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November 25, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: The goal that delivered No. 300

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BOSTON – I wrote about Marc-Andre Fleury for Tuesday’s paper, and rightfully so. He did, after all, win his 300th game with a 3-2 overtime decision over Boston at TD Garden.

Did it faster than everybody except for Martin Brodeur and Terry Sawchuk, too.

But I just as easily could have focused on the game-winning goal, a three-on-two rush in overtime that saw captain Sidney Crosby pass to Evgeni Malkin for a one-timer that Malkin buried past Tuukka Rask from the right circle.

“We (were) three-on-two,” Malkin said. “I know Sid (was) looking to me because we (were) three-on-two. Sid (is a) good assist guy. He passed me (the puck). I (tried) to shoot it hard.”

Which Malkin did.

And it worked because Kris Letang, a defenseman, provided the center drive.

“I was just trying to buy time for Sid to make a play,” Letang said. “I was not trying to get the puck there. I was trying to rush and push that D-man.”

That coach Mike Johnston had Crosby and Malkin on the ice together in a four-on-four situation was notable.

“We tried it a couple games ago, and I really like them together,” Johnston said. “I was hesitant early in the year. I wanted to get a little bit of balance, but I thought they had some great chemistry.”

But …

“What made the play was Letang going to the net,” Johnston said. “He went right through the middle of the ice and created a little bit of hesitation by their defense. It’s nice to have that option, for sure.”

Johnston confirmed that Beau Bennett suffered an injury with about 7:30 to go in the second period during a hit from Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller.

Johnston said Bennett could have played, but he didn’t want to push him.

“Beau got injured in the second period,” Johnston said. “We didn’t feel in the third that it was worth pushing him. We’ll revaluate it tonight just to see. They felt that he could go back out. He tried it. I just didn’t think he was sharp. Sometimes when that happens, that he’s not fully ready to play, it’s better to put somebody else in.”

Johnston was also happy with Jayson Megna, who made his season debut. Megna finished with four hits and no shot attempts in 8:39 while playing on the fourth line with Marcel Goc and Craig Adams.

“I compliment Megs tonight,” Johnston said. “We talked about adding him to the roster and coming up, a young guy, he’s played well in Wilkes. I thought he had a really good game tonight. You could see his speed dangerous out there.”

Club practices tomorrow. Josh Yohe will have your coverage. I’ll be traveling back from Boston.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 24, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Bruins, 7 p.m.

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BOSTON – It hasn’t been worse than this.

The Penguins went 0-1-1 against Philadelphia and Detroit Oct. 22-23, same as they are after the Islanders swept them in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday.

One was in a shootout, the other at Nassau Coliseum.

Neither, as forward Patric Horqnvist said following the Penguins’ gameday skate at TD Garden, was acceptable, as the Penguins try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.

“This is a big game for us,” Hornqvist said. “We have to get out there, put our work boots on and really work hard.

“We didn’t play good enough on (Long) Island. You can lose. But you can’t lose the way we did. We need to get back on track.”

The Penguins (13-4-2) are playing a depleted Bruins (13-9-0) team that started five rookies last game.

Brad Marchand is a game-time decision, the same as 2014 first-round pick David Pastrnack, who’s not injured but could make his NHL debut. Chris Kelly and David Krejci are out.

The Bruins have lost 53 man-games to injury, but don’t expect the Penguins to be broken up about it; they missed 529 last season.

Watch center Patrice Bergeron tonight. For my money, he’s the best faceoff guy in the league. He ranks third in percentage at 59.5 but has the most total wins. He regularly posts killer Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

For the Penguins, forward Chris Kunitz hasn’t done much of late, with one point over his past six games, and he acknowledged as much this morning.

“I have to get back to being successful by going to certain areas, being physical, getting on the forecheck,” Kunitz said. “It’s something I haven’t been doing as of late. Got to shake things up and go out there and earn everything you need.”

Make no mistake, this is a crucial game. It could mean a three-game losing streak and a bunch or questions about what’s wrong with the Penguins’ top forwards.

Or it could be a much-needed rebound.

“It’s important that losing to the Islanders in a shootout and losing to them on their ice, we come back with a good game here,” coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s important for our game.”

Seems almost like an afterthought given the juggling on the Penguins’ top lines, but Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal tonight, his second crack at getting win No. 300.

