular linemates, Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Sutter. Still, he’ll be a gametime decision; he said he still needs to talk with head coach Mike Johnston and the Penguins’ medical stuff. Curious, though: Per team policy, injured players aren’t available to speak with the media. Dupuis talked. … Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and forward Beau Bennett skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar and defenseman Scott Harrington prior to the morning skate. Johnson said Bortuzzo will hopefully rejoin practice next week, while Bennett is still seven to 10 days away from rejoining practice in even partial capacity. Both are out with lower-body injuries.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Islanders: The Isles are 4-0-0 to start the season for the first time since 2001-02. They’ve never started 5-0-0. … They added G Jaroslav Halak (trade then sign) and defensemen Nick Leddy (trade) and Johnny Boychuk to drastically improve their back end. … This in addition to skilled forwards in John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson. Here’s a look at what those guys have produced through four games. It’s ridiculous:

Tavares 2-7—9 (leads NHL in points and assists)
Nelson 3-4—7
Okposo 2-5—7
Boychuk 2-4—6 (tied for NHL lead with five power play points)
Halak 3-0-0, 2.92 GAA, .900 SV%

The series: Penguins have won seven of the last eight regular season meetings, outscoring the Islanders 32-18 in those games. … They’re 16-3 in their last 19 home games against New York. … Sidney Crosby has 25-58—83 in 45 career games against the Islanders, the most he’s accumulated versus any one team. … Penguins won three of the four meetings last season, going 5 for 16 on the power play and 11 for 12 on the penalty kill.

Key to the game: Has to be special teams, right? The Penguins have the best power play at 46.2 percent (6 for 13). The Islanders rank No. 2 at 42.9 percent (6 for 14). They’re also the league’s two worst teams on the penalty kill. Pittsburgh is last at 60.0 percent (9 for 15). New York is next to last at 61.5 percent (8 for 13). The Penguins have allowed a power play in every game thus far, including the game-winner for Dallas Thursday with 2.9 seconds left. Expect a high-scoring one, too; the four games last season featured a combined total of 29 goals.

Next up: Penguins vs. Flyers, Wednesday, 8 p.m.

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

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October 17, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Could we see more Blake Comeau?

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The talk Friday around Consol Energy Center focused on Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis and rightfully so.

Turns out the incident Thursday night, where Dupuis left the ice on a stretcher when he was hit on the back of the neck with a puck, looked scarier than it really was; he skated Friday morning and could play as soon as Saturday.

If Dupuis can’t go, one player who could see his role increase significantly is Blake Comeau. And we should probably be talking more about Comeau than we are, whether or not he replaces Dupuis.

Comeau led the Penguins in the preseason by tallying a goal and three assists. He’s a physical guy who’s also been strong on the puck and in the corners. Comeau could join Brandon Sutter and Evgeni Malkin on the second line.

“He’s been good,” Sutter said. “Good on the puck, strong guy. I thought he’s been good the first three or four games, even through exhibition. He was really good at just hanging onto the puck and making plays offensively. He should be a good fit for us.”

Though he has played mostly with Marcel Goc and Steve Downie, Comeau isn’t your average third- or fourth-line grinder. He scored 41 goals between 2009-11 while with the Islanders, the second season scoring 24 while averaging a career-high 2 minutes, 15 seconds on the penalty kill.

Comeau is getting 35 seconds per game of PK time so far, down from his career average and a number he wouldn’t mind rising. But he has been doing a lot of others things well. Besides scoring in the home opener, Comeau ranks fourth on the Penguins with eight hits. He has six shots and carries strong possession numbers – 60.3% Corsi For, 63.1% Fenwick For.

The average ice time – 13 minutes, 21 seconds – is the most Comeau has gotten since 2011-12, but if Dupuis can’t play, that will surely go up. Maybe it goes up even if Dupuis can play.

“His puck-possession time in the offensive zone is really good,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “He hangs on to the puck well. I like the way that he drives out of the corners in the offensive zone and takes it to the net.

