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December 26, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Minnesota pregame

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Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang are expected back in the lineup when the Penguins end a four-day Christmas break with a game against the Minnesota Wild at 8 p.m. Eastern tonight.

Crosby skated with Chris Kunitz on his left and David Perron on his right. That sounds like a reasonable combination, especially since Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel both scored twice last Monday against Columbus, so it makes sense to leave their lines alone (Sheary-Malkin-Hornqvist, Wilson-Bonino-Kessel).

It also makes sense if you look at the possession numbers. Here’s a look at Crosby’s Corsi For Percentage since the start of last season with the 13 forwards currently on the roster.

SCOTT WILSON 100
CONOR SHEARY 71.4
EVGENI MALKIN 60.1
DAVID PERRON 57.4
CHRIS KUNITZ 56.3
SERGEI PLOTNIKOV 55.0
PATRIC HORNQVIST 52.8
BEAU BENNETT 52.8
PHIL KESSEL 48.4
MATT CULLEN 47.1
ERIC FEHR 39.3
KEVIN PORTER 20.0
NICK BONINO 11.1

Settle down on the Scott Wilson there. He and Crosby played together for 21 seconds. You could make a case for Conor Sheary playing with Crosby. Those gaudy Corsi numbers came in about 23 minutes together. That’s at least a somewhat larger sample size.

But forget all that. Among the wingers that have routinely played with Crosby over the last season and a half, Kunitz and Perron produce the best possession stats.

— Coach Mike Sullivan said there are no injury concerns with Malkin and Sergei Plotnikov after they got banged up in the Columbus game on Monday. I wouldn’t bet my car payment that Malkin is 100 percent after the knee-on-knee hit from Boone Jenner, but he said he’s good to go tonight.

— I have seen some complaints on Twitter about Kevin Porter being in the lineup while Plotnikov looks to be the healthy scratch tonight. I think it’s a simple matter of penalty killing. With Pascal Dupuis out, the Penguins only have three bona fide PK guys in Bonino, Fehr and Cullen. I think Sullivan is much more comfortable with Porter in that fourth spot than he would be with Plotnikov or Wilson or one of his top-six forwards.

— Letang looks to be paired with Olli Maatta tonight. The Dumoulin-Lovejoy pair remains intact. Trevor Daley and Ian Cole are a new pair. The Penguins really want Cole to get it going. They want to see what they saw out of him at the end of last season. But with David Warsofsky having played reasonably well, Cole’s leash is not that long.

— Finally, the Penguins have a strange game day schedule today, flying into Minneapolis this morning, then having a morning skate at 12:30 Eastern time before the game.

This type of schedule only pops up when Dec. 26 falls on a Saturday. Normally, the 26th is one of the Christmas break days off mandated by the CBA.

Here’s the rule 16.5b, if you’re into such minutiae.

“December 24, Christmas Day, and December 26 shall be off-days for all purposes, including travel, and no Club may request a Player’s consent to practice on such days for any reason, provided, however, if December 26 falls on a Saturday and the League has scheduled NHL Games on such date, December 23 may be substituted as an off-day for all purposes, including travel, instead of December 26.”

More after the game,

jb

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December 22, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Columbus postgame

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You know how the Penguins have been talking lately about puck luck and believing in the process and good things will happen and all that stuff?

One win over a poor Columbus team shouldn’t be enough to convince you that they’re right, but one play from tonight’s 5-2 Penguins victory sort of paints a picture of what they’re talking about.

With the score tied 1-1 early in the second period, Columbus defenseman Justin Falk took a shot from the left faceoff circle. Matt Murray made a nice stop, but the puck sat out in front of the crease for a moment, and Ryan Johansen had it in his sights.

Just before he got there, Olli Maatta reached in and knocked the puck away. It bounced high in the air out toward the high slot where Scott Wilson took a baseball swing at it. It turned into a perfect head-man pass to spring Kessel for a successful breakaway.

Just look at all the things that could have and would have gone wrong for the Penguins on that play in their previous five games.

Maybe Falk’s shot goes in. Maybe Johansen gets to the rebound. Maybe Maatta’s clear bounces back toward the net. Maybe Wilson’s whack doesn’t connect. Maybe the decision to fly the zone as soon as Murray made the initial save backfires on Kessel.