News out of the skate: The Penguins did some line shuffling. Sidney Crosby skated between Nick Spaling and Hornqvist. Evgeni Malkin was between Kunitz and Blake Comeau on the second line. … Zach Sill stayed out for some extra work, an indication that Jayson Megna could play in his place. … Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara skated on his own early at TD Garden. Chara tore the PCL in his left knee on Oct. 23 and has missed the past 14 games; the Bruins are 9-4-0 during that stretch.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM

About the Bruins: They’re banged up. Bad. Krejci, Marchand and Kelly missed Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Canadiens. Ditto for defenseman Chara and Adam McQuaid, who’s also out. … Bergeron (5-11—16) leads the Bruins in goals (tied with Carl Soderberg and Seth Griffith) and points. … You might have heard of goaltender Tuukka Rask, who’s 10-6-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. Rask was the first goalie off at the skate and will start.

The series: Seems hard to believe, but the Penguins are 7-1-1 in their last nine against Boston and 6-1-1 in their last eight visits to TD Garden, although they were 0-1-1 here last season. … Penguins went 1-1-1 in the season series against the Bruins in 2013-14, despite outshooting Boston, 92-68, in those three games. … They scored on three of 10 power plays and the PK was five for six. … Kunitz, coincidentally, has a nine-game points streak against Boston dating back to Feb. 4, 2012.

Up next: Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

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

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November 24, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Penalty minutes are dumb

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When it comes to penalty minutes, we’re all a bunch of toddlers.

We want them, until we have them.

This struck me after I reported and wrote today’s story on Steve Downie finding a balance between toughness and excessiveness.

Downie has been in the penalty box quite a bit. His actions have put the Penguins a man down quite a bit.

So?

Isn’t that the point of a player like Downie?

Look, don’t take this as an I-wish-I-didn’t-write-what-I-wrote kind of deal. It’s not. It’s a story because the coach, Mike Johnston, said it’s something that needs addressed, which makes it a story.

My point here and now is that our infatuation with penalty minutes is stupid. Either we want them or we don’t. There’s no “good penalty minutes” or “bad penalty minutes.”

You can’t play on the edge half of the time, then suddenly erupt and start beating someone’s head with your fists the next.

It would be like eating at Golden Corral, then deciding on Friday you’re going to run marathons. One kind of prevents the other.

My point here is that, in the Season of Analytics or whatever people way smarter than me are calling it these days, shouldn’t there be a better metric for players like Downie?

Such as times where he stuck up for an opponent, like when he waited like a “German Sheppard” – a classic Josh Yohe line that I’ll never forget – when Sidney Crosby was jawing with Jaroslav Halak earlier this year.

Or when his mere presence allows the Penguins’ stars to breathe a little easier when things get chippy.

Or if an opponent takes a cheap shot, and you know you could put Downie on the ice the next shift.

It’s a little different than telling Marcel Goc that, because he’s on the fourth line, he has to go fight someone. Or Craig Adams.

Plus, there’s a locker room aspect of Downie’s game that doesn’t make its way to the analytics community.

He’s well-liked. He’s a good human. I remember when I introduced myself to Downie, he immediately extended his hand and was as welcoming as can be.

Still is.

Which makes it a shame that the same way to properly measure his game is also the same way to criticize his game.

It would be like saying Crosby scores in the second period too much. Or Marc-Andre Fleury stops too many wrist shots.

It’s one specific aspect of what he does, and it happens to require a little extra effort from his teammates, the reciprocation of the extra effort he provides them.

Which is why I loved this quote from Brandon Sutter that ran in today’s story:

“He’s an energy guy,” Sutter said. “He’s going to take penalties doing that. But I think you need someone like that on your team. It’s our responsibility to kill those off.”

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November 23, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Some postgame thoughts from Nassau

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The easiest thing might be to freak out.

And maybe that’s what most will do after the Penguins managed one point out of a home-and-home series with a Metropolitan Division rival.

Those inside the locker room, though, won’t be among the group going nutty after Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

“We knew they were a good team, so I don’t think we learned anything different about them,” coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s more we had a series to play. We lost the first one in a shootout. We came into their building (Saturday). I thought for half the game we played well and the other half they took it over. We can’t let that happen.”

They also can’t continue to generate so few power plays – three since captain Sidney Crosby slammed his stick off the glass last Saturday at Consol Energy Center in disgust.

Sure, the Penguins are converting 33-percent of those chances, but one power play goal a week isn’t likely to be enough given how this team is constructed.

More shots are needed. The Penguins’ top two lines combined for nine shots on goal against the Islanders. That’s not enough. Patric Hornqvist had that total plus 33 percent more (12, I think; I’m bad at math) during the first meeting with the Islanders.

