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October 2, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Roster analysis after Carcillo released from PTO

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The Penguins released Daniel Carcillo from his professional tryout contract Thursday morning.

While the decision wasn’t easy — like him or hate him, Carcillo has a ton of grit and toughness, and he fought through obvious foot pain to even take the ice — it advances the picture of the roster moving forward.

Depending on the health and availability of Evgeni Malkin, the toughest decision, in my opinion, centers around what to do with Kasperi Kapanen, Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sill.

Is Kapanen ready? Was Sundqvist’s camp legit and emblematic of what he’ll do during the regular season?

Sill provides a ton of toughness and grit, stuff you would have gotten with Carcillo. He and Downie also get along, for whatever that’s worth.

If Malkin’s healthy, you likely have an open spot on his left wing that Kapanen or Sundqvist could fill. Were it me, I’d take Kapanen. I know management and coaches also have no problem with Steve Downie playing there.

Example:

14-87-9
42/49-71-72
17-16-23
13-57-27-38

For your bottom six — assuming Sundqvist or Kapanen sticks on the second line and Malkin’s healthy — you can take five from this group: Brandon Sutter, Downie, Blake Comeau, Nick Spaling, Craig Adams, Marcel Goc and Sill.

Figure Sutter, Downie and Goc are locks. Comeau and Spaling are darn close; why would you acquire someone in the offseason to not use them? Adams and Sill are on the bubble.

Say Downie plays with Malkin and Hornqvist. Then you’re picking a bottom six from this group: Sutter, Comeau, Spaling, Adams, Goc, Sill, Sundqvist and Kapanen.

Example:

14-87-9
23-71-72
17-16-23
49-42-38-57-27

If Malkin isn’t healthy enough to start the season, the decision is made easier. Play Sutter on the second line, potentially with Kapanen or Sundqvist or even Downie, and you probably only have to make a decision on whether you want Kapanen or Sundqvist.

Example:

14-87-9
42/49-16-72
17-13-23
42/49-38-57-27

For what it’s worth, Sundqvist has appeared more comfortable playing among the bottom six than Kapanen, whose game seems much more suited for a top-six role.

The point of all this?

The Penguins probably want to know what they’re facing with Malkin.

And soon.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 2, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pens end preseason with win

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DETROIT — One was expected. The other two maybe not so much.

No matter what you might have predicted, Marc-Andre Fleury, Blake Comeau and Oskar Sundqvist combined to carry the Penguins to a 2-0 victory over the Red Wings in their preseason finale Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena.

Comeau scored in the second period, his team-high fourth point of the preseason.

Sundqvist, in a quest to make the opening night roster, notched his second goal of a surprise camp.

Fleury stopped all 25 shots he faced and finished 2-1 in three preseason starts, stopping 62 of 65 shots over eight periods.

The win helped the Penguins (3-3) avoid their first sub-.500 preseason since 2009-10.

“I think it’s good for my confidence, to go into the regular season,” Fleury said. “You don’t always look at the numbers, but I’m trying to work on the little things.”

Whether Sundqvist makes the opening night roster is yet to be determined, but this much is certain: He’s made the decision tough with three points and two goals in five preseason games, including points in three straight.

“He’s led to a lot of conversation between our coaching staff and management,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said “He’s had a very good preseason. Every game, no matter where I seem to play him, if he’s with very experienced players or he’s in more of a checking situation, he seems to have responded.”

Sundqvist, who’s a 6-foot-3, 209-pound center from Sweden, was plenty happy with his preseason … and understandably so.

“I think it went pretty good,” Sundqvist said. “Came here not expecting that much out of myself. It’s been better and better every day.”

Comeau, whom the Penguins signed to a one-year contract for $700,000 on July 1, led all Penguins players this preseason with four points.

His versatility is something that has intrigued Johnston and members of Penguins management.
Comeau scored 24 goals with the Islanders in 2010-11 and established a career-high with 197 hits while playing for the Blue Jackets in 2013-14.

The only downer, of course, was the fact that Comeau took three penalties against the Red Wings.

“If you look at the way he’s handled the puck, you look at his poise with the puck in the offensive zone, he’s a quick player down the wing,” Johnston said. “Another right-handed shot who can carry the puck on the outside with some speed. He’s got scoring chances every game he’s been in.”

Another important part of Wednesday’s win was captain Sidney Crosby playing his first and only preseason game with no setbacks.

He finished with seven shots in 18:47, despite a few minor adjustments to Johnston’s new system.

“I think there was a couple times where I had to think where I needed to be,” Crosby said. “Usually when you’re doing that, you’re not in the right spot. It’s just a matter of trusting where you need to go.”

