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October 24, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Some thoughts from Joe Louis

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DETROIT – Can you start practice two-thirds of the way through?

Might not be the worst idea given the Penguins’ recent struggles late in games.

First Dallas, now Thursday’s 4-3 loss at Detroit.

Which was worse? I’m taking this one.

They had so many chances. From Jimmy Howard robbing Sidney Crosby to the Penguins’ team-wide inability to get the puck into an open net, this was a game they should have won.

Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were their impressive, usual selves, but they should have never been given an opportunity to make such an impact.

“We can’t play on our heels,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “We have to play on our toes.”

>>>It will be interesting to see how the Penguins address this one.

The penalty kill has seemingly righted itself – 12 for its past 12 – after giving up six goals in the first three games. But, seriously, how do you practice late-game situations?

Can you?

“If you’re not smart and you don’t match their desperation, it will give them a chance to get back into it, especially with the talent and skill that they have,” Crosby said. “Up a man, it’s not easy. You have to find a way to execute in those situations.”

>>>The Penguins are not executing on the power play.

Sure, Thursday was better than Wednesday as far as getting set up and getting some sustained zone time, but they’re 0 for 5 over their past two games.

Not a huge cause for concern, but I’m wondering how much of this has to do with the other team adjusting.

>>>I thought Simon Despres was outstanding tonight – after a subpar game Wednesday.

He finished a plus-1, with six hits and an assist: that beautiful outlet pass that sprung Chris Kunitz.

Blake Comeau played arguably his best game as a Penguin: two assists, a plus-1, four shot attempts, three hits and two takeaways.

Liked him on a line with Dupuis and Malkin at center.

That’s it for me. Josh Yohe has the club in Nashville through the weekend.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 23, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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Of all days where a practice would probably do some good.

The Penguins had problems last night during a 5-3 loss to the Flyers at Consol Energy Center.

In the neutral zone.

Defensive breakdowns.

On the power play.

Plenty of stuff to clean up. Only with no time to do it, thanks to tonight’s 7:30 game against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

“With back-to-back games, you have to sort of catch your breath after the game, take a close look at it on the flight to make sure that we’re narrowing down to exactly what we need to do to win (Thursday) night and bring those points forward,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.

Will Johnston really be able to cull what went wrong against Philadelphia into two or three talking points?

We shall see.

I’m expecting goaltender Thomas Greiss to spell Marc-Andre Fleury. Not only could the team use a change of pace, but it makes zero sense to play Fleury in back-to-back games, then rest him Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday before New Jersey on Tuesday.

Johnston also said he wanted to see defenseman Robert Bortuzzo practice Friday in Nashville before inserting him into the lineup. So, seemingly no Bortuzzo, not tonight anyway.

I’m wondering if this is where they try to insert forward Andrew Ebbett and defenseman Scott Harrington into the lineup, perhaps for Craig Adams or Zach Sill and Rob Scuderi, respectively?

I also wouldn’t be shocked if they kept Scuderi in the lineup and sat defenseman Simon Despres, whose giveaway led to the eventual game-winning goal by Philadelphia’s Matt Read – and Despres got a good look, too, as he can be seen skating back at quite the leisurely pace.

The power play failed to establish much established zone time at all. It finished with one shot the entire game compared to 27 games in the first four games of the season.

“I thought we were separated from each other on the breakout,” Johnston said. “We have to come as a wave on the breakout, then you have more options. Once we get set up in the zone, we’re going to create some chances.”

News out of the skate:
No skate this morning. Johnston will be available at 5:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Red Wings: Detroit comes into this one 3-1-2 after a 2-1 overtime loss at Montreal on Tuesday. Alex Galchenyuk of the Canadiens scored with 3:09 left in regulation, then David Desharnais won it 56 seconds into OT. … Red Wings have been great defensively (1.5 GAPG) but not so great offensively (2.0 GPG). … Their PK is a perfect 18 for 18, while their power play has converted just two of 24 chances (8.3 percent). … They welcomed Pavel Datsyuk (shoulder) back Tuesday. He had an assist in 18:05. If you haven’t seen his backhander from the slot in the third period that was disallowed, I would recommend checking that one out. … Five of Detroit’s six games thus far have been one-goal games. … Forwards Henrik Zetterberg (2-5-7) and Gustav Nyquist (4-1-5) and goaltender Jimmy Howard (2-1-2, 1.77 GAA, .937 save percentage) are their leaders.

The series: Penguins went 2-0-1 against Detroit last year, with Evgeni Malkin netting 3-2-5 over two games. … This is the first of three meetings; next one is Feb. 11 at Consol Energy Center, then again at home on March 15. … This is the first of 17 sets of back-to-backs for the Penguins this season. … They went 20-11-3 in back-to-backs in 2013-14, including 9-6-2 the first night and 11-5-1 the second night. … Starting tonight, the Penguins play seven of their next 10 on the road.

Next up:
Penguins at Predators, Saturday, 8 p.m.

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

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October 22, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Flyers, 8 p.m.

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Mike Johnston has heard things.

About the intensity of the Penguins-Flyers rivalry. The physicality, too.

About the excitement and buildup for it.

“I’ve heard a lot and watched it from afar,” the Penguins’ first-year coach said. “Certainly the playoff series’ they’ve had, the games during the season … I know the intensity, the emotion around the game, and as I mentioned (Tuesday), as a coach, I’m really looking forward to it.

“With an 82-game schedule, some games blend into each other; this one really stands out. When I looked at the schedule originally and saw we were playing against Philly, on Rivalry Night, I thought, ‘Boy, that’s going to be an exciting game.’ We have the first one here. We’ve got to take advantage of it.”

To win the first of four meetings this season, the Penguins will need to also win the special teams battle, something they didn’t do last season.

Pittsburgh went one for 21 on the power play in the five-game series against Philadelphia last season, while the Flyers converted six of 15 chances.

The Penguins are coming off a seven-for-seven performance against the Islanders Saturday night on the penalty kill, and they would like to make it two straight without allowing a goal on the PK. Defenseman Olli Maatta played a career-high 6 minutes, 21 seconds on the penalty kill against the Islanders. I’d expect more of the same here.

Another key will be clearing the net of forward Wayne Simmonds, who leads the Flyers with five goals and seven points. Also dangerous are forwards Claude Giroux (2-5-7) and Jakub Voracek (2-5-7) and defenseman Mark Streit (1-5-6).

The Flyers have the fourth-best power play in the league this season at 29.2 percent, converting seven of their 24 chances.

Johnston talked about this following the morning skate – how he prepares his penalty kill. I thought the answer was fantastic. In depth and nerdy. He said he prepares only a few bits of info for the power play, but the PK gets more of an in-depth scouting report.

“You prepare your power play with a few bits of information on the other team’s penalty kill, but you prepare your penalty killing unit exactly as to what they’re doing, how are they successful, what types of plays are they running, how are we going to shut down those plays,” Johnston said.

“You’re really a lot more detailed on the other team when it comes to the penalty kill and shutting down their power play. We’ve watched it the last couple of games. They have a really good power play. Their puck movement is good. Their shots from the outside, when you have Giroux on one side and Voracek on the other, you’ve got some great shooter on the outside. Streit’s good up top.

“Simmonds has been one of the top net guys. We talked about with our guys, with Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist how important a good net guy really is on the power play. The details of how to kill against their power play have to be gone through specifically.”

News out of the skate: Forward Beau Bennett and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar before the morning skate. … The team recalled forward Andrew Ebbett and defenseman Scott Harrington from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Both played Tuesday night and recorded two shots apiece in a 4-0 loss to the Albany Devils.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM

About the Flyers: Believe it or not, the Flyers are tied for the league-lead in fewest penalty minutes per game. Dead serious. The number is 7.2 per game, half of what they recorded last year to league the NHL. … Flyers dropped to 1-3-2 after a 4-0 loss at Chicago on Tuesday. … Defenseman Braydon Coburn is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, and there’s a strong possibility he could play tonight. … Vincent Lecavalier (lower body) is out through the end of the month. … Goaltender Steve Mason played Tuesday, expect Ray Emery to start.

