Penguin Notes: Wrapping Up Tuesday’s Loss

By John Toperzer

So what riled the New York Rangers up so much for a November game against the Penguins?

NYR assistant coach, Ulf Samuelsson, was interviewed during his team’s loss to Edmonton last weekend.

If you want the tenor of the coaching staff of this team, listen to what Ulf Samuelsson told me a couple of minutes ago in the dressing room. I asked him flat out if the lack of offence through the first two periods had anything to do with defending their own zone. Here are his exact words: “Collectively, that could be the worst two periods I’ve seen since I got here, and that’s a lot of games. Hopefully that was a low point for us.” He went on to say: “We are leaving it to the leadership of this team to rally the troops. It is not about X’s and O’s right now. We are not competing at a level we need to. We are getting crushed by Edmonton in our building and that is embarrassing.” For the record, Ulf Samuelsson has watched 120 Rangers games since he got here as the assistant coach.

The significance of Tuesday’s loss is debatable, but then again so is any regular season game. After all, everything’s geared toward prepping for the playoffs. There’s still much work to be done. Most likely, Pittsburgh won’t roster all of the same players in April it does right now.

Nevertheless, the Pens’ script has played out (at least on paper) similarly to a Dan Bylsma-led squad. The team has trounced much of its competition – going on a seven-game winning streak, killing 39 straight penalties, leading the league with a 35.6 PP percent.

But it has also come up short against two of its greatest rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. Had Pittsburgh lost to Winnipeg or Minnesota, it’d be easy to diagnose the X’s and O’s of the loss in a systemic, non-threatening way. But the Flyers and Rangers (to a lesser extent) bring out emotion other teams do not.

In a near perfect five weeks, the Pens’ only two Eastern Conference regulation losses have come at the hands of Philly and the Rangers. Head coach Mike Johnston has repeatedly said that every day of the regular season is designed to get his team ready for the playoffs. Time will tell whether he’s met his goal.

Fortunately for the Pens, there’s nothing pre-ordained about the season.

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Coach Johnston never said what happened to Kris Letang on Tuesday, except that the defender consulted with the training staff before going back into the game. Letang missed the last eight-plus minutes of the first period and the beginning of the second period with an undisclosed injury.

Watching the tape, initially it looked as though the Rangers Kevin Hayes slashed Letang on the wrist. At the end of the play, however, Letang took one stride and was seen limping toward the bench. In either case, the blueliner returned to the game and didn’t miss another shift. Letang has a multitude of injuries to his credit, including a balky knee, so the situation bears watching.

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The defensive pairing of Christian Ehrhoff and Robert Bortuzzo did not look good Tuesday. Maybe Ehrhoff shouldn’t get a free pass, but as a long-time NHL veteran he’s earned that right more so than Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo hasn’t been back long from his injury, but he looked slow Tuesday, sprawling out on the ice, screening Fleury, failing to clear the puck. He represents Pittsburgh’s biggest physical threat on defense (though Simon Despres has come on surprisingly well), but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bortuzzo sit for Scott Harrington at some point – if and when the Penguins actually put him in their starting lineup.

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I read on Dobber Hockey that Blake Comeau was on the ice for 18 shots taken and only three against Tuesday. That sounds really good, but what some fans will likely remember is the 2-on-1 in which he carried the puck down the right wing, whiffed on the shot and then got knocked off his skates.

Other fans might remember the blind, un-penalized Chris Kreider hit on Comeau outside the New York blue line. I’m not sure how Kreider’s hit wasn’t a penalty, unless the officials thought Comeau embellished the play by laying momentarily on the ice. I don’t get it, though, that should have been an interference call.

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Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist appears to have gotten into Pittsburgh’s collective mind. When former Penguin Tanner Glass swatted a Nick Spaling shot off of the goal line, it helped to set the tone for the night. It’s difficult enough to beat Lundqvist, let alone beating him without being rewarded with a goal. Evgeni Malkin appeared particularly frustrated by the King on Tuesday.

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Early in the game, Malkin missed a couple intended passes because he didn’t turn around to look for the puck. That’s a disturbing trend, dating back to the overtime game in which he skated out of the offensive zone with his head down rather than looking for a puck that was at his feet.

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Sidney Crosby was really no better Tuesday night, either. He lost an early battle with Derek Stepan along the end boards and was called for interference immediately thereafter on Mats Zuccarello. What’s with Crosby getting into it physically with the diminutive Zuccarello every game? It almost makes me wonder what Crosby’s game would look like if he was 6-foot-2, 225 pounds instead of 5-foot-11, 205 pounds. Would he mix things up more often?

Anyway, Crosby lost the puck twice on back-to-back possessions in his own end – the second time by Rick Nash – before Zuccarello scored off a faceoff win.*

*Obvious disclaimer that Sidney Crosby remains the best player in the world.

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Olli Maatta skated Tuesday in an on-ice workout less than a week after thyroid tumor surgery. Great news! The feeling is that Maatta might not miss the four weeks he was expected to miss.

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Beau Bennett skated primarily on a fourth line with Marcel Goc and Craig Adams in his season debut. The line looked pretty good, applied pressure. Bennett skated 9:35 TOI. There’s a scenario for Bennett skating on actually any one of Pittsburgh’s four lines. It will be interesting to see where the first-round pick finally fits in after the last couple years of unfortunate injuries.

