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April 4, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Pens Roundtable show link

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Lot of doom and gloom with the local hockey club these days, no?

Well, Josh Yohe, Ken Laird and I broke it all down for you Friday afternoon, our weekly Pens Roundtable Show.

Here’s the link. Hope you can listen.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 30, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Penguins 3, Sharks 2 (SO)

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The way Penguins coach Mike Johnston explained it, David Perron texted him sometime Sunday afternoon and said he was feeling better. Johnston told Perron, who was sick and missed Saturday’s game, to stop by his office when he arrived at Consol Energy Center.

“He said, ‘I can play. I know we’re going to be shorthanded. I’ll take five minutes, three minutes, whatever you can give me. But I think I can contribute tonight.’ ” Johnston explained in his postgame comments following a 3-2 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.

“I said, ‘You better be able to if we’re going to dress you. You have to be able to contribute in some way’ He said he could.”

So Perron did. He played on a fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Craig Adams, finishing with 10:06 of ice time and three shot attempts, one on goal. He nearly ended it late in regulation, too.

Then, of course, Perron beat Alex Stalock with a backhander in the first round of the shootout.

Hard to fathom earlier Sunday, when Johnston said Perron would “probably not” play after not taking part in an optional morning skate.

“I was wondering if I was going to sleep at night, and I slept the whole night again,” Perron said of Saturday into Sunday. “When I woke up, I felt a lot better. I stayed at my house, just to get more rest. That’s why I think everyone was pretty cautious about saying whether I would play or not. I got here. I’m glad I was able to play and get that shootout goal.”

=Because defenseman Kris Letang is out and the Penguins are hitting their heads on the salary cap, they played with five defensemen. Again. Here’s how the minutes broke down:

Ben Lovejoy 27:44
Paul Martin 27:25
Rob Scuderi 25:36
Ian Cole 25:05
Derrick Pouliot 18:21

I thought Cole was especially good, and I asked Johnston about it afterward.

“Our whole defense picked up their game,” Johnston said. “I thought Scuderi played one of his better games in the last month. I really liked his game. Lovejoy was excellent out there. Cole had a solid night.

“With guys stepping up in minutes – and Marty is Marty; he always plays the same, so we expect that out of him – I thought other guys stepped into new minutes … it’s tough playing (with) five (defensemen), and it’s tough playing against San Jose because they have speed, and they also move the puck east-west so quick. Makes it tough on coverage, tough on defensemen. They’re a challenging team to play with five D.”

=Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 30 of 32 shots to improve to 13-4-4 in 21 starts against Western Conference teams this season.

=The Penguins (42-23-11) are 25-4-3 when leading after the first period and 4-0-2 in their past six against the Sharks at home.

=Sunday marked their final game of the regular season against a Western Conference club. They finished with an 18-6-4 record against the West.

=The Sharks (37-30-9) have 83 points, seven behind the Winnipeg Jets for the second wild-card spot in the West. San Jose has made the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons, second in the NHL behind the Red Wings’ 23. The Penguins are third with eight consecutive seasons.

=How Patric Hornqvist’s goal happened: It came at 7:08 of the opening period. Daniel Winnik made a nifty play fishing out a puck from behind the Sharks’ net, and Hornqvist converted on a backhander for his 24th of the season and first since missing five games with an undisclosed injury. Hornqvist has nine goals and 13 points in his past 13 games.

=How Chris Kunitz’ goal happened. Came on the power play at 8:04 of the first and was his first tally in 15 games. Pouliot zipped a cross-ice pass to Sidney Crosby while falling over, and Crosby threaded a perfect pass to Kunitz, who shot the puck off Stalock.

Club is off Monday. Back at it for practice Tuesday.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 27, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Hurricanes 5, Penguins 2

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Do the Penguins have a defensive problem?

I don’t think so. But what we saw during Thursday’s 5-2 loss at Carolina was not encouraging.

“For the last two or three weeks, we’ve been real solid defensively,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “The game at home against Detroit was an exception. I think tonight was (an exception as well). For the most part, we’ve played tight. We haven’t given up a lot of scoring chances or secondary chances. That wasn’t the case tonight.”

The Penguins allowed the Hurricanes to have 49 shot attempts, 28 that they placed on goal. Five of those 28 went in.

It wasn’t egregious, but the Penguins thought they were much too careless in the defensive zone.

“That was the first game since I’ve been here that we didn’t play great defensively,” Ben Lovejoy said. “We score goals as a team, we defend as a team. Tonight, we did some cheating. We had some turnovers. For me and the time I’ve been here, this is an uncharacteristic game. That team has a lot of speed. They try to create off the rush using that speed. We fed into that game. Against a team like that, you need to be even smarter with the puck. We were the opposite tonight.”