Club’s doing their own thing Thursday and Friday. Practice Saturday and Sunday.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 1, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m.

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DETROIT — Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is back and centering a line with Chris Kunitz to his left and Patric Hornqvist to his right.

Previously, Crosby has said he prefers two or three preseason games to get ready. That’s not feasible this season, both because of an undisclosed injury early in camp and recently the death of his grandmother.

Will it be enough to get ready for the opener a week from tomorrow?

“Yeah, I think ideally you would get at least a couple (games),” Crosby said after the Penguins’ morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. “But that’s not the scenario. I’m not going to complain about it. I’m going to try to make the most of this game and get ready for the season.”

The top line is an interesting combination. Kunitz and Hornqvist are both go-to-the-net guys, and Crosby’s regular right wing, Pascal Dupuis, is playing left wing on the second line with center Brandon Sutter and right wing Steve Downie.

I get that they’re trying to take a look at what 14-87-72 looks like. I’m not banking on that becoming a permanent combination. Why, you ask?

Penguins coach Mike Johnston has previously gone on record as saying he prefers lines to have a mix of skills, talents and tendencies. Kunitz and Hornqvist are too similar, in my opinion, to align with that preference. But we’ll see, right?

“We’re going to take a look — as we have through the preseason here — at some different combinations of plays and see how they work together,” Johnston said. “We’re going to take a look at that one tonight.”

Johnston pointed to Hornqvist begin a right-handed shot as one reason he’s intrigued to see what the combination can do.

Hornqvist talked this morning about playing with Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg — international competition; they’re both Swedish — and how different it is playing with a dynamic center.

“They can make things happen from nothing,” Hornqvist said. “That’s why they’re so good. It always seems like they have that extra half-second out there. They have it every game. It’s not just luck. They’re born with it.”

News out of the skate: Not much. Daniel Carcillo (foot) will play. Penguins still have to remove someone because Carcillo was a late addition. That has not happened yet. Jeff Zatkoff was the last goalie off the ice, which means it’s probably going to be Thomas Greiss who serves as the backup to starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Read as much into that one as you’d like.

TV/Radio: Root/NHL Network/105.9 FM

About Detroit: The Red Wings are coming off a 3-0 win over Toronto on Monday. … G Petr Mrazek, who will likely play in the American Hockey League this season, made 27 saves. … D Nick Jensen, C Riley Sheahan and RW Tomas Jurco had the goals, with Jurco’s an empty-netter late. … Each team had eight power plays. Detroit converted twice. … Sheahan added an assist. … Big names in the Red Wings’ lineup Wednesday include: LW Justin Abdelkader, RW Gustav Nyquist, Sheahan, Tatar, C Henrik Zetterberg, D Niklas Kronwall and LW Johan Franzen.

The series: Detroit won the preseason opener for both teams, 2-1, at Consol Energy Center on Sept. 22. … Beau Bennett had the Penguins’ lone goal. … Pavel Datsyuk tallied a goal and an assist for the Red Wings, but a hit by Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi knocked him from the game. Turns out it’s a separated shoulder that will keep Datsyuk out until late October.

Next up: Regular season/home opener, Thursday, Oct. 9 vs. Ducks, 7 p.m.

Links
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ lineup
The Red Wings’ home page
NHL.com’s preview page

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October 1, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Lineup for Pens at Red Wings

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Here’s who will play for the Penguins tonight at Detroit. Sidney Crosby’s in, Kasperi Kapanen’s out. As expected, still no Evgeni Malkin.

Head coach Mike Johnston said yesterday that D Olli Maatta won’t play, meaning he will have missed all six preseason games.

D Brian Dumoulin is out. Will be interesting to see whether Harrington has edged past him for the 6/7 defense spot or what.

4 Rob Scuderi D
6 Scott Harrington D
7 Paul Martin D
9 Pascal Dupuis F
10 Christian Ehrhoff D
13 Nick Spaling F
14 Chris Kunitz F
16 Brandon Sutter F
17 Blake Comeau F
23 Steve Downie F
27 Craig Adams F
38 Zach Sill F
47 Simon Despres D
49 Oskar Sundqvist F
57 Marcel Goc F
58 Kris Letang D
72 Patric Hornqvist F
87 Sidney Crosby F

1 Thomas Greiss G
29 Marc-Andre Fleury G
37 Jeff Zatkoff G

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October 1, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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The Penguins vs. Darryl Sutter

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The Penguins changed plans Tuesday afternoon. Instead of going away for a two-day retreat Thursday and Friday of this week, they’re staying in Pittsburgh for team-bonding activities.

Head coach Mike Johnston explained today the team is bringing in a company called MGI, also known as the Matishak Group.

MGI is an Edmonton-based organization that touts relationship building and cultivating leaders within a particular group. This is done through activities and games.

Essentially the Penguins are trying to fast-track chemistry and leadership by contracting with an outside service.

Silly? You be the judge. It certainly won’t seem silly if they start 10-0. It’ll seem ridiculous if they go winless in their first 10.

Given his recent comments to the Los Angeles Times, however, I’m guessing Kings coach Darryl Sutter wouldn’t want to participate in whatever the Penguins will be doing.

“I’m not into that, what you hear about go climbing ropes and going to a fort somewhere,” Sutter told Jon Rosen. “You do most of your bonding in May and June, quite honest.”

Ouch.

Then this …

“If you need to go somewhere to learn about your personality, then you probably have a disorder.”

Here’s a link to the Sutter story.

A little strong, sure. I’m pretty sure the Penguins don’t all have disorders. But give the man credit for voicing his opinion.

In any case, Johnston seems pretty fired up about this thing.

Here’s what he had to say when I asked Tuesday afternoon about what would transpire Thursday and Friday.

“We have a group coming in from Edmonton that I’ve worked with before,” Johnston said. “They do a lot on group dynamics. It’s a combination of personality traits of your group. We’re going to have our coaches, trainers and everybody with us. Everybody who travels with us. We’re going to do some games.

“What it does in the end is it tells some core strengths of your group. They’ll will talk to us as a coaching staff about how to deal with that type of group. With these core strengths, here’s how they’re best coached. It’s good information for us.

“Final thing is just a chance for the guys to get together. Training camp, you come in, doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or a rookie. There’s a lot of people around. Now it’s just the team. We’ll be down to smaller numbers. It’ll be a chance for us to enjoy some time together as a small group.”

Wednesday’s #TribHKY links:
Despres relishing role on Penguins blue line
Notebook: Malkin picture muddy

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September 30, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Extras from Monday night in Minnesota

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Pascal Dupuis played in a hockey game, and his knee responded just fine. Steve Downie flashed some offensive skill. The battle to back up Marc-Andre Fleury in goal may be nearing a close, with Thomas Greiss a step ahead of Jeff Zatkoff.

Monday’s preseason game at Minnesota didn’t offer much in the way of a final score — Jason Pominville’s natural hat trick produced a 4-1 Wild win — there were a few more subtle storylines.

Dupuis had not played since Dec. 23, 2013, when he tore his ACL and MCL in a game at the Ottawa Senators. In 16 minutes, 28 seconds of ice time at XCel Energy Center, Dupuis was a minus-1, committed two penalties, tallied four shots, dished out two hits and blocked a shot.

Perfect? No. Better than Dupuis wearing a red, non-contact jersey? Absolutely.

Dupuis played on the right wing of a line that include Chris Kunitz at left wing and Nick Spaling at center.

“It’s all about getting into the flow and knowing what it feels like, what it’s supposed to feel like,” Dupuis said. “I’ve played enough games to know what it should feel and look like when I play. I’m not there yet, but it’s a big step.”

The Penguins practice Tuesday in Detroit and play the Red Wings at 7:30 Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.

Greiss, an offseason free agent acquisition, may have locked down the backup goaltender job ahead of Zatkoff, the incumbent. He stopped eight of nine shots Monday and looked more sound positionally, more comfortable in the crease.

Zatkoff wasn’t helped by a Pominville shot through traffic and a rebound that made him scramble a bit to try and stop the rebound stuff — which, obviously, didn’t happen.

“I went in and worked hard,” Zatkoff said. “I tried to work hard in practice every day and played well in the games. We’ll see what happens.”

Minnesota had only 17 shots in the game, meaning there was a lot of downtime for the goalies. Actually, the Penguins are allowing an average of 18 shots on goal over their past preseason games.

“I thought both guys were good,” Johnston said of Zatkoff and Greiss. “I thought Greiss looked really calm in the net to start the game. When you don’t have a lot of shots, you have to make sure you’re ready for when they take place.”

Some troubling trends continued. The Penguins allowed three goals in the third, bringing that total to six over five preseason games. They’ve coughed up five power play goals in five games. And the Penguins didn’t score on the power play, dropping that number to 12.5 percent through 16 chances.

One plus side was Downie, who had a beautiful finish on Letang’s shot in the second. He’s tough, but he also has hands. Just the other day I was watching Downie — a former first-round draft pick — stickhandle at practice, and it’s not what you would expect from a third-line tough guy.

“Downie has really good skill,” Johnston said. “Watch how he works the corners. He has a good stick down there. He has his head up all the time. He can make plays. A guy like him not only provides energy, but he is a threat.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

Tuesday’s #TribHKY Links
Healthy again, Dupuis savors game action
Wild beat Pens behind Pominville’s hat trick

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September 29, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Minnesota, 8 p.m.

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So here we are, the fifth preseason game, a mere eight hours away from the expected debuts of Pascal Dupuis and Daniel Carcillo. Captain Sidney Crosby was a late scratch because of his grandmother’s funeral.

Tonight’s game at Minnesota also represents one of the last chances for the backup goalie job to be determined, as Thomas Greiss and Jeff Zatkoff will play about 30 minutes apiece, head coach Mike Johnston said. Greiss will start … and it was determined by a coin flip, or at least that’s what Johnston said.

News out of the skate:: A lot. … D Olli Maatta (shoulder) has not been cleared but will practice in Detroit on Tuesday. He will be evaluated there to see whether he can play Wednesday. … Johnston said D Robert Bortuzzo will be out three to five weeks. Bortuzzo left Thursday’s game against Minnesota early with an apparent knee injury, though Johnston didn’t specify the nature of Bortuzzo’s injury. … Johnston said he plans on using Crosby, F Chris Kunitz and C Evgeni Malkin to kill penalties. … Malkin has not yet skated. … D Derrick Pouliot is skating in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

To get ready, here are five questions I have for tonight:

1. Where does Kasperi Kapanen play? His goal Saturday was a thing of beauty. His play at Columbus earlier last week was not. From what I’ve seen, Kapanen looks much more comfortable playing with skilled players, not grinders. With Crosby out, how does head coach Mike Johnston mix and match his top two lines, which will likely include wingers Kapanen, Dupuis, Kunitz and Hornqvist? Nick Spaling was a late replacement for Crosby, but could he be your top line center? Will be interesting, for sure. Have to play Kapanen in the top six.

2. Who wins the backup goalie job? Don’t be naive enough to think it’s all riding on tonight; Zatkoff and Greiss been evaluated continually throughout camp. But if someone gives up four goals and looks badly out of position, I doubt that will qualify as a ringing endorsement.

3. What will the defensive pairings look like? Bortuzzo hasn’t skated since incurring what looked to be a knee injury with about eight minutes left in last Thursday’s Minnesota game. Remember, Maatta not yet been cleared. Which leaves us with something like Kris Letang-Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin, Simon Despres … then, what? Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington have a chance to make an impression tonight, probably even more so given Philip Samuellson was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this morning.

4. What will Carcillo do? There aren’t many questions about what he can do, but given the fact that he’s on the cusp of a roster spot, you think he tries to offer a bit of a reminder? Me think so.

5. How’s Dupuis’ knee? He’s looked great so far, no setbacks, only the first six days of non-contact limitations. The speed’s been there. Dupuis he hasn’t played an NHL game since last December. It’s debatable whether some preseason games qualify as actual NHL comeptition, but having him in the lineup — even if it’s not necessarily on Crosby’s wing — wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

News out of the skate:

TV/Radio: Root/105.9 FM

About Minnesota: Offseason acquisition F Thomas Vanek is expected to make his home debut for the Wild. … G Darcy Kuemper is expected to play the entire game. … A fairly decent lineup will play: forwards Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Vanek and Matt Cooke, as well as defenseman Ryan Suter. … This is the third preseason game for Minnesota. … The Wild are 2-1 and coming off a 4-3 home victory over Winnipeg on Saturday that included three power play goals.

The series: Pittsburgh secured an overtime win, 3-2, at Consol Energy Center on Thursday, Sept. 25. … C Brandon Sutter tapped in the rebound from a Simon Despres shot at 2 minutes, 23 seconds of overtime to finish off a two-goal, four-shot performance. … Zatkoff stopped 16 of 18 shots while playing a full 60. … Despres added a pair of primary assists.


Next up: Wednesday at Detroit, 7:30 p.m.

Links
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ home page
The Wild’s home page
NHL.com’s preview

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September 28, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pens’ lineup for Monday’s game at Wild

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Here’s a look at the Penguins’ lineup for Monday’s preseason game at Minnesota.

Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Daniel Carcillo will make their preseason debuts.

6 Scott Harrington D

7 Paul Martin D

8 Brian Dumoulin D

9 Pascal Dupuis F

10 Christian Ehrhoff D

12 Daniel Carcillo F

14 Chris Kunitz F

17 Blake Comeau F

23 Steve Downie F

25 Andrew Ebbett F

27 Craig Adams F

38 Zach Sill F

42 Kasperi Kapanen F

49 Oskar Sundqvist F

55 Philip Samuelsson D

58 Kris Letang D

72 Patric Hornqvist F

87 Sidney Crosby F

1 Thomas Greiss G

37 Jeff Zatkoff G

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September 28, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Some fun with numbers

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Four games is hardly a huge sample size.