The series: The Penguins have lost the season series in three of the past four years and went 1-3-1 against Philadelphia in 2013-14. … Philly holds the all-time edge, 93-143-33, while the Penguins have been better at home with a record of 60-52-23. … Special teams were huge last year. The Penguins failed to score on 20 of 21 power plays, while the Flyers were 6 for 15 with the man-advantage. … Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is 24-15-2 all-time against Philadelphia with two shutouts, a 2.85 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

Next up: Penguins at Red Wings, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

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

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October 21, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Q&A with Steve Downie

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When Steve Downie talks, you listen.

Or at least I do.

Downie talked today and addressed crushing Frans Nielsen at the end of Saturday’s game against the Islanders, as well as the upcoming Flyers game, his first in the series as a member of the Penguins.

Here’s part of the media scrum today with Downie, who revealed that he and his wife went to the Penguins Halloween party as nerds.

“It wasn’t the best costume, but it was funny,” Downie said.

Q: What’s it going to be like facing the Flyers?
A: They’re a physical team. They like to intimidate teams. They like to play the body first. We have to be ready for their compete level. We know they’re going to come in here and work as hard as they can. We have to match that.

Q: You played for Philly. Is it weird being on this side?
A: I like being on this side. (Laughter) It’s going to be a fun game, so I’m looking forward to it. We have to match their intensity level and come to play the smart way.

Q: Walk us through the situation with Nielsen and Hamonic.
A: I thought they came out and played a physical second (period). They started taking runs at our D. At that point, I thought maybe I’ll start hitting them back a little bit. Take the pressure off our D a little bit. I made a hit. I thought it was a clean hit. I’m going to play hard. I’m going to play the body as hard as I can. There’s a time and place for that. I thought that was the time.

Q: What about the end of the second period, when you were seen jawing with goaltender Jaroslav Halak?
A: That’s part of the game. That happens on every team. You have to answer the bell when it comes and play a disciplined game.

Q: Year-to-year, is there ever a difference in the rivalry?
A: That’s a tough question. You play for the jersey on you. I forgot about Philly. My focus is here in Pittsburgh. This is where I want to be. I’m excited to be here. Excited to be a part of this organization and this group of guys. It’s been a good start. We just have to keep it going.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 21, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Harrington, too early for trends and the PK

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What to make of defenseman Scott Harrington being sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey league?

No clue.

Was a bit of a surprise, I’ll admit.

I was told – and had fairly strong reason to believe – that management wanted him to do more than sit in the press box. That didn’t happen.

The reasons will remain a secret, at least until Tuesday at practice when we get to ask around. I know this, though: Bringing Harrington up, and sitting him next to Rob Scuderi, was not by happenstance. Harrington is a key piece of the Penguins’ long-term future; Scuderi, at 35, is not. But the latter has won a couple of Stanley Cups, and learning from Scuderi would not be the worst thing for Harrington.

“It’s been great,” Harrington said. “I’ve learned a lot from all the defensemen on the team. They’ve been very helpful with giving me some pointers and stuff like that, making me feel welcome. Every day is a learning experience for someone in my position. Just try to soak it all up as much as you can.”

I asked Scuderi what the relationship with Harrington was like. He, like always, took time to think about the question and provided an intelligent response.

“Hockey is a sport where it’s more about observation,” Scuderi said. “Every once in awhile you might have a conversation about a particular play, but it’s more about looking at what a guy does than individual situations.

“I know that’s what I did. I think for the most part that’s what other guys do.”

>>Amid all the scoring for the Penguins’ top-six forwards, there are a few deficiencies – but Mike Johnston said it’s too small of a sample size to get worked up over.

In four games, the Penguins’ bottom-six and defensemen other than Kris Letang and Olli Maatta have combined for one goal (Blake Comeau) and two assists (Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff).