Instead, everything fell into place and it ended up being the goal that gave the Penguins the lead for good.

Some more notes from the game tonight:

— Evgeni Malkin went to the locker room for a few minutes in the second period after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Boone Jenner. I can’t read Jenner’s mind, so I don’t know what his intent was on the play. At the very least, he made it look accidental enough to have plausible deniability.

Columbus coach John Tortorella had a completely different take on things.

“He got up, didn’t he?” Tortorella said. “It was like he was dead, then he was out there the next shift.”

— Here’s a topic you can weigh in on in the comments or on Twitter if you’d like. I firmly believe, after watching hockey games for a living for 16 years, that a fight can absolutely change the momentum of a game. I know there are many out there not as keen on fighting as I am. So do you think it can change a game?

With the Penguins losing 1-0 in the second period, Eric Fehr fought Brandon Dubinsky. It was the first NHL fight for Fehr in 477 career games. His teammates knew that. This wasn’t a casual thing. It was a veteran making a statement about the way Dubinsky plays against the Penguins.

The Penguins scored twice in the next five minutes.

After the hit on Malkin, Scott Wilson stepped in and fought Jenner. The Penguins scored twice before the period ended.

I’m sorry. I can’t see that as a coincidence.

— Here’s some comments from Dubinsky, while we’re on the topic.

— Finally, I think the contributions of the Wilkes-Barre call-ups probably deserve a mention here, and I’m not just saying that because of my own personal biases.

Matt Murray got his first NHL win tonight, making 22 saves. He didn’t have to be great, but he had to be good, and he was. Wilson was an impact player with the pass to Kessel and the fight, among other contributions. David Warsofsky scored a goal. Conor Sheary was a little less noticeable tonight, but he’s been good in recent games.

Here’s Sullivan’s take on those guys:

“I think it’s a healthy situation when you have a push from within, when you have young guys challenging for positions on the team and creating that internal push among the group. I think that’s a healthy environment. I think it’s good for everyone. It’s good for the guys that are established here because it’s going to push them to be at their best. And quite honestly, there are some guys down in Wilkes-Barre who have had pretty good years to this point and are probably deserving of an opportunity. The guys who have come up here have given us energy. They’ve brought us enthusiasm. Every guy that’s come up here has had a positive impact, in my opinion.”

The Penguins are off for the next four days for a Christmas break, so make sure to check back for the next scheduled blog update Dec. 26 from Minnesota. I’ll be making that trip.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all.

Bye for now,

jb

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December 21, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Columbus pregame

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Mike Sullivan has a bit of a snarl. I think it’s his default facial expression. With that in mind, it’s interesting to hear what Sullivan thinks his players should do if they get targeted for physical play like Brandon Dubinsky targeted Sidney Crosby in the last meeting between the Penguins and Blue Jackets.

Does Sullivan expect snarl from his players?

“The best response from our standpoint is to make sure we don’t lose our focus and we continue to play the way we need to play to win games,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to play hard. We’re going to play between the whistles. We are not going to get deterred from playing the type of game that we have to play in order to give our team the best chance to win. I think that’s the most important message. We’re certainly going to play with emotion. We’re going to play with energy. We’re going to push back, but we’re going to do it the right way.”

Sidenote from Bill West: Kevin Porter, called up from the Baby Pens last week, seems like a guy who might see this game as an opportune time to drop the gloves and earn himself a little extra credit among teammates. According to hockeyfights.com, Porter has seven fights in his pro career, including one in the NHL. He understands where his skill set fits in the Penguins’ mix. “I definitely want to show I can stick here,” he said.

When asked about the Blue Jackets possibly targeting fellow Baby Pens call-up, Conor Sheary, Porter showed faith in the undersized first-line winger.

“He’s a little bit smaller, but he’s a smart player,” Porter said. “He keeps his head up. He’s quick, too, and shifty.

“If someone catches him with his head down, we’re going to have to go from there and take care of it, but that goes for anybody.”

Some other notes from morning skate:

— Sullivan said Sidney Crosby will not play tonight. He said he does not believe Crosby’s absence, due to a lower-body injury, will be long term in nature.

–So who gets the start in goal tonight?

Jeff Zatkoff has been excellent in two career starts against Columbus (2-0, 1.51 GAA, .936 save percentage) but he is coming off a bad night against Boston on Friday.

For whatever this is worth, Matt Murray owned Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Springfield last year to the tune of a 4-0 record with three shutouts. He stopped 109-of-110 shots. He was pretty good in his NHL debut Saturday night against Carolina, but suffered a 2-1 loss.

Sullivan is going with Murray.

“I thought he really settled into the game the other night. I really liked what I saw,” Sullivan said.

— I’m curious to see one thing about the team’s line combinations tonight. On the first and third line, there’s a possibility that both wingers will be playing on their off wings (righties Hornqvist and Perron on the left side and lefties Sheary and Wilson on the right). That would indicate to me a desire by Sullivan to make those players more dangerous threats in the offensive zone, even at the expense of having to make some plays coming out of the defensive zone on their backhand. It’s an aggressive posture, in my opinion.

— The Penguins have four WBS call-ups on the roster up front in Sheary, Wilson, Rust and Porter, but this isn’t one of those situations where a coach could play a whole line intact. The way I understand it, when Wilson and Sheary were on the same line, Kael Mouillierat was their center. When Porter played center, Dominik Simon was one of his wings.

Bye for now,

jb

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December 20, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Change of plans

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Remember when this game tomorrow was going to be the big grudge rematch — Sidney Crosby and the Penguins vs. Brandon Dubinsky and the Blue Jackets?

So many things have happened since the last meeting between the teams on Black Friday that the Dubinsky angle has been shuffled way down the list of things to watch.

First and foremost, Crosby is not expected to play. Coach Mike Sullivan said he’s day to day with a lower-body injury. Not playing Crosby tomorrow would give him six full days off over the Christmas break, so that seems to be a no-brainer of a decision.

In Crosby’s absence, the lines looked something like this:

Sheary-Malkin-Hornqvist
Kunitz-Bonino-Kessel
Wilson-Cullen-Perron
Plotnikov-Fehr-Porter

Secondly, the Penguins have bigger fish to fry than worrying about Dubinsky. Like snapping a five-game losing streak for instance.

I thought Nick Bonino’s take on the funk the team’s in was interesting.

“I think every team goes through this. We talked yesterday about how Montreal and New York and San Jose, all these teams have losses and have gone through little bumps in the road. It’s our turn for that. We had a 10-game win streak (9 wins in 10 games) where I don’t think we were playing the right way. Now we’re playing the right way and we’re not getting the results. At some point, you expect it to turn around.”

They were winning when they didn’t deserve to earlier in the season and now, thanks in part to the law of averages, they’re losing when they don’t deserve to. I think that’s an interesting way to look at it.

Third, there’s the coaching matchup. At the beginning of the year, it was Minnesota Nice Todd Richards against Professor Mike Johnston. (I’m exaggerating there on the Richards side because he wasn’t always nice, but he is from Minnesota and just go with me here. It makes for a better angle.) Now it’s irascible John Tortorella against stern Mike Sullivan. And Sullivan was Tortorella’s assistant for six years. A juicy storyline to be sure.

Finally, there’s the Dubinsky business. Should the Penguins seek revenge for his Black Friday crosscheck on Crosby? How, given their roster, would they even do that?

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a dust-up or two surrounding Dubsinky tomorrow night. Hockey players have long memories. But I really doubt it will be the No. 1 headline coming out of the game. And less than a month ago, that would have been hard to believe.

Bye for now,

jb

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December 19, 2015
by Bill West
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An air of uneasiness and puzzlement lingered over the Penguins after their 6-2 loss to Boston on Friday night. For a third consecutive game under coach Mike Sullivan, they played with energy and effectiveness for early stretches only to fade when their opponent seized the momentum.

Might this game against Carolina (12-15-5) alleviate the anguish that built up after losses to Washington (23-6-2) and the Bruins (18-9-4)? On paper, the Hurricanes are vulnerable to the Penguins’ reinvigorated, Sullivan-inspired appreciation for high shot totals. They’re last in the league in save percentage (89.95%) and 27th in goals allowed per game (2.52). But they’re also one of the better possession teams, based on Corsi-For percentage, as they rank fourth at 53.4%, according to Puckalytics.com.

Here’s a better question: Are the Penguins in the right place, mentally, to prevent another downward spiral if they don’t pull away early?

“When you’re going through something like this, it seems like every mistake you make ends up in the back of your net.” – Sidney Crosby, after Friday’s loss.

Mistakes, Sullivan suggested Friday night and again Saturday afternoon, are possibly the product of the Penguins trying to do too much rather than not trying enough.

“I think we’re at a state right now where we’re squeezing a little bit. Emotionally, we’ve got to become more resilient so when we do hit times in the game where things do go our way, we have the ability to respond the right way to it.”

Who must cultivate this resiliency within the team? Sullivan pointed the spotlight in all directions.

“I’m not interested on pointing fingers on where it falls. It falls on all of us. It starts with me. We all have to be resilient. We all have to have some resolve.”

 

 

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December 18, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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A Classic Therrien rant

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On the Penguins Roundtable show on Trib Live Radio this afternoon — you can listen to it here — host Ken Laird briefly mentioned a classic Michel Therrien rant from 2005.

It came on Jan. 28 after a 4-2 home loss to Hershey. The Baby Pens blew a lead late and Therrien wasn’t pleased.

Sadly, this came at a time when we were still using actual tape recorders in the sports writing business, and I thoughtlessly taped over the rant. There isn’t audio that I know of. Luckily, though, I transcribed it.

One thing to note. There are no expletives deleted from this transcript. Therrien didn’t use a single bit of foul language during the rant. I was impressed by that. Anyway, enjoy.

 

“This team plays with no emotion. They don’t care about winning. The only thing they care about is, ‘I want to get treated pretty well. We want optional practices.’ Win or lose, you think they care? The only thing they care is the way they get treated. They go to the Arena Bar & Grill, order a couple of beers, try to have fun, play some poker until 4, 5 o’clock in the morning, show up tired to practice. You have some guys in here, it’s a shame the way they are performing. It’s unprofessional.

If they don’t care about winning, why do I care about them? Why do me and Mike Yeo care about them? They don’t know what coaching is all about. In coaching, you bring that loss home even if you try not to. You’re miserable until the next game, until you win.

Guys making the same mistakes over and over. It’s like, hey, why would I care for those guys? Last year, we had 22 guys who cared for each other. They wanted to win. It was fun for the coach to come to the rink. We were not winning every game, but at least they gave such an effort. They were rewarded. This year, they’re so flat. I’ve coached 14 years and I’ve never remembered coaching a group as flat as that, even some millionaires in the NHL.

The Beech line (with Matt Murley and Michel Ouellet), in a month, what are they doing? Nothing. They’re the best at complaining to the referees. Every shift, they go see the referee. ‘I got hooked. I got slashed.’ We should start concentrating on playing the game.

Endicott, since he’s back, is doing nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. He cares about his sticks. He doesn’t like his sticks.

Abid and Armstrong, they stay out there for two minutes. They have to be the greatest athlete because they’re capable of shifts of two minutes. They don’t care that we’re asking for short shifts, 45 seconds, 50 seconds. What are they doing? ‘I’m not listening to the coach. I’m doing my own thing. Why would I listen? I know. I know the recipe.’

We put Ben Eaves, we put Christensen, we put Talbot, we put any rookie out there and he doesn’t give us what we’re expecting. Not once. They give us a few good shifts, then all of a sudden, it’s a major breakdown. They’re making the same mistakes over and over again. Eaves is responsible for the first two goals. He doesn’t take his man in front of the net. Big turnovers.

Marc-Andre, now we need four, five goals to win a game. Four is not enough.

A guy like Hussey is 25 years old. He’s going to have to wake up one of these days.

I could go on and on and on. And they think they’re a good team? Some of those guys think they could play in the NHL? Ha.

They’re on their own. What could I do? I could cheer. I could prepare video. It’s the actor. The actor’s got to act. I could have the best script, and if John Travolta doesn’t want to act, the movie is not going to be good.”

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December 18, 2015
by Bill West


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Bruins (rematch) pregame

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While you wait for the opening puck drop tonight at Consol Energy Center, you can listen to Ken Laird, Jonathan Bombulie and me discuss a whirlwind first week for new Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

However, you’re probably here because you like reading words as much as hearing them. Onward with the Bruins preview/review!