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Root Sports showed a graphic on Paul Martin’s ice time. In 2013, he spent 12.2 percent of his play on the power play, a number which is down to 5.3 percent. Last season saw him skate 11.4 percent of his time on the penalty kill, 15.8 percent in 2014-15.

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Lastly, a 5-0 blowout loss seemed to be the perfect opportunity to send a message to Marc Staal that last year’s playoff abuse of Crosby wasn’t appreciated, but nothing happened. Almost reminds me of the Pittsburgh Pirates failing to retaliate against the Cincinnati Reds after Aroldis Chapman plunked Andrew McCutchen on the helmet with a 99-mph fastball a couple seasons ago.

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Links ‘n At

— Fun with Fenwick: Johnston vs. Bylsma, Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson reports.

— Penguins coach Johnston stresses shoot-first mentality, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Already, the Penguins have cut nearly a foot off their average shot attempt – 33.57 feet in 2013-14 to 32.79 this season, according to sportingcharts.com.

— Penguins stray from successful formula on the road, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

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Tuesday’s Penguin Post-Game Audio

Mike Johnston:

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Sidney Crosby:

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Marc-Andre Fleury:

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: Keeping Crosby and Malkin fresh, Claude Giroux’s numbers


Scenes from Monday’s Penguins practice

IMG_9914Will Geno and Duper get a new partner when Beau Bennett returns?

IMG_9846Rob Scuderi is part of a penalty killing group which has killed 37 straight penalties

IMG_9906Someone clipped Steve Downie while he was standing around Monday and he looked back at him like he wanted to kill the guy. Let’s hope he was joking

IMG_0027Joined at the hip on the power play

IMG_9899Rangers players might consider wearing shades if the Flower dons that blocker/glove inside Madison Square Garden

IMG_0318“Cmon’ Geno, I know u got it in ya”

IMG_0060IMG_0061Letang beats Fleury

IMG_0203IMG_0206Fleury returns the favor

IMG_3760Hornqvist can do it with his eyes closed

IMG_3704Three centers and a Tocchet

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Fun with numbers: Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux ranks seventh in the NHL scoring race with four goals and 18 points in 14 games, but his 6.2 shooting percentage is the worst among the league’s top 60 point-getters and 266th among forwards.

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Forty-eight forwards are averaging more ice time than Sidney Crosby, who leads the Pens with 18:44 TOI per game. Last season, Crosby skated 21:58 TOI, most in the NHL. Can it be that easy? Can the reduced ice time in October and November come back to help keep the stars hopping in April and May?

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The following players are seeing less ice in 2014-15 than 2013-14. Evgeni Malkin (20:03 in 13-14, 18:20 in 14-15), Chris Kunitz (19:09, 17:58), Pascal Dupuis (17:41, 16:26), Paul Martin (24:34, 21:53), Simon Despres (16:44, 13:47).

Keeping the 35-year-old legs of Kunitz and Dupuis fresh makes a whole lot of sense. Kunitz set a career high with 68 points in 2013-14, but scored only 13 points in his final 24 games. Dupuis is coming back from major knee surgery, something that needs little explanation.

Malkin’s numbers, along with Crosby’s, will likely increase as the season progresses. They bear watching, at a minimum. Martin has been playing more with Olli Maatta sidelined. Prior to then, coach Mike Johnston seemed intent on slowly phasing out the impending free agent. Despres’s sample sizes are small for both seasons. There’s little doubt he’s been more effective this year than last.

The top-six forward ice time formerly known as James Neal has seen a drop from 18:26 to the current Patric Hornqvist’s 17:48 – not that the two player’s ice times are directly relatable. Incidentally, Hornqvist’s time is actually up over last year, when he averaged 16:51 with the Nashville Predators. That might be something to track, too.

Brandon Sutter (15:46, 17:49), Kris Letang (24:14, 24:43) , and Olli Maatta (18:29, 19:59) have all seen increased minutes.

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Perhaps the Penguins should keep Beau Bennett in bubble wrap and quarantine him until say, the trade deadline. That way the team knows it has a healthy player coming its way near the postseason. Kidding aside, Bennett piled up five assists and a plus-4 rating in just two AHL Wilkes-Barre games over the weekend. The soon-to-be 23-year-old winger just needs to stay healthy, as one can gleam from his career statistics.

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Links ‘n At

Penguins defensemen playing at high level early in season, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Players pointed to Johnston’s system. Defensemen often struggled with the complexities of former coach Dan Bylsma’s system. Earlier this season, Scuderi pointed out that Johnston’s system offers defensemen “two choices,” whereas Bylsma’s system often resulted in “four choices.”

“I think the biggest thing with this system is that we have the ability to … make decisions,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “If something’s not there, we don’t have to force it. We can turn back and give it to our partner.”

I think Despres and Bortuzzo are just happy to be in the lineup after bouncing around last year — apologies to Scott Harrington. Simple is better, especially on defense, and the d-corps can read and react rather than thinking before reacting.

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Winger Bennett playing above AHL competition while awaiting call-up from Penguins, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Conventional wisdom says Bennett will slot into the Penguins’ top six when he makes his return, perhaps taking over for Blake Comeau on Evgeni Malkin’s wing. Bennett, however, isn’t necessarily lobbying for that spot.

“I really enjoy playing with (Brandon) Sutter,” Bennett said. “We have really good chemistry. Positive guy. I’ve really enjoyed playing with him preