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October 7, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: How many games will Fleury play?

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Mike Johnston could’ve brushed off the question.

He could have talked around it.

Or even downright lied.

But he didn’t.

Johnston said today that he expects goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to play about 60 games, a lesser workload than he’s seen in the past.

Excluding the lockout, Fleury’s games played dating back to 2008-09 look like this: 64 games, 67, 65, 67 and 62.

“There’s no set number,” Johnston said … before proceeding to set a number. “We want to probably push the high 50s, low 60s, somewhere in there. Sixty, probably, I would think, for sure.”

Maybe it’s semantics, maybe not. Maybe the “60 range” — as Johnston later said — means 64, 67, 65, 67 or 62. But he started out saying high 50s, low 60s, which seems like Thomas Greiss might see a few more chances that Jeff Zatkoff did last season.

Greiss downplayed the question the other day of whether he was competing with Fleury for additional starts.

“We’ll see what happens,” Greiss said.

>>So, that roster thing was funky, no? Defenseman Scott Harrington to Wilkes-Barre, forward Oskar Sundqvist to Sweden, three guys to Wheeling.

Settle. It’s not that big of deal. The three guys in Wheeling are there because it’s easy to bring them back. It also makes the Penguins cap compliant. Kasperi Kapanen is in Finland, which would make an appearance for him on opening night nothing less than a modern miracle.

I was told by one source to not read too much into what the Penguins do over the next 48 hours. So don’t.

>>Patric Hornqvist practiced on a line with center Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin today. Think he was happy about it?

“Can’t ask for anything better than that,” Hornqvist said. “Probably the two best players in the world. See what happens on opening night, if Geno’s going to play or not and go from there.”

>>An underwritten has been forward Blake Comeau, the team’s preseason scoring leader. (Serious, look it up.)

Comeau was an offseason acquisition after he was underutilized in Columbus the past two seasons, scoring a total of seven goals while averaging around 12 minutes of ice time.

Don’t expect a huge jump in the ice time, but the line of Comeau, Marcel Goc and Nick Spaling does have the potential to do some impressive things. Remember, Comeau scored 24 goals with the Islanders in 2010-11, so putting the puck in the net is not a completely foreign concept to him.

Using those three together also frees up Steve Downie to potentially play in a top-six role if the Penguins need him to.

“I think the coaching staff and the people who brought me in here know that I’m a physical power forward,” Comeau said. “Since I left New York, my numbers have dropped off a little bit. But I’m excited to expanded my role and get back to contributing offensively like I know I can.”

>>Quote of the day went to defenseman Olli Maatta. Asked how the pairing with Paul Martin has gone, Maatta responded: “You can put anybody with Paul, and it’ll be good. He’s that good of a player.”

Drew a nice laugh. The young Finn is quickly becoming a very underrated quote.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 6, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Pens work with skills coach

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If you’ve been wondering who the heck the Penguins have been skating with before practice the past two days, you’re not alone.

On Saturday and Sunday, 7-10 players took the ice about 45 minutes early for extra skill work with Tomas Pacina, a consultant for this sort of thing that coach Mike Johnston used when he was with the Portland Winterhawks.

Here’s an interesting read that mentions Pacina, who also worked with Penguins senior advisor of hockey operations Jacques Martin when he was head coach with the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens.

“He works on puck skills, passing skills and deception skills for defensemen and forwards,” Johnston said. “As I told the players, you can’t change your skills in one practice or two practices. I know that. What we’re trying to do is give them a framework of three or four things they could work on all year.”

Pacina worked with the forwards Saturday, then with the defensemen — plus center Evgeni Malkin — Sunday.

The forwards included Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie, Patric Hornqvist and Oskar Sundqvist. Those joining Malkin were Simon Despres, Rob Scuderi, Taylor Chorney, Scott Harrington, Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff.

Did some Google searching, and Pacina actually used to be married to Hayley Wickenheiser, who’s the captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Johnston said Pacina will be back this season, and the Penguins hope to continue the skills work into next summer’s development camp.

He also said Pacina had trained Crosby and others at altitude in Vail, Colo., although I found no independent verification on this and haven’t had a chance to check with Crosby.

Pacina did work with Jarome Iginla, according to this story.

“It’s a very focused session,” Johnston said. “It’s not a bunch of different things for everybody. It’s three or four skills that we really want in our players.”

>>Johnston was asked what I thought was a rather excellent question Sunday: All this end-of-practice skating … is this a personal preference, or is there something lacking in Pittsburgh that you thought needed addressed?

His answer:

“Nothing that I felt needed to be addressed; it’s just a personal preference. I believe that if you want to be a speed team, you want to be a tempo team, there’s two things you have to see.

“One is you have to do some quick drills in practice where it’s high tempo and high speed; you react at speeds. It’s not a long time in between drills when you’re changing sides; it’s fast, so we get the pace moving.

“(Saturday) we did longer sprints, but it’s four days before a game. Each day you shorten it up and you get the mindset of quicker, quicker, quicker as you’re leading into games. Short sprints. Seven, eight or 10 seconds, but it gets the feet moving, it gets that mindset going that we’re going to be a quick team, we’re going to a pace team, we’re going to be a tempo team. Half of it is setting the mindset in practice.”

Club’s off tomorrow. Will tweet out links to the start of daily preview pages in the morning.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 4, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: What does it all mean?

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The Penguins made a few roster moves today, and that’s probably a good thing.

If nothing else than from a logistical standpoint.

The team put goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, forwards Zach Sill and Andrew Ebbett and defenseman Taylor Chorney on waivers. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Bobby Farnham were reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

What does this mean?

Well, in terms of actually hockey it means that:

>>Thomas Greiss will back up Marc-Andre Fleury this season.

Not exactly a shock here given that general manager Jim Rutherford — a former goalie himself — signed Greiss while his existing backup (Zatkoff) had another year left on his contract.

But again, what does this mean?

For now, it likely means that Greiss can move to the other side of the locker room, into the larger stall that Zatkoff once occupied. (Teams have until Sunday at noon to claim him; I believe someone will.)

Or maybe he’ll stay put. Greiss insisted that he liked his seat and wasn’t necessarily in a rush to move.

“I like sitting next to Marc,” Greiss said. “It’s pretty nice talking to him and chatting about goalie things. I don’t mind.”

No word on what “goalie things” are. Or if Greiss, a man of few words, has ever made small talk about anything with anyone.

If Greiss doesn’t move, bet on Kasperi Kapanen or Oskar Sundqvist — or maybe both — to take one of the vacant lockers. Poor kids were sitting on two folding chairs Saturday in the front of the Penguins locker room.

>>So what do the other moves mean?
Well, they mean the Penguins are confident enough in Scott Harrington as a sixth defenseman.

Depending on how Olli Maatta’s shoulder responds to some ramped up contact — so good so far — Harrington could possibly be in the lineup for opening night next Thursday at home against Anaheim.

“Scott Harrington has had a very good camp,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “He’s stepped up in the games in London through the preseason. I thought he’s played very well in every game.

“The type of defenseman that he is, he’s a puck-moving defenseman who can jump up into the play, but he is very solid defensively. He’s got great defensive positioning. We really trust him in his own zone.

“We’ll sort out who’s going to be in the lineup on Thursday over the next couple days, but obviously by him staying here right now, he’s right there in the mix.”

>>You may have heard that Evgeni Malkin skated Saturday. Say someone claims Sill and Malkin’s healthy enough to go Thursday, you’re probably going to scratch one among the following group: Kapanen, Sundqvist, Craig Adams or Nick Spaling.

Adams and Spaling are solid PK guys, and Johnston said today he wants three forward pairings, each with one guy who can take draws. That fits Spaling.

I think they’re intrigued by what Kapanen can bring on the second line, at least enough to give him a nine-game look. Which would mean Sundqvist and Adams are battling for the final, fourth line spot. If Malkin can’t go, they both make it.

We shall see, right? Practice tomorrow at 11.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 3, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Marshall: Examining Patric Hornqvist

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The Penguins did not bring in Nikolai Kulemin as many thought to play with Evgeni Malkin. They traded for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling from Nashville, giving up James Neal.

Will it work? No way of knowing yet.

But in the first of what I hope will be many appearances, local analytics expert Jesse Marshall takes a closer look at Hornqvist according to advanced metrics.

Anyway, here’s Marshall on Hornqvist:

Patric Hornqvist is arriving to the Penguins with a fairly high standard of expectation.