Is Hornqvist the right fit with Evgeni Malkin? I don’t know. They haven’t been bad together, but without Pascal Dupuis, it’s beginning to look like Hornqvist is the player who next brings out the best in Crosby.

I asked Johnston postgame tonight whether he would consider putting Hornqvist back with Crosby.

The response: “We’ll take a look at everything (Sunday),” Johnston said. “Tomorrow is a day off, as we head into Boston. We have four games this week, so we’ll take a look at our different combinations.”

Crosby has one goal in 11 games. He’s managed one shot in his past two games combined.

With Hornqvist, Crosby had 7-17—24 (1.71 points per game in 14 games). Without him, Crosby has 1-1—2 (.40 points per game in five games).

The Islanders look like a surefire threat to compete not only in the division but the Eastern Conference as well. This series, which Johnston said he was going to treat like a playoff series, was arguably the Penguins’ biggest test thus far.

(Don’t make the maybe-they-did joke. Don’t do it.)

The two-game grade isn’t worth freaking out over, of course, but it also wasn’t an A or a B.

“The situation with back-to-back games, you kind of look at that as a good challenge with them close in the standings,” Crosby said. “Especially here, we’ve had some pretty intense games and another close one. But we didn’t do a good enough job.”

Shipping up to Boston tomorrow. Club’s off. Any seafood recommendations, don’t be shy.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 22, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Five questions from Uniondale

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No gameday skate for either team, given the back-to-backs, so I thought I would post five things to think about throughout the day.

1. What was up with scratching Simon Despres and will we see him tonight?

I would think so. He really has been pretty good so far – 1-3—5 in 17 games, a plus-7 – but his game is much more easily replaced by Robert Bortuzzo.

Fact is, by scratching Rob Scuderi, you’re also disrupting your penalty kill, as Scuderi averages 2:59 on the PK, third-most among Penguins defensemen.

Despres (3.1 hits per game) and Bortuzzo (3.4) are simply the most interchangeable of those Penguins defenseman you would reasonably consider scratching. (Would you scratch Kris Letang, Olli Maatta or Paul Martin? Didn’t think. Christian Ehrhoff makes $4 million and has shown signs of improvement recently.)

Head coach Mike Johnston pretty much ducked the question postgame, but he did say that he didn’t want anybody sitting for too long. Presumably this excludes poor Scott Harrington’s stretch earlier this season.

“A lot of our defensemen have been playing well,” Johnston said. “I don’t want to keep anyone sitting for an extended period of time. We won’t be on a rotational basis, but that was a decision we made (Friday).

2. Are teams really taking so few penalties against the Penguins?

Well, the numbers say so, anyway. Whether they’re truly being more cautious because of the Penguins’ top-ranked power play can be debated.

This much we know: Referees have awarded the Penguins one power play over the past 125 minutes – a slashing call on Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk at 19:01 of the second period on Tuesday.

You could split hairs and question non-calls, but I’m not going to do that. Especially since the Penguins coach seems to think that everything was OK, even though I doubt many of his players would agree.

“I thought it was a well-reffed game,” Johnston said. “I didn’t think there were any penalties that deserved to be called out there. We had the one against us, but other than that there wasn’t anything. Usually in a hard-fought game like that, it’s physical; there’s going to be some penalties. But they didn’t try to overcall the game.”

3. Is Malkin’s line starting to find something?

Early on Friday was a struggle for Nick Spaling, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. They were on the ice for two of the Islanders first three goals. Then again, few Penguins excelled in the first period but more on later in the next point.

I don’t ever think this line is going to be considered your shutdown group, but the offensive upside they provide, like juicing a point out of a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals late, allows you to overlook some of their early defensive lapses.

Or at least that might be how the argument would go.

4. Do the Penguins need a better start tonight?

Uh, yeah. I’d say. Brandon Sutter scored on a deflected, then everything went downhill.
The Penguins finished the period with five shots. That’s half as many as Johnston wants in the first 10 minutes, one-seventh of what he wants for the entire game.

Not good.

“First period we didn’t really give ourselves a chance with the way that we played,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play well at all. They carried the play and got rewarded for it.”

5. Does Blake Comeau stay on Crosby’s line?

I see no reason to take him off, at least based off of Friday night. A lot of folks seem in this big hurry to put Beau Bennett up top. He’s fine with Sutter and Steve Downie.

Comeau has shown to be extremely strong on the puck, and I think Crosby likes that. Adds diversity to what he does and would like to do. And Comeau scoring – even if it’s bouncing off the opposing team as happened Friday – doesn’t hurt his case, either.

“He generates a lot,” Crosby said of Comeau. “It was good to see him get one there off a skate, but the way he’s skating and creating things, he’s going to create opportunities. He’s done a really good job there.”

He would never admit it, he’s too classy, but you know Comeau is loving this. Last year he was buried on Columbus’ roster. Now his linemates are Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

First game for Comeau against his old team, by the way, is Dec. 13, in Columbus.

Talk to yinz from Nassau. My first visit to the old barn. Looking forward to it and getting ready by listening to this Dead show.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 20, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Some bang-on advice

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Credit fellow beat man Josh Yohe with the line, but it’s still one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received throughout this whole Penguins beat thing.

If you don’t get along with Pascal Dupuis, you’re doing something wrong.

As coach Mike Johnston might say, Josh was bang-on with that piece of advice.

The news that came out of Consol Energy Center today – that Dupuis would miss at least six months with a blood clot in his lung – flat-out stunk.

There are far too many terrible people in this world, yet one of our finest examples as humans gets dealt a hand like this. It simply does not, as defenseman Kris Letang put it, seem fair.

Back to Josh’s piece of advice. It was during informal workouts when I decided to approach Dupuis and introduce myself, say a few things and get to know him.

So I do that. Throw him the line about not getting along with him. He laughs. Then proceeds to ask me questions about where I’m from, when I started, etc.

I would never expect the athletes with cover to ask what I’m doing – we’re not the story, and if you think otherwise you probably shouldn’t work in the newspaper business – but what Dupuis did spoke volumes.

One of my other favorite getting-to-know-you moments with Dupuis was in Toronto earlier this year. Being the new guy, I had never seen out-of-town media swarm Sidney Crosby the way the Toronto contingent did.

Having access to Crosby every day, I figured I would take advantage and talk to a few of the other guys, whom I was – and still am – getting to know.

I went up to Dupuis, said hello and promptly forgot what I had meant to ask him. Something about being a versatile forward, I think. I looked over to Crosby’s stall and laughed.

I must have said something to Dupuis about the mass of humanity waiting on every syllable.

“Just wait,” Dupuis said, “until Montreal.

“He’ll do two scrums. One in English, one in French.”

To this day, I don’t know how these guys answer so many questions. I’d walk around my house yelling, “Just shut up,” and my wife would think I’m nuts.

I get that it’s our job to ask, but it’s not our God-given right to get an answer. Or to have these guys available 24/7. But I do appreciate it.

And I appreciate guys like Dupuis, who recognize that reporters are people, too. Some of us even have a soul. And a wife. And a kid. And we’re not always looking to screw someone over.

I know we’re supposed to be objective in our coverage, and I truly couldn’t care less whether the Penguins win or lose – just do it without overtime, please – as we’re not allowed to be fans.

Rooting for Dupuis is different.

Rooting for Dupuis is rooting for the guy who made eye contact and smiled to Hunter Kramer well before he and his parents reached the front of the autograph line (he did).

Rooting for Dupuis is rooting for the guy who recognized Hunter’s situation, got out of his chair and spent some extra time with him and his parents, making them all feel at ease (he did).

It’s why, to this day, that moment – and the recognition of Dupuis – still provides a bright moment to the Kramer family.

Rooting for Dupuis is rooting for the guy who sits down at his locker and jokingly screams “OK, I’m available,” and we all walk over to his locker because … he’s Pascal Dupuis, and you have to respect a move like that.

As Josh said, if you don’t get along with Pascal Dupuis, you’re doing something wrong.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 18, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Marshall: Quantifying Crosby’s Hot Start

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Local analytics expert Jesse Marshall chimes in on Sidney Crosby’s dominance thus far

Another year, another case of finding Sidney Crosby among the NHL’s elite point producers.

Through 16 games this season, Crosby’s 26 points trail only Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek (27).

A quick jump inside some advanced metrics tells us how truly remarkable Crosby’s start as been.

Let’s start with puck-possession and shot differential through a metric called Fenwick-For Percentage. Fenwick tracks the sum of all unblocked shot attempts taken by a team when a specific player is on the ice. Since blocked shots aren’t normally a random act and are dictated by skill and coaching, we want to remove those from the equation.

Rather than just looking at raw numbers here, let’s get very specific. We’re going to look at even-strength shot totals specifically in situations where the game is tied or within one goal in the first and second periods, or tied in the third period. This removes some of the defensive situations that could find a team sitting back and defending a lead, something that the Penguins have had the pleasure of doing quite a bit of this season.