“He’s playing that power forward role. We need a power forward in our group. I like the way it’s shaping up for him right now. He’s playing with lots of confidence.”

Comeau signed with the Penguins on July 1, the first day of free agency, for a one-year deal worth $700,000. A top-six role was probably not in the cards, Comeau knew at the time, but that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the team’s most impactful players and making an impression.

“Coming to Pittsburgh, I thought it was a good opportunity to play with some really good players,” Comeau said. “Whether it’s the fourth line or first line, there’s so much depth here. I’ve had some success early on, and I’m looking forward to trying to continue that.”

With defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in Washington, two of the media’s most reliable quotes are gone. Along with Sutter and defenseman Rob Scuderi, Comeau has picked up the slack when it comes to consistently articulating his thoughts.

Like this gem about bouncing back from Thursday’s 3-2 loss, where the Penguins built a 2-0 lead, saw Dupuis get hurt, then played a wretched third period.

“That wasn’t an easy one to lose,” Comeau said. “I’m glad we’re back on the ice (Saturday). We need to get a win and put (Thursday) behind us.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 17, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Looking ahead after Thursday’s loss

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So, what now?

Well, for one, Friday’s 11:30 a.m. Penguins practice should be interesting. Will forward Pascal Dupuis be there? Is he OK after taking a puck to the back of the neck during Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars?

Several coaches and players spoke after the game about Dupuis potentially being OK, although his gear was not in his locker, a sign that he likely went immediately for testing.

Center Brandon Sutter said he heard Dupuis talking on the ice. Head coach Mike Johnston said Dupuis told Penguins’ trainers he had some numbness in his arm, and the feeling was coming back.

“That was a real positive sign,” Johnston said.

I thought I would share a note I got from a friend of mine who’s an athletic trainer and watched the Dupuis injury.

When your neck gets flexed, the vertebrae open up so the spinal cord is more vulnerable. At the same time, getting hit a little off center to either side can cause trouble, even a fracture, but no spinal cord damage. Let’s hope that is the case.

You hate to think this way, but if Dupuis is out for an extended period of time, what happens?

Beau Bennett isn’t due back until around Nov. 8. Kasperi Kapanen is in Finland, Oskar Sundqvist in Sweden.

Andrew Ebbett could fill in short-term, but I get the feeling if this is anything serious, the preferred move would be to bring one of those two back.

Dupuis also could be at practice Saturday.

Here’s a second question you’re probably asking, as am I: What to make of the Penguins’ penalty kill?

Now six goals allowed in three games. New personnel, new coaches, whatever. Not good.

“PK has been a tough one,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “I think there have been a lot of individual breakdowns and plays that guys would like back. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a system problem. I think it’s execution of a few short plays that’s killing us. Those things have a way of working themselves out.”

Shots aren’t a huge issue on the PK. Dallas had three power play shots, and one went in. Still, I think we’re reaching a point where something, even if it’s small, needs addressed.

Me? I’d use Blake Comeau more, a guy who … wait for it … actually WANTS to do this sort of thing. Or defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who killed penalties last season in Buffalo.

The Penguins have struggled mightily clearing the puck. They need someone, or a group of people, who can do this better than those who are doing it now.

Also, at what point do you worry about captain Sidney Crosby winning faceoffs? I know, minor right now. But he’s at 44.4 percent after going 9-11 Thursday. For the season, he’s 28-35. Crosby won 54.1 percent of his draws last season. He’s at 54.0 percent for his career.

Third, is the third-period collapse a concern? I think the Penguins showed some carelessness in the third, some bad puck decisions.

If it’s a blip, fine. But Johnston certainly has a few teaching points for Saturday, Evgeni Malkin’s giveaway at the blue line that nearly led to a goal chief among them.