Although we haven’t seen Evgeni Malkin in the preseason, the indications point to Hornqvist being the pseudo-replacement for James Neal on the Penguins second line.

If you’ve been following along with the Penguins in the preseason, you’ve probably already noticed Hornqvist living up to his billing as a net-front presence in each of his appearances in his exhibition appearances.

While Hornqvist is an extremely different beast than the 40-goal scoring winger he’s replacing, there’s a good bit of information within advanced metrics that give us a good idea of what to expect from the newcomer.

Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d call a possession monster. In fact, 48% of all shooting attempts on target (blocked shots, saves, missed shots, etc.) belonged to the Predators last year. That number was good for 23rd in the NHL last season.

That being said, the Predators performed at a higher possession clip with Hornqvist on the ice. He clicked at 51% in the Corsi category for the Predators in 2013-14, a number that is two percent higher than the Penguins clicked at as a whole.

If it’s possession that head coach Mike Johnston covets, he may have found a gem in Hornqvist. He was on the ice for a total of 1,017 shooting attempts for the predators last season and managed to eat up 125 hits last season, a number that is 70 more than ex-Malkin linemate Neal.

It’s also worth mentioning here that advanced metrics tell us that Hornqvist played against the toughest competition of anyone on Nashville’s roster last season and did so with teammates that we can best describe with the term “underwhelming.”

That volume of shot attempts can probably be accounted for by understanding where Hornqvist can be found in the offensive zone. Hornqvist had 19 tip-in attempts and 10 wrap-around attempts last season. Those 29 combined attempts are 11 more than Neal had from that net-front area.

Let’s take a look at Hornqvist’s shot and goal heat map provided by Sporting Charts.

HORN-1

There’s a lot of red around that crease.

While I don’t think we can definitely say that the Penguins had a problem with net-front presence last year, adding an able body like Hornqvist is never a bad thing. In fact, since the retirement of Tomas Holmstrom in Detroit, you might be hard-pressed to find a better net front presence in the NHL today.

With Malkin being the type of center that has a booming shot and a general tendency to increase the productivity of his linemates, the 22 goals that Hornqvist scored for Nashville last season might be due to take a giant bump for the Penguins this year.

Marshall started his own website called Faceoff-Factor. He currently writes for The Pensblog.

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October 3, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Surprised a bit by Joe Louis Arena

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I was warned.

Joe Louis Arena is a dump, I was told. Worst in the league. You’ll hate it. Just wait for the new place to open. Things will be so much better.

Have to admit, I kind of liked the Joe. Don’t know what it is.

Maybe it’s the surprisingly beautiful walk along the river from my hotel to the rink.

Or the killer music — Green Day, Weezer and more — played during games.

Or the sense that something special happened here.

The Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, sure, but there’s so much more. The rafters are packed full with banners. In the home dressing room, pictures of Red Wings legends hang above players’ lockers.

The seats and concourse level reminded me, honestly, of Mellon Arena. Your shoes stick to the cement when you walk to your seat. There are urinal troughs in the men’s restrooms.

Some rows of seats are visibly — and strangely — cockeyed. There’s a ring of seats around the very top of the building, much like the F-level balcony at Mellon Arena.

I got a bit of an unwanted tour Wednesday afternoon, as I tried to find an area lit well enough to film a Cinesport video, which prove damned near impossible.

I guess because I didn’t realize at the time that the directions to the press level went something like this: walk out of the press lounge, turn right when you reach the trash compactor and go through the door with the no re-entry sign on it. Proceed to walk alone up about 10 flights of steps.

Finally I did make it to the press box, which is located atop the first level of seats, directly behind the final row of fans.

The Joe’s press row isn’t carpeted. There’s no buffet table with pretzel nuggets, three different kinds of chips, goldfish, raw vegetables, popcorn, soda, water and coffee.

No, not JLA’s style.

On Wednesday night there was a ripped-open bag of popcorn, and the drinks were in the same type of cooler that you’d see at a Giant Eagle checkout line.

Basically my point in all of this rambling is that, in a world where the Next Big Thing seems to be the norm, it’s refreshing to have something different.

To have memories and history beat dollars and cents, even if it was only for a day.

It was Jim Rutherford who told me no building finds its true identity until there’s a champion crowned in it.

I think he’s right.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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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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