Through the year so far in those specific situations, Crosby boasts a Fenwick-For Percentage of 63.33%, meaning that 63.33% of every unblocked shot attempt taken with Crosby on the ice is heading towards the Penguins opponent’s net.

That’s nothing short of an impressive and gaudy total for a player who is consistently going up against the other teams top lines and top defensive pairings. While the sample sizes may also be small this early into the year, nearly every player on the Penguins roster boasts a higher possession number playing alongside Crosby.

This is also a testament to the work that coach Mike Johnston has done, as even through 16 games last year, Crosby found himself nowhere near that mark. He ended the 2013-14 season with a score-close, even-strength Fenwick-For percentage of 54.70%.

Crosby’s impact on the Penguins even-strength play is also tangible via his Individual Points Percentage. IPP is the percentage of goals scored when a player is on the ice that the player had a point on. Thus far, Crosby has an IPP of 84.6%. Only Blake Comeau and Evgeni Malkin (88.9% respectively) boast a higher IPP and each has been on the ice for less goals scored at even-strength.

If these possession metrics hold over the course of the season, expect Crosby to pull away from the field and make short work of the competition for the rest of the year.

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

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November 18, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: What to do with Beau Bennett?

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The Penguins need more from forward Beau Bennett.

It wouldn’t hurt to give him more first, however.

Look at Bennett’s ice time in the three games he’s played. It’s not pretty: 9:35, 10:16 and 10:56. He’s recorded no points and two shots, none in his most recent game.

“Definitely not,” Bennett responded when I asked if he was where he wanted to be in his return following today’s practice at Consol Energy Center. “It’s a work in progress. I think physically I feel alright. Still trying to get back into the swing of things. It’s a process.

“When something happens to your lower body, it’s always in the back of your head. Mentally you have to get over it. Eventually I will. It’s just the first couple games back feeling alright. Hopefully I will get better.”

The Penguins sure hope so. Their third line (and probably more) depends on it.

Pascal Dupuis (undisclosed) did not make the trip for Tuesday’s game at Montreal. Blake Comeau, fresh off a stint filling in on Evgeni Malkin’s line, will take Dupuis’ spot.

Why not Bennett?

That’s a good question.

Quick Fancy Stats detour: Bennett’s Corsi For Percentage — yes, I know it’s only been three games — is 63.3. This surprises me. What doesn’t is his 55.0 percent of offensive zone starts. Bennett’s PDO (90.0) is about where you’d expect it to be: a touch below average.

Perhaps coach Mike Johnston is infatuated with the idea of Bennett developing chemistry with Brandon Sutter. I get this … sort of. They were really good together in the preseason. But I’m also not sold on Bennett as a left wing, at least not when it feels forced.

I like him long-term with Sutter, but to get Bennett going, I think playing him with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby might provide the spark the Penguins need.

Bennett talked Monday about feeling tentative, and he has looked it; normally he’s a lot more decisive with the puck, a better playmaker. Say what you want about Bennett staying healthy. When he is, and he’s playing with similarly skilled players, he doesn’t lack for creativity.

“My timing is fine,” Bennett insisted. “I think it’s just mentally knowing that it’s going to be OK going into the corners and battling hard. I’ve played five games since I’ve been back. I think it’s only going to get better in time, just mentally getting over the hump of knowing that it will hold up.”

Which is why I think playing Bennett with a player like Crosby, someone who demands the work ethic and skating away from the puck, might help to reignite his game and give him some confidence. We shall see, right?

Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) has the club tomorrow in Montreal, one of his favorite trips of the year. Wish him well. I’ll be working on a Sunday piece, catching up with someone yinz undoubtedly remember well. (No, not Rossi; he’s still here.)

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 16, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Extras after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win

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I really wanted to blog about this game serving as a proper response to Tuesday’s 5-0 loss at Madison Square Garden.

Or even Evgeni Malkin getting two minutes for a nasty – but clean – hit because he defended himself

Both options would be wrong.

Can’t write anything about Saturday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers without first acknowledging the absurd ending.

How I nearly sent a story on how the Penguins loss yet again to the Rangers.

How players in both locker rooms had their gear off before officials pulled them back on the ice.

How Brandon Sutter scored and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Rick Nash to win it.