“The first two periods were pretty decent,” Crosby said. “I thought in the third, they were down one, and they were coming harder. We weren’t able to get that next one. We probably made it a little too easy on them. Turned the puck over a bit. Still, to not get a point out of that is a little frustrating.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 16, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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Haven’t we seen this before?

Two of the Western Conference’s best players come into Consol Energy Center on one of the preseason’s most hyped teams.

Last week it was the Anaheim Ducks with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Tonight it’s the Dallas Stars with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

Benn and Seguin each had huge games earlier this week at Columbus — a total of seven points, with Seguin netting a hat trick.

“When you look at those combinations of players, you’re looking at some of the top players in the league,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “Certainly when they’re playing together like they were the other night — I’ve watched the last two games and a little bit of the Chicago game — I thought their line has been good. They’ve changed a winger on different nights.

“Benn and Seguin complement each other because you’ve got skill and power. With Getzlaf and Perry, you have power and skill together with both of those guys. When you look at it as the coach at home, you have the last change. You have to make sure your matchups heading into the game are the right ones.”

Along with Getzlaf and Perry, Benn (34-45–79) and Seguin (37-47–84) were the only set of teammates with at least 30 goals and 75 points.

Because you’ll look it up: Sidney Crosby (36-68—104) and Evgeni Malkin (23-49—72) were close.

“They’re definitely a fast team that likes to skate,” Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. “They have some great offensive players. We have to be pretty sharp. We expect a fast game.”

It will be interesting to see if Penguins coach Mike Johnston matches his top line of Chris Kunitz, Crosby and Patric Hornqvist against Benn and Seguin’s line or against the Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky line.

One thing’s for sure, Johnston doesn’t automatically want his third or fourth lines out there to counter the other team’s scoring lines.

“Will we play our top lines against top lines? We will at times, for sure,” Johnston said. “We feel our top lines are as good defensively as they are offensively. We’ll challenge their line to be as good defensively.”

Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he would no problem playing his top line against Crosby’s line or Malkin, Sutter and Pascal Dupuis.

“We’ve played a lot of top line versus top line,” Ruff said. “I think you’ll probably see that. If that’s what he wants, I haven’t been too concerned with changing on the fly or trying to change things up. We’ve got a couple looks we can (go to). At times, if we want another look, we can look another way. When you’re trying to get your top line on the ice 19 or 20 minutes, they have to play against other teams’ top lines.”

News out of the skate: The Penguins actually did line rushes this morning, but expect them to look this way tonight at your own peril. Here’s what they rolled with:

Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Evgeni Malkin-Brandon Sutter-Pascal Dupuis
Blake Comeau-Marcel Goc-Steve Downie
Craig Adams-Nick Spaling-Zach Sill

Paul Martin-Christian Ehrhoff
Olli Maatta-Kris Letang
Simon Despres-Rob Scuderi
Andrew Ebbett-Scott Harrington

TV/radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Stars: Dallas (1-1-1, 3 points) is coming off its first win of the season: 4-2 at Columbus on Tuesday. Seguin had a hat trick, Benn finished with four points, and goaltender Kari Lehtonen made 33 saves. … Seguin’s hat trick was the fifth of his career and fourth with Dallas. … No one can accused the Stars of standing pat following their first trip to the postseason since 2008. They traded for Jason Spezza and signed fellow forwards Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves. … Former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar is on the Stars’ roster, but he’s currently out with a lower-body injury.

The series: The Penguins have won six consecutive games against the Stars in Pittsburgh. … Pittsburgh is 8-2 in its last 10 against Dallas. … Dallas won the most recent meeting — 3-0 on Jan. 25 of last season — when Lehtonen (24 saves) pitched a shutout and Gonchar got the game-winning goal. … Spezza leads all current Stars in goals (16), assists (27) and points (43) in 36 career games against the Penguins.

Next up: Penguins vs. New York Islanders, Saturday, 7 p.m.

Links
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ home page
The Stars’ gameday page
NHL.com’s preview/box score

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October 15, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Don’t miss the obvious

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Sometimes the toughest stories to find are the ones right in front of us. I’ve thought this now for a couple days about Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, and it’s what I wrote about in Thursday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Crosby, as I expected, was in no hurry to talk about essentially, with his lights-out play, sticking it to everyone who questioned him following the playoff fallout last season. So I went elsewhere.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Kris Letang spoke passionately about Crosby being the best player in the world, how they’re not surprised that he’s been so good and how he’s been a pleasure to watch with six points and three goals in two games.

Letang said all players go through slumps, and that’s what last spring was for Crosby, nothing more. He also offered this quote that didn’t make my story. I find it interesting because these guys have seen Crosby play this way for years, why should this season be any different?

Yet after what happened against the Rangers and the summer that followed, it’s hard to deny there’s a different feel around the team these days.

“Was I worried? No. Am I happy for him? Yeah,” Letang said. “For me to look at him playing the way he plays, it’s just normal for me. I see him doing that all that time. Sometimes it doesn’t go in. You never know. There are so many other things going on right now. I’m really happy for him.”

A few other things to touch on:

>>The team called up defenseman Scott Harrington last week. I’ve been told this wasn’t so he could watch NHL games from the press box. Or so he could see what regular season travel is like. Harrington should and will play soon, it’s only a matter of when.

Fact is, with four days between games, there’s no way head coach Mike Johnston is going to give someone a night off. No need. You don’t take any of the Top Four out, not if you actually want to win, so that leaves us with Rob Scuderi and Simon Despres.

Has Despres done anything to warrant getting yanked? I don’t think so. Scuderi has struggled, especially on the PK. I find it interesting what could happen here. I think some other people do, too.

Here’s what Johnston said today when he was asked about Harrington:

“As with the goalie rotation, right now we don’t have a lot of games,” Johnston said. “It starts to heat up next week. Our intent would be to start to work a player like that in as we move into next week when we have three games in four nights.

“Our lineup is playing well right now. Our defense group, I like the mixture. I like the way they’ve been playing. We’re not going to force them into the lineup, but we’re going to make sure that we get him in and get him some game action.”

>>Oskar Sundqvist and Kasperi Kapanen had strong debuts with their European teams over the weekend, as both tallied assists. Kapanen helped KalPa of the Finnish League to a 2-0 victory over Karpat. Sundqvist and Skelleftea won, 3-2, over Djurgarden.

>>Thursday night against the Stars could be a busy night for milestones. Crosby needs two assists for 500 in his career. … Craig Adams needs one assist for 100 for his career (cue the jokes). … Nick Spaling is playing in his 300th NHL game. … Pascal Dupuis is two points away from 400 for his career. … and Evgeni Malkin needs one point to take over sole possession of fourth place on the team’s all-time list.

Hockey Night in Pittsburgh tomorrow. Can’t wait.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 12, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 2

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TORONTO — Sometimes we can get a little spoiled.

In life and hockey.

I won’t touch the whole life thing, at least not here, but that first sentence feels appropriate following the Penguins’ 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

Any other franchise has a guy post back-to-back three-point nights, and that’s without a doubt your next day’s story.

Sidney Crosby does it, and we’re asking him about the importance of getting off to a good start.

Through two games, Crosby has three goals and three assists, with four of those six points coming on the power play.

A decent start, no?

“It’s always important,” Crosby said to the question about getting off to a strong start. “You come in with the mentality that you want to start quick. Get some momentum and get some confidence. Had a long summer. Had a lot of time to think about last year. We’re all pretty excited to get started.”

Patric Hornqvist, who has produced back-to-back two-point games, didn’t have all summer to think about playing on a line with Crosby. But what part of it he did have, it’s doubtful he wished time would move a bit slower.

“It’s nice to play with him,” Hornqvist said. “He’s the best player in the world. But I’m not going to change my game. I’m still going to go hard to the net and create some space for my teammates. Obviously I can’t ask for any better center.”