Friday’s morning skate revealed a few tweaks to the lines Sullivan used two days earlier in a 3-0 loss in Boston. Conor Sheary, called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday, skated with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the top line, while David Perron rejoined Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on the second line. Nick Bonino, back from a stomach flu that kept him out Wednesday, centered Sergei Plotnikov and Patric Hornqvist.

The power play units also evolved, as David Warsofsky went back to the point on the top unit, Crosby moved to the right wall, Malkin set up at the left, and Kunitz and Hornqvist floated in front of the net. Trevor Daley ran point on the second unit, with Kessel on the left wall and Olli Maatta on the right.

Did Wednesday’s outcome require this much adjusting?

Other than the score, much seemed to go the Penguins’ way in their 3-0 loss in Boston on Wednesday night. They finished with an edge in shots on goal and shot attempts, as well as in more trivial stats such as hits and faceoff wins. Yet they left with their third shutout loss of the season and one of their most lopsided results.

What can the Penguins do better in their rematch Friday night at Consol Energy Center? Let’s look at some charts for possible answers.

https://twitter.com/HockeyStatsCa/status/677334569503350785

This one from Hockeystats.CA indicates both the Bruins and Penguins had their fair share of high-danger scoring chances. Boston got a few more on net with straight-on looks, but nothing for the Penguins sticks out as particularly poor on the shot location front.

This one, from @tempofreehockey, hints at where things broke down for the Penguins. Both teams struggled with turnovers. But as the videos below will show, the Bruins made more of the opportunities afford to them after a possession change.

Before Max Talbot beat Jeff Zatkoff to the near-side post with a shot from the top of the circle, the Bruins gained control of the puck in the neutral zone because of a bad exchange between Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary. Sheary dished the puck a little too close to Dumoulin’s skates, and the blue liner didn’t have time to react and get rid of the puck before pressure arrived. Talbot gets in on odd-man break the other way.

How the Bruins scored their second goal largely came down to luck: Ryan Spooner threw a puck toward the crease, and it caught Ian Cole’s skate. But watch the sequence leading up to Spooner receiving the puck along the left boards. David Warsofsky and Kevin Porter converge on Spooner in the Bruins’ end, but Spooner still comes away with the puck. Both Warsofsky and Porter then glide through the neutral zone, unaware they fail to defend both the long, diagonal passing lane and Spooner. Warsofsky tries to close the gap and cut off Spooner’s angle, but it’s too late.

Maybe NHL inexperience was to blame for the miscues — none among Dumoulin, Sheary, Porter and Warsofsky qualify as league veterans by any definition. Or maybe unfamiliarity with coach Mike Sullivan’s system tweaks caused the problems.

Whatever the reason, the players involved likely grew wiser from the experiences, particularly after Sullivan held a video review session. (Sullivan has been a big proponent of video review in his first week with the Penguins). Mistakes in Wednesday’s game might reappear again on Friday. But Sullivan, following the mandate set forth by general manager Jim Rutherford, fully intends to clean up the way the Penguins leave their defensive zone, though. He started Friday’s morning skate with a few minutes of breakout work. And he’ll continue to emphasize the importance of moments right after a possession starts or ends until the Penguins can turn games they statistically carry into wins.

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December 17, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Boston postgame

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Take a look at the stats from tonight’s 3-0 Penguins loss to Boston.

The Penguins led 34-29 in shots, 69-52 in shot attempts and 32-30 in scoring chances. Boston led 12-7 in high-danger scoring chances and, of course, 3-0 in goals.

They’re not getting stuck in their own end or stubbornly refusing to shoot the puck. They’re also not getting enough Grade A scoring chances or, frustratingly to them or anyone watching, finishing the ones they do get.

With that as background, this quote from coach Mike Sullivan makes a lot of sense.

“We can’t be kind of a one-and-done team,” he said. “We have to stay engaged. We have to become a next-play team, constantly re-engaging in battle.”

The question is whether that’s possible.

The Penguins are constructed as a skill-first team. There’s little question about that. When most teams get into a scoring slump, they can focus on working harder, getting to the greasy areas of the ice and scoring ugly goals. What does a skill-first team do when it falls into a scoring slump?

Sidney Crosby calls it execution. A skill-first team in a funk can execute better. I’m just not sure how it does that, or just as importantly, how a coach encourages it.

Work to become that next-play team that Sullivan is talking about? Ride it out and score in bunches once it’s over? I guess so, but look at the Eastern Conference standings. Clock’s ticking.

Some other notes from tonight’s game.

— Boston took a 2-0 lead in the second period when Ryan Spooner threw a puck on net from the left-wing corner and it hit off a tangle of Ian Cole and Jimmy Hayes and went in. Afterwards, Sullivan gave Cole an earful. Here’s what Sullivan said about that:

“I don’t know how many coaches are happy when the puck ends up in the back of your net. That’s certainly part of it. Those are areas of our game where we’re going to try to get better. I think we can get better at both ends of the ice in front of the net.”

— A quote from Sullivan on his plan going forward: “We’ll show them some film tomorrow. We’ll practice it. For me, that’s the only way to do it. It’s a process and we’ve got to go through a little bit of a process. We’ve got to do a better job controlling our own destiny out there.”

— There wasn’t a single player on the Penguins roster tonight with a negative Corsi plus-minus. Evgeni Malkin, actually, was the only player even. Everyone else was a plus. I feel confident saying the Penguins’ problems are not related to puck possession.

— Trevor Daley and Conor Sheary made their Penguins debuts. Daley played 18:40, much more time than he was getting in Chicago. Sheary played 16:41 and was praised by Sullivan for his efforts after the game.

— Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz hit posts.

— The reconfigured power play generated a total of two shots in six minutes. Malkin said he liked playing the center point and said he’s sure he’ll be better at it once he gets more accustomed to the role. He also said he thought the Penguins are showing improvement under Sullivan.

Bye for now,

jb

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December 16, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Boston pregame

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The sheer number of changes in the Penguins organization in the last few days has been staggering, and the hits kept on coming Wednesday morning in Boston.

Nick Bonino was absent from morning skate due to illness. Coach Mike Sullivan said he’ll be a game-time decision.

Bonino’s absence plus the arrival of Trevor Daley from Chicago and Conor Sheary, Kevin Porter and Matt Murray from Wilkes-Barre prompted further shuffling to a lineup that was already shuffled yesterday.

There was plenty of rotation going on this morning, especially on D, but I expect the lineup to look something like this tonight if Bonino can’t go:

Kunitz-Crosby-Perron
Plotnikov-Malkin-Kessel
Sheary-Fehr-Hornqvist
Porter-Cullen-Sprong

Maatta-Daley
Dumoulin-Lovejoy
Cole-Warsofsky

Two takeaways there. First, Kessel practiced on the left wing on a line with Fehr and Sprong yesterday. That line seemed a little too weird from the get-go. I’m not sure it was ever destined to see the light of day in a game. Might have been a practice thing until the call-ups could arrive. Second, Fehr will be playing center, really, for the first time this season. He had success there in Washington last year.

The power-play units were also different than yesterday.

The first group was the same, with Malkin at the center point, Crosby on the left wall, Warsofsky on the right wall, Kunitz in the high slot and Perron at the net.

The second group was different with newcomers added. Daley worked the center point at morning skate and looked great, by the way. Low, hard shot. Kessel was on the left wall, Maatta on the right, Sheary in the high slot and Hornqvist at the net.

Giving a call-up like Sheary a spot on the power play shows that Sullivan thought highly of him while they were in Wilkes-Barre together at the start of the season.

Anyway, here’s Sullivan’s take on all the changes:

“As far how we’re trying to play, I don’t think we have to make changes,” Sullivan said. “It’s more about trying to define what it means to play the right way, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do since I’ve been here, for the last couple days, try to do my best to share my thoughts on what it means to play the right way. We’ve made a few adjustments as far as tactically how we’re playing, but for me, that’s not the most important thing.”

In goal, meanwhile, Jeff Zatkoff is scheduled to start tonight as Marc-Andre Fleury will miss at least 10 days with a concussion.

Many goalies don’t like to talk to reporters on game day. Zatkoff isn’t one of them. He noted that the Penguins are beginning a stretch of four games in six days.

“Going into the schedule to begin with, I knew that it was a busy schedule and I was probably going to get a game or two. It doesn’t change anything,” Zatkoff said. “I’m excited to get back in there, an opportunity to play, and give the team a chance to win. It starts tonight. Gotta big match with Boston. Should be a fun game. I know guys are definitely ready to go.”

More after the game tonight. Bye for now,

jb

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December 15, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Washington postgame

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Two big topics tonight in a two-week span that hasn’t lacked in big topics for the Penguins — the trade of Rob Scuderi to Chicago for Trevor Daley and the debut of Mike Sullivan behind the bench. Let’s start with Sullivan.

Did you like what you saw from him tonight?

You didn’t like the final score, of course, a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, but other than that, as far as style of play, did you like what you saw?

It was more aggressive in a lot of ways, on the forecheck and in the defensive zone. The possession numbers were positive. There were mistakes, of course, plenty of them, but I thought they were largely mistakes of aggression, and the Capitals capitalized on them, especially early.

That aggression might end up being Sullivan’s calling card. Check out what David Perron had to say about his coach’s demeanor during the game.

“I thought the management of the bench was unbelievable,” Perron said. “Even when we went down, the guy was crazy. He kept everyone in it. It was good. The energy was there from before the game in his speeches and throughout the game, it carried over.”

“The guy was crazy.” Judging by my Twitter feed, people used to say this about the old coach all the time too, but in a completely different context.

Anyway, another quote from Perron is also telling. I asked him what he thought about racking up 45 shots, a season high, but only one goal.

“It’s the story of the year so far,” Perron said. “We’ve got to be more determined. I think it’s stuff that we can maybe work at practice. We’ll learn and see what he’s going to do with that. He has to find a way to make us score more goals in practice to begin with. More determination. One-on-one battles. For us, as a line, I thought we had a lot more cycles. I felt like in other games, it was one and done. We were having a little bit of success that way, but I think we can take that to another level.”

The Penguins don’t lack for scoring chances. The stats make that perfectly clear. What they lack is goals. Perron has a lot of faith that his new coach can change that. Can he? That’s going to be the $64,000 question going forward.

Now to the Scuderi trade.

To me, the big takeaway is this: When it comes to the defense corps in the Penguins organization, the old days are officially over.

Ulf Samuelsson isn’t walking through that door.

Clearing the crease and staying at home are out. Moving the puck and starting the breakout are in. I know that’s not news. We’ve seen this day coming for a while. But it’s here now, for sure.

The one thing I’ve always heard about Scuderi was that he has super-human pain tolerance. He played through horrific injuries that would have shelved most players for weeks. In his prime, that was a huge benefit to his teams, like, say, the ’09 Penguins for example.

But the game has changed so much since then. A tough-guy ethos is not valued. Possession is. Daley’s Corsi For percentage of 56.4 percent is the best among regular Chicago defensemen. He’s a bit undersized. He doesn’t play a physical game. But he can skate and move the puck. He scored 16 goals last year.

Given those facts, you’d have to think the Penguins are happy to be able to make this deal, even if they’re eating a third of Scuderi’s salary.

Given Sullivan’s debut and the Scuderi-for-Daley swap, it’s clear that things are changing around the Penguins these days. The course for the rest of the season has been set. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

Four other quick notes before I go:

— Colleague Bill West just talked to Daley. Keep an eye on triblive.com for his comments. And for Pete’s sake, make sure you’re following @BWest_Trib on Twitter.

— Beau Bennett left with an apparent right shoulder injury when he was slammed into the boards by a T.J. Oshie hit in the first period. Sullivan wasn’t specific, but he said the team would be without Bennett for “a little while.” Take that to mean he’s not day-to-day.

I know Bennett has a long and checkered history, but this isn’t on him for being injury prone. Anyone would have been hurt by that hit. I actually thought it deserved a boarding call, just because of where the hit took place on the ice. Five feet from the boards is a dangerous spot.

— In discussing the Daley trade, GM Jim Rutherford said he’s done making roster changes for a while. He wants to give Sullivan and this group a chance to show what they can do before he reevaluates things.

— The exception to that, of course, would be a call-up to replace Bennett. Personally, I’d love to get a look at Dominik Simon. His hands have been NHL-caliber at WBS. Conor Sheary’s been tearing up the AHL too. Scott Wilson is a more conservative choice. Obviously, Sullivan has a handle on who is playing the best.

Bye for now,

jb

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