But it is enough to provide at least a tiny peak into how the Penguins plan to play this year.

In my mind, anyway.

Through four games this preseason, the Penguins are averaging 33.3 hits per game. They averaged 26.4 per game in 2013-14. The Penguins are on pace for 2,731 hits over an 82-game regular season. Columbus and Los Angeles tied for the league lead last year with 2,609.

Penguins goalies are seeing an average of 23.0 shots per game, down from 28.8 a season ago. The current number, again, would have led the league in 2013-14.

A third eye-popping stat so far is faceoff wins. The Penguins are 117-101 in the faceoff circle for a success rate of 53.7 percent. Top team in the NHL last season? Nashville at 53.1 percent.

One stat that doesn’t represent a drastic improvement is blocked shots. The Penguins averaged 14.5 per game in 2013-14 but are current getting 12.0 per game, a number that would have had them ranked 27th out of 30 teams.

Take that last number with a grain of salt, though, because the Penguins have 32 blocked shots over their past two games — both wins — after totaling just 16 in the first two.

“I think you can see the work ethic,” said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 18 of 19 in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Columbus. “Saturday) in the game, you see a little more how many blocked shots there were, guys going back hard and trying to get in shooting lanes.”

The club is off today. They skate at 11 a.m. Monday at Consol Energy Center, then travel to Minnesota for an 8 p.m. game at Xcel Energy Center.

Enjoy Sunday everyone.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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September 27, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Columbus, 4 p.m.

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Differences between old and new have been discussed a time or two Consol Energy Center over the past eight days.

What Dan did. What Mike does. How far along Mike is. The defense jumps in. Speed, pace and puck-possession. Not shortage of common topics.

Here’s one new wrinkle that’s about to become extremely relevant: The stars are coming back. Forward Chris Kunitz will play today against Columbus. Sidney Crosby was supposed to play, but the death of his grandma has him traveling back to Nova Scotia to be with family.

If all continues to go well, defenseman Olli Maatta and forward Pascal Dupuis could play Monday at Minnesota and Wednesday at Detroit.

No, nothing new on Evgeni Malkin. Except for this. Still hasn’t skated. Four or five days away, head coach Mike Johnston said.

Crosby said he prefers to play two or three games in the preseason game and that it’s tough to replicate game action in practice. If he’s back from Nova Scotia by Monday, the most he could get is two in three days.

As for the system and Johnston’s style of play, we know this: He likes shooting the puck, he likes player who can skate, and he likes the defense to join the rush. Johnston also doesn’t have everything installed yet.

Here’s his (long-winded) answer to a question posed by the legendary Mike Lange on how far along he is installing things:

“It’s a work in progress,” Johnston said. “What we try to do every game is we take the building blocks from the last game. The Detroit game, there were some bits and pieces. The Columbus game, I thought there was a big chunk of what we did was exactly how we wanted to play (42 shots).

“(Thursday), at times I thought we were really good. Minnesota forced us to make some mistakes with the puck that we’ll have to learn from.

“But as we review video every day, we review the game. We start to build on what we’re doing. How long does it take with a new group and a new coaching staff? Sometimes it takes a little bit to get everything ingrained. But we’re trying to make sure the most important things are set and ready for Anaheim.”

News out of the skate: No skate this morning. Only a non-game group practice, and those guys weren’t available to the media. Head coach Mike Johnston will talk today at 2 p.m., seemingly to address Beau Bennett’s situation after further testing that went on yesterday. Here’s guessing he’ll also get asked about Crosby.

TV/Radio: : CW/NHL Network/105.9 FM

About Columbus: Blue Jackets are 4-0 in the preseason and are coming off a 5-4 win at St. Louis on Thursday. … Columbus went 3 for 7 on the power play in that game and are clicking at a 28-percent rate with the man-advantage this preseason. … Five different players scored Columbus’ goals against the Blues.


The series: Columbus earned a 2-0 win over the Penguins at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 23. … Michael Chaput and Cam Atkinson (empty net) had the goals for Columbus. … Thomas Greiss played the entire game in goal for the Penguins and stopped 26 of 27 shots. … Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s expected to play today for Columbus, made 30 saves in two periods as the Penguins rang up 42 shots.


Next up: Monday at Minnesota, 8 p.m.

Links


The Trib’s Penguins page

The Penguins’ own gameday page

The Blue Jackets’ gameday page

NHL.com’s preview

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