A couple other thoughts from Saturday’s game:

>>There are problems on the penalty kill. Not serious problems — relax, it’s only two games in — but problems nonetheless.

Whether it’s personnel, the scheme or just some bad luck, the Penguins have three practices between now and their next game; I’m guessing they’ll spend a little time addressing the PK.

>>Marc-Andre Fleury has been quiet so far. Stopped 23 of 25 pucks Saturday, 25 of 29 against the Ducks. He’s been good, but it’s tough to write the goaltender when the team’s putting up the ridiculous numbers the Penguins are.

Head coach Mike Johnston lauded Fleury’s work on scrambles in front and said he “felt bad” about a defensive breakdown on Tyler Bozak’s power play goal late.

“I thought he was good,” Johnston said of Fleury. “I felt bad about that last one going in, a breakdown for us on the penalty kill and maybe a little bit of a bad bounce off the glass. I thought he was really good on those low, tight-net scrambles. That’s where your goaltender really has to be good.”

>>Fun with numbers. … The Penguins rank third in the league with 80 shots for. … Shift length, another one of Johnston’s points of emphasis. Paul Martin was at 57 seconds. Nobody else was over 49. Way better than last year, when normally you’d have at least one or two over a minute. … You probably hope this number improves and it’s just a small sample size, but Crosby is 19-24 (44.2%) in the faceoff circle.

That’s it for me. Club practices here at the ACC Sunday. Then I head home, and they stay an extra day for some sort of team-bonding thing.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 11, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.

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TORONTO — You try to pretend it’s the same, only it’s not.

Saturday night in Canada has a special meaning, and there’s no denying it.

“Anytime you’re playing in Toronto on a Saturday night, it’s always exciting,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.

Television, tradition and an obsession over Penguins captain Sidney Crosby aside, the on-ice stuff figures to make this one exciting as well.

The Maple Leafs will likely welcome back defenseman Cody Franson, while forwards Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov will try to agitate the daylights out of Crosby.

Crosby produces plenty against the Maple Leafs and at Air Canada Centre (17 points in 13 career visits), while the series between these two has featured nearly as many special teams goals (9) as even strength (10).

“I don’t want to invite a chance game,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “That’s not what coaches really want. You want your team to go out and play a complete game in all three zones.”

Carlyle, a former Penguins defenseman, was asked whether any additional preparation went into preparing for players like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“When you have elite-level players, you have to at least remind your individuals of their Ps and Qs as far as being on the defensive side of things,” Carlyle said. “If you turn the puck over and give them the opportunity to transition and allow them to play on the power play, they’re going to hurt. That’s their makeup. They’re great players. They take advantage of the situations the opposition gives them. Sometimes they do things that other people wish they could do.”

The Penguins will look to improve their penalty killing unit, which gave up three power play goals to the Ducks on Thursday.

The Maple Leafs ranked sixth on the power play last season at 19.8 percent, with James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel totaling nine and eight man-advantage goals, respectively.

“We’re playing against a top power play unit,” Johnston said. “We’ve had some different people killing together. We’ve got to make some adjustments for sure on what we’re doing — exposing the slot area — but we’ll tidy that up.”

News out of the skate: In line rushes, Pascal Dupuis switched wings with Malkin, Dupuis now on the right of center Brandon Sutter and Malkin on the left. Not sure I’d read too much into that, though. … Why, you ask? Because Johnston had defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Olli Maatta and Simon Depres and Scott Harrington paired together, then said they’d stick with the same defense from Thursday. Makes sense as Ehrhoff and Letang have been great, same for Martin and Maatta and Despres and Harrington are both left-handed shots. … Franson (knee) was activated off injured reserve Saturday morning, and it appears the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder make his season debut. … Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (undisclosed) worked out on his own after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre.