Here’s what Rangers coach Alain Vigneault had to say afterward:

“Half the guys had their sweaters off,” Vigneault said. “Half the sticks were packed. It wasn’t a good goal. It was the right call. They got to come back, and they won it.”

“It’s (the) first time,” Malkin said when asked if he had ever seen anything like that. Malkin finished with a goal and an assist.

“I can’t believe (it). (The) whole team (was) in (the) locker room already.”

“When it happened live, there was a sense that maybe it was kicked in,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.  “It just looked that way, like it was kicked in or came off the post or something. Nobody reacted on the ice, so we go to the dressing room. Everybody’s going in, and (the coaches) saw it on the TV.”

So weird.

Kind of like Malkin picking up two for roughing following his hit on Dan Girardi. OK, the hit was nasty. And I hate Consol Energy Center blaring Rob Van Dam’s theme music – Pantera’s “Walk” – when a player is laying in a crumpled mess on the ice.

I don’t know Dan Girardi, but somebody out there considers him a son and maybe a husband and father. His misfortune is not to be celebrated.

Still, what was Malkin s supposed to do? Legal hit, he got jumped, and he defended himself. Captain Sidney Crosby likened it to Friday night, when Dion Phaneuf leveled Patric Hornqvist, Malkin retaliated, and the Maple Leafs wound up on the power play.

“It’s tough,” Crosby said. “A lot of things happen fast, even the hit. It’s a hard one for them to judge game speed. It’s tough when we’re kind of penalized for the exact same thing (Friday) night. Exact same play.

“I think a guy understands when he sticks up for a teammate that he’s running the risk of getting that extra two (minutes) and putting his team on the kill there. That’s a tough one, but we still found a way.”

Did they ever.

And at a good time given Tuesday’s loss and back-to-back wins over Toronto and the Rangers.

“It’s important when you have a tough night that we know we can rebound,” Johnston said. “We knew we had them again this week. We couldn’t look past Toronto, and we didn’t. At the same time, I thought we came into tonight’s game just OK in the first period. We got better and better as the game went along.”

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November 15, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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Rangers forward Carl Hagelin expects a different Penguins team Saturday night than the one who showed up at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

Obvious, right?

After all, the one that showed up Tuesday was an anomaly, the group that authored what was easily the Penguins’ worst performance of the season.

It’s also one that has a chance to distance itself from that tonight at 7 at Consol Energy Center.

“They’re obviously going to come out flying,” Hagelin said following the Rangers’ gameday skate. “They’re going to be a bit mad from last game. It’s always like that.”

Reality says the Penguins probably won’t convert power plays at a 41-percent clip this season.

It also says the Penguins won’t be as slow to loose pucks as they were on Tuesday or be as accommodating when it came to the Rangers’ time and space.

The Penguins know this.

They’re not 11-3-1 because they got lucky.

Over the past nine games, the Penguins have allowed 14 goals, the fewest permitted by any NHL team.  There are three shutouts in there, and they’ve permitted one goal or less six times.

Not including the Rangers game, the Penguins outscored four opponents on their recent road trip 16-6.

Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in points (25) and assists (18), while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who will try for career win No. 298, is tied for the league lead with three shutouts.

Hagelin knows this.

Which is why he doesn’t expect tonight’s Penguins team to in any way resemble the one he saw Tuesday.

“They’ve been playing real well as of late, except that game against us,” Hagelin said. “They’re obviously going to be a different team.”

News out of the skate: No skate for the Penguins. Not much out of the Rangers’ room, either. Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak return. Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Coach Mike Johnston talks at 5 p.m., and I will have updates them.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Rangers: Rangers (7-6-3) are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. … Rick Nash (12-6-18) has a point in 12 of 16 games this season. He leads the NHL in even-strength goals with 10. … One factoid I’ll bet you didn’t know: Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle leads all defensemen in power-play points (104) since the start of the 2009-10 season. … Martin St. Louis has four goals and two assists over his past six games, with a pair of multi-point games in there.

The series: Rangers won, 5-0, on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. … They went 1 for 4 on the power play, snapping a streak of 39 straight for the Penguins’ penalty kill. … The Penguins do have a six-game unbeaten mark (5-0-1) against the Rangers in Pittsburgh. … Lundqvist is 4-1-2 with a 1.93 GAA and a .932 save percentage with one shutout in his last seven appearances against the Penguins. … Fleury is way better at home versus the Rangers than on the road. His home numbers: 17-4-4, 2.09 and .926. His road numbers: 9-11-3, 3.43 GAA and .893.

Next up: Penguins at Canadiens, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

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

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