Could be a problem if we’re, say, 10 games in. But not four.

“For statistics, it’s still so early in the season,” Johnston said. “Ten games gives you a little bit more of a measuring stick on where you’re at in special teams. Or where you’re at with your depth in scoring.”

>>Funny how last week we were asking what’s wrong with the Penguins’ penalty kill, and Monday Johnston got a question about assistant coach Gary Agnew’s work with the unit.

Guessing reality falls somewhere in between.

I’ll say this: The goals allowed has dropped from three, to two, to one, to none. Amazing to see a pro sports team seemingly identify a problem, admit it, work to fix it, then have it improve.

Seems a novel concept, no?

Against the Islanders, especially five-on-three, the Penguins’ PK was exceptional.

The net-clearing problems were lessened, there were sticks in lanes, and they were able to clear the puck with ease when they did get a stick on it.

“I know early, with the three games against Anaheim, it didn’t look very good,” Johnston said. “But that was the first game. We did have some new people killing. We’ve got a couple new things we’re trying to do on the kill. It’s really evolving.”

Johnston said they haven’t incorporated some additional forechecks that they will eventually. Right now it’s pretty much an exclusive 1-3 look.

“We do have some other things we’re going to add to that,” Johnston said.

Practice Tuesday. Philly Wednesday. In Detroit Thursday.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 19, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: More on Hornqvist, special teams

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Penguins coach Mike Johnston said he believes a player needs 200 shots to score 20 goals or 300 shots to score 30 goals.

By Johnston’s logic, forward Patric Hornqvist is on pace to score somewhere around 57 goals; after 12 shots during Saturday’s 3-1 win over the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center, Hornqvist is on pace for 574 shots this season.

Seriously, the guy has 28 shots ON GOAL in four games.

“Our team philosophy is to keep teams off-balance with the shot,” Johnston said. “We want to get pucks to the net, create havoc and put them back on their heels.

“Hornqvist has been one of the leaders in that area. When he gets a chance to shoot, he’s not afraid to shoot. He doesn’t over-pass the puck.”

No, he doesn’t.

Hornqvist likes to shoot, likes to keep things simple, and that’s OK. Ask Hornqvist a question, and it will likely evolve into how he’s going to stick to his game and get to the net.

It certainly worked when he got his stick on an Evgeni Malkin point shot for the game-winner at 14 minutes, 44 seconds of the second period.

“He’s good shot, move puck, he’s going to net every time,” Malkin said. “I have puck, he go to net. Tonight, he score because he go to net.”

Hornqvist has eight points and four goals through four games, roughly 18 percent of his goal total from last season already. He also has a goal and four assists on the power play.

“They’re four good players,” Hornqvist answered when he was asked why he has meshed so well with Sidney Crosby, Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and forward Chris Kunitz. “They’re unbelievable. Sid and Geno are probably the best pair in the world. Letang is great on the point, Kunitz awesome in front.”

>>The penalty kill was also a story in preventing the Islanders for starting 5-0-0 for the first time in club history.

The second-best power play in the league went 0 for 7 Saturday.

“Our penalty killers battled really hard,” Johnston said. “They have a really good power play. We gave them too many power plays. But our penalty killers were outstanding.”

I talked to Nick Spaling about the PK wanting redemption on Saturday at the morning skate. Here’s one quote I thought was especially interesting:

“Obviously that’s the goal here (to keep the other team from scoring),” Spaling said. “We have the guys in here to do it. It’s just a matter of getting it done. Every PK, especially the start of the year, it’s about finding your rhythm and getting everybody on the same page. We’re on our way to doing it, and we want to start tonight.”

Looks like they did.

Club’s off Sunday. Josh Yohe will have a feature you’ll definitely want to read for Monday’s paper.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 18, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 17, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Could we see more Blake Comeau?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 17, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Looking ahead after Thursday’s loss

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So, what now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dupuis also could be at practice Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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October 16, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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Haven’t we seen this before?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TV/radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

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

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

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

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

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