TV/radio: NHL Network/CBC/Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Maple Leafs: Toronto is coming off a 4-3 loss to Montreal on Wednesday. Defenseman Morgan Rielly scored at 17:41 to tie it, then Tomas Plekanec’s shot deflected off rookie defenseman Stuart Percy’s skate at 19:17. … Leafs were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 on the penalty kill. … Kadri and Tyler Bozak also scored. … Bozak (19-30–49) and van Riemsdyk (30-31—61) are coming off career-best seasons. … Kessel is the only NHL player to have finished among the top 10 scorers in each of the past three seasons. … Leafs acquired LW David Booth in the offseason, but he’ll be out 4-5 more weeks with a right foot injury.

The series: Penguins went 1-1-1 against the Leafs last year, including 1-0-0 in Toronto. Pittsburgh has won two straight. … JVR led all scores with five points and two goals in 2013-14. … Nine of the 19 goals scored last season were on special teams. … Crosby has 20 goals and 23 assists in 28 previous meetings, including 17 points in 13 games at Air Canada Centre.

Next up: Penguins vs. Stars, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Links
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Maple Leafs’ gameday page
The NHL.com preview/box score

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October 10, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Mario and his inner-circle

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Mario

Greetings, hockey fans. Took this shot today at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, which I got to spend a few hours visiting Friday afternoon ahead of the Pens’ game Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

Wanted to use it to tease a story that will appear in tomorrow’s Trib that I thought you might enjoy …

Mario Lemieux played his first NHL game 30 years ago Saturday, scoring a goal on his first shot and first shift.

To acknowledge the moment, I thought it would be interesting to track down a bunch of Mario’s friends, the high-powered businessmen in his inner-circle.

I half-expected, given Lemieux’s intense privacy, to get rebuffed at every stop.

That didn’t happen.

Those I spoke with were wonderfully helpful, funny and engaging. They told stories. They answered my questions. They helped me identify and contact other members of the inner-circle.

Really hope you’ll be able to read the piece.

I thought as a bit of a teaser, I would offer something that didn’t make the final version.

Let me preface this by saying that this group likes to laugh, including Lemieux, who also does a few impressions that I mention.

There are many more stories like the following. Oh, and Tom Grealish is Lemieux’s best friend; the president of Henderson Brothers, Inc., an area insurance agency; and the president of the Mario Lemieux Foundation.

One of Grealish’s favorite Lemieux stories comes from an IHOP in Florida some 15 years ago.

Grealish, who admits he looks a bit old for his age, is sitting at the booth while Mario goes to pay the check.

“Next thing I know, he’s laughing his head off,” Grealish said. “So I went up to him and said, ‘What’s wrong?’

“He said, ‘I thought they gave me too much change.’ Then he explained that the lady behind the counter pointed at me and said, ‘No, no. Senior citizen’s discount.’ ”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 10, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Five more from Thursday’s 6-4 win

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I couldn’t help but write about Pascal Dupuis following the Penguins’ 6-4 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, but I just as easily could have picked something else.

That said, here are five additional points worth making from this one.

1. Sidney Crosby and Blake Comeau’s goals late in the second period.

Crosby’s came on the power play at 17:34, and Comeau’s was at even strength at 18:28.

They snapped a stretch of three straight scored by Anaheim to tie it at 3.

“I don’t think we never really thought we’re going to lose this,” defenseman Olli Maatta said. “But there’s tough moments. There’s going to be tough moments in every game.”

2. Crosby’s performance. The captain, beginning his 10th season, was worth of a story all his own with two goals and an assist.

If not, of course, for Dupuis.

“He was the catalyst,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s a guy we were supposed to focus on, and we let him get away with it.”

3. Bouncing back from a blown lead.

What, the Pens have blown leads? No way.

Serious, though. The Ducks were rolling. Corey Perry notched two of his three goals. John Gibson had seemingly steadied things.

And then the Penguins counterpunched the counterpunch.

“I have some experience with those 3-0 leads early in games,” Crosby said. “I think we’ve learned a few lessons from that. There was a lot of game left, and I don’t think it was a matter of sitting back; we got in penalty trouble, didn’t kill some of those off, and they got momentum.”

4. Fun with numbers. The penalty kill — 3 for 6 — produce some ugly ones, but shift length was great. It’s important, too, because this is something Johnston has been harping on. Nobody Thursday was over :54 (Kris Letang). Next highest was fellow defenseman Simon Despres at :49.

The Penguins also outhit the much bigger, stronger Ducks, 34-33.

5. Mike Johnston. Got his first NHL win on his first try — albeit in a nail-biter.

Johnston predictably downplayed the question in his postgame press conference. Funny, if you look at the previous list of Penguins coaches who’ve won their debuts, five of the nine have come in games where at least seven combined goals were scored.

That’s it from me. Traveling to Toronto tomorrow and making a stop at the Hall of Fame. Yohe has the club.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 9, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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Enough with the hypothetical questions.

Enough with the system talk.

Enough about the new faces, things jelling and feeling comfortable.

Thank God, a hockey game.

“I think we’re ready,” Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta said, echoing what every other hockey fan — and writer — in Pittsburgh is thinking.

Tonight’s season-opener is a glitzy matchup, for sure. The skill of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin against the size of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler.

It will be fascinating to see how Penguins coach Mike Johnston, who has the last change, uses Crosby. Does he play him against Getzlaf and Perry’s line? Or does he have him out against Kesler?

All three Anaheim forwards are big and physical, Kesler being probably the nastiest of the bunch.

“I don’t want to overmatch, where you have your guys changing all the time,” Johnston said. “But certainly there are particular matchups in the game that we’re going to pay particular attention to tonight and throughout the first several games.”

Getzlaf is plenty familiar with Crosby considering they played on Canada’s Olympic team together, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of potentially facing who he called the best player in the world.

“It’s fun to go up against him,” Getzlaf said. “Especially this early in the season and kick things off.”

The Penguins have a tough task, too. Getzlaf (6-foot-4), Perry (6-3) and Kesler (6-2) are all huge … and quite talented. Getzlaf totaled 87 points last season to finish second to Crosby in the scoring race.

“They’re big bodies, and they definitely have some skill,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “They can create shots and get it on the net. The less time they have with the puck on their sticks the better for us.”

Better for everyone will be to start the real stuff already.

See, Perry agrees with me.

“Everybody is eager to get going,” Parry said. “Stop playing against each other and start playing the games for real. This is what it’s all about.”

News out of the skate: Not much Penguins-wise, other than the fact that, yes, Malkin and Maatta will play. … Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler has been cleared and will play. A leg injury suffered in practice kept Fowler out of the Ducks’ final exhibition game. He practiced two days in a row before receiving medical clearance. … Though the Ducks didn’t announce it, expect Whitehall native John Gibson to start in net. … Pittsburgh’s Zach Sill was off the ice well before fellow forward Andrew Ebbett this morning, an indication he’ll get the start.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Ducks: Anaheim is coming off its second consecutive Pacific Division title and top record in the Western Conference last season at 54-20-8 for 116 points. … In season openers, Anaheim is 5-15-0 over 20 seasons. Sixteen of those have been on the road, and the Ducks have won just three of those. … Anaheim’s big offseason acquisition was Kesler, whom they got in a trade from the Vancouver Canucks.

The series: The Penguins went 2-0 against the Ducks last season, winning 3-1 on Nov. 18, 2013 in Pittsburgh and 3-2 (SO) in Anaheim on March 7. Brandon Sutter had the GWG in the first game and the shootout-deciding goal in the second. … Malkin led all scorers with four points in those games. … Pittsburgh’s all-time record vs. Anaheim is 14-9-3 overall, 9-3-2 in Pittsburgh. … Penguins are 24-13-9 all-time in home openers and 21-19-6 all-time in season openers.

Next up: Saturday at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.

Links
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Ducks’ gameday page
NHL.com’s box score

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