What’s potentially frightening is the Penguins have struggled to score without Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. Now, this.

Coach Mike Johnston said he liked the Penguins’ start. Then things sort of came apart, starting with Scuderi turnover that I wrote about for Friday’s print edition.

“They capitalized on a turnover on their first goal,” Johnston said. “I thought we missed a couple chances. Then really what happened in the game, for me, was when we missed our chances, we didn’t capitalize on our chances, we got onto the offensive side of the puck, and we didn’t come back. We weren’t above the puck. They’re a transition team. Two of their goals were off the rush. Their second and third goal. I thought that was the difference in the game right there.”

The Hurricanes now have 10 Metropolitan Division wins. The Penguins have nine.

There are eight games left, and the Penguins can’t afford to let their defensive game — they allow 2.43 goals per game, eighth-best in the league — to slip.

“I thought our puck management at times wasn’t as good,” Johnston said. “The transition opportunities, you just have to get above your check. It’s a footrace back to our zone. A lot of times we’re within a foot or two. It’s that extra effort, that extra intensity to catch the guy.”

As we were clearing out of the locker room, Sidney Crosby — who owns the NHL scoring lead, though it seems a very dim bright spot right now — sat alone at his locker stall, his head down in bewilderment.

The Penguins had chances against Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, though they didn’t convert. Not much to complain about offensively, they thought, but the defense was certainly troublesome.

“That’s going to happen. You’re going to run into hot goalies sometimes,” Crosby said. “Doesn’t mean that you can give up what we gave up. We had a chance to grab a two-goal lead, but it’s still no excuse for the way we defended.”

Club practices at noon Friday at Consol Energy Center. Josh Yohe will be covering.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 25, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Lovejoy anything but happy

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While everyone else was gathered around goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, I spotted defenseman Ben Lovejoy sitting alone inside the Penguins locker room late Tuesday night following a 3-2 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

“Hey Ben,” I started, “mind if I ask you a couple?”

“Sure,” he replied.

“You guys just earned a point against a pretty good hockey team,” I started. “Are you happy with that?”

As it turned out, Lovejoy was not.

Especially not as it related to his own play on Alex Steen’s game-winner 35 seconds into overtime.

Lovejoy blamed himself for the goal. Did it a couple times, too. Was really, really harsh. Maybe, after watching it a few more times, unduly harsh.

But something struck me about how Lovejoy carried himself: He was accountable, almost to a fault.

“Is this (overtly blaming himself) a sign of where you guys are?” I asked Lovejoy.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I haven’t been here long enough to tell.”

Fair enough. The man is nothing if not honest.

Anyway, back to the earlier stuff.

Lovejoy’s take on Tuesday’s game?

“I thought we had an up-and-down game,” Lovejoy said. “We played well in stretches, but there was a stretch of 15 minutes in the second period where they took it to us, then that overtime goal was my fault. He was able to get inside position. I can’t let that happen.”

Sam Kasan of the Penguins and @PensInsideScoop followed by asking Lovejoy whether it was a good thing that they scored two goals and whether that was something to build on.

Lovejoy was having none of it.

“We had a lot of good things that happened, but I feel bad,” Lovejoy said. “I shouldn’t have let that last goal go in. That was my fault.”

I later asked Lovejoy a little more about why the last goal was his fault.

“We were battling on the boards,” Lovejoy said. “He was able to get inside position. I wasn’t able to control his stick. Fleury can’t be expected to stop that. That’s my guy. That’s my stick. And I need to make it so he can’t tip that. I did not.”

Dejan Kovacevic of DKonPittsburghSports.com asked Lovejoy whether that was an absurdly tough play for him, noting that Steen’s not exactly a slouch.

“Yes, but I like to be trusted in those situations,” Lovejoy said. “(Tuesday) he was able to get position on me and score a big goal. I need to be able to stop that. That was my guy on the ice. That’s my fault.”

And some serious accountability, , too, something that — whether it’s the other guys’ style or not — we haven’t heard a ton of recently.

That’s not to blame Sidney Crosby, who talks pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day. Crosby doesn’t praise himself or blame himself. He’s generic 99.9 percent of the time. Or Blake Comeau, who’s one of the more open and honest voices in the locker room. Or even Fleury.

But an honest, blame-yourself-and-nobody-else response hadn’t come in awhile. Will be interesting to see, for sure, whether Tuesday’s effort — and the players’ collective take — does anything to propel them forward for the final nine games of the regular season.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 20, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Pens Roundtable link

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Earlier today I joined Ken Laird in studio and Josh Yohe on the phone to discuss all things Penguins.

What’s wrong with the offense? The power play? Are they undisciplined? Will it matter? All were topics we tackled.

Also, the impact of Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. Are the Penguins in trouble? Mike Johnston’s demeanor. A bunch of good stuff. Hope you can listen.

Here’s the link.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 18, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Devils 2, Penguins 0

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NEWARK, N.J. – I thought Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center might be the type of game where the getting-chances argument no longer holds water.

It was.

Coach Mike Johnston pegged much of his team’s inability to score on its play around the Devils’ net. OK. I can’t argue.

But my big question is why, on a team with so many gifted offensive players, are we seeing eight shutouts, five since the all-star break?

There’s no reasonable explanation here, other than the players just aren’t that good. And I really don’t think that’s the case; the horses aren’t producing. It’s strange. Then again, I supposed Mike Trout and Tom Brady hit the skids now and again.

Here was Sidney Crosby when asked whether it was frustrating to have scored one goal in three games as a team.

“That’s not what you want to run into,” Crosby said. “That being said, the games are tight. You have to find ways to produce. When you get your chances, you have to bury them. Usually when you get 35 shots, you have a pretty good chance of at least getting one. Wasn’t the case tonight.”

Again, as I detailed in my gamer, Johnston was pretty overtly critical of his team’s effort when it came to such things as battle or compete – buzzwords that will get players’ attention.

“You have to continue to reinforce it,” Johnston said. “We have to go back and we have to show a lot of the goals we’ve scored in the five-foot area. In order to score at this level, if that’s where they come from, then you’ve got to be hard, you’ve got be strong, you’ve got to be there screening. But it wasn’t just screening for me tonight. It was the battle around those areas.”

I only used part of this Paul Martin quote for my game story, but all of it is pretty good. Some context: Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin are out. The Penguins need people to step up and do things – score goals, go to the net, whatever.

That, obviously, didn’t happen Tuesday.

“We just haven’t been able to finish,” Martin said. “I think that’s the toughest part. When you have some key guys out of the lineup, you have to make sure you’re still making plays into the net. It’s up to us to finish, to execute.”

At least some responsibility will inevitably fall on a guy like Chris Kunitz, who has one goal in 21 games. That’s not top-line production, but who else would you put on Crosby’s wing?

Steve Downie? Blake Comeau? Daniel Winnik? Maybe the first, the second saps your second line and has not displayed a great deal of chemistry with Crosby, and the third is an unknown.

The easier solution is for Kunitz to finish. The Penguins, and Kunitz, know this – or at least you would think.

But, hey, the Islanders lost again Tuesday. They’re struggling. Sure, the Penguins have missed a chance to gain ground, but I’m not sure the Rangers are catchable at this point.

There are a dozen games left, two against playoff teams. The Penguins have plenty of time to figure this out. Or at least an opportunity.

“Schneider did suck some in and keep them tight, but there were other pucks that were there,” Johnston said. “We just have to battle. We have to have a heavy stick. We have to compete in those areas.

“A lot of our wingers are good around those areas, but instead of waiting for that puck to come to you in a softer area, you’ve got to get to the harder areas. You’ll hear everybody talk about that now with the goal-scoring the way it is.”

Yeah, especially if said goal-scoring never materializes.

Club practices Wednesday at Prudential Center at 11 a.m. Will have updates, then Josh Yohe has the rest of the trip.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 13, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Pens Roundtable link

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Here’s a link to Friday’s Pens Roundtable show on TribLive Radio.

Among the topics are fellow beat man Josh Yohe and I disagreeing with Rob Rossi, the Penguins’ defense configuration when Christian Ehrhoff returns, the struggles of the power play and Rick Tocchet’s feelings on it and many other things.

Hope you can give it a listen.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 13, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Penguins 6, Oilers 4

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Mike Johnston didn’t mince words.

Whether it was Derrick Pouliot, Steve Downie or his team’s performance during a 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Consol Energy Center on Thursday, the Penguins head coach said what was on his mind postgame.

“I didn’t like the game tonight, for sure,” Johnston said. “I didn’t like a lot of parts of the game. Certainly individuals I thought were really casual.”

Then again, saying you didn’t like something when that something was squandering a 4-0 lead to the second-worst team in the NHL isn’t exactly taking a gigantic leap.

The Oilers stink, and the Penguins nearly blew this one.

A big reason could have been Pouliot, who followed his best game as a pro Monday in San Jose with easily his worst one.

Johnston, remember, coached Pouliot in junior. Here’s his answer when Trib Total Media’s Rob Rossi asked about how to build off of this one with the young defenseman.

“I do know him well, so I know how to handle him. Usually with players like that, you have to be careful at this level because the reason he plays well is because he plays with confidence. You don’t want him to lose his confidence, but he has to recognize consequences in his game.

“Tonight, where he got himself into trouble was when there were people around him; all he had to do was move the puck, punch it away and get it beyond the traffic. He didn’t do that, and that’s where Derrick gets himself into trouble.

“For him it’s a learning experience. I talked to Gary (Agnew) on the bench. We sat him for a few shifts, and we threw him back out into the action. I think that’s the only way to really develop some young players — to make sure they understand what you’re saying, then you allow them an opportunity to try and correct it.”

Another who drew Johnston’s wrath was Downie, whose penchant for taking third-period penalties has frustrated management. Now, add the head coach to the list after Downie was called for hooking at 3:40 of the third, and Benoit Pouliot scored at 4:51 to pull the Oilers to 4-3.

Downie has taken five minor penalties over his past eight games.

“The Downie penalty … ‘Downs’ has to get back to where he was in not taking penalties,” Johnston said. “He took two the other night. The one tonight in the offensive zone, you can’t take a penalty in the offensive zone and give the other team a chance at that time in the game.”

A few other tidbits:

=Downie finished with a goal and an assist for his eighth multi-point game of the season.

=Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and David Perron combined for seven points and a plus-6 rating. Evgeni Malkin, Blake Comeau and Chris Kunitz totaled one assist and were a minus-3.

=Despite four goals against, Kris Letang was a plus-2, Paul Martin a plus-3. Letang is plus or even in 11 straight, Martin the same in 10 of 11. Crazy stuff.

=Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 of 29 shots to improve to 8-3-2 over his past 13 starts.

That’s it for me. Club practices at noon at Southpointe. See yinz there.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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March 12, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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

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The Penguins sounded a bit like car salesmen Thursday morning.

Be wary of Edmonton. The Oilers are a tough opponent. Their last handful of games were close. They even had leads.

Perhaps the only realistic assessment was this: The Penguins (38-18-10, 86 points) need to be wary of playing the Oilers (18-38-11, 47 points) on Thursday at Consol Energy Center because it’s the first game back after a long road trip.

“Coming back from a four-game road trip out west, we can’t get caught sleeping,” forward David Perron said.

Edmonton, with the second-lowest point total in the NHL, is not very good. Let’s not kid ourselves. The Oilers’ power play is 25th in the league at 16.2 percent. Their penalty kill is worse – 27th at 77.7 percent.

They’re 2-6-2 in their past 10 and are 0-4-1 in their past five. They average 2.19 goals per game, 28th the league. They have a player – Nail Yakupov – who is actually a minus-33.

But …

“You take a look at the standings and you see they’re kind of buried, but at the same time, they do have some upper-end talent that can burn you if you’re not on the ball and not paying attention,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “I think we really have to focus on ourselves tonight. It’s not so much about Edmonton as it is about ourselves. If we do the things we need to do, we’re going to give ourselves a great chance to win the game.”

The Penguins have certainly handled the Oilers of late. Edmonton has one win here in 22 years. They’re 6-0-2 in their last eight against Edmonton, winners of three in a row at home.

Sidney Crosby has 1-5—6 in his last three games against Edmonton. Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off a 22-save shutout against the Oilers on Feb. 4.

(Since then, by the way, Fleury is 7-3-2 over his past dozen starts, with a 1.41 GAA, zero games with more than three goals allowed, nine with two or fewer and three shutouts. Just ridiculous stuff.)

“This Edmonton team I’ve played a lot over the past couple years,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “While they haven’t done all that well in the standings, they are a dangerous team. They have so much skill, and they’re not scared to make plays. We need to be ready for them tonight.”

Five-on-five, the Penguins have been really good lately. They have a plus-151 differential in five-on-five shot attempts in close situations, the fourth-best figure in the league.

Their penalty kill also went 10 for 11 during the most recent road trip west, against the Avalanche, Ducks, Kings and Sharks. The key – in this humble opinion, anyway – will be igniting a power play that hasn’t scored in four games since going 3 for 6 against Columbus on March 1.

“It seems like we’ve gone up and down,” coach Mike Johnston said. “I thought on the road trip, though, our power play was dangerous. We just didn’t convert. Did we get enough shots? Not from the point. I thought we did do a lot of good things on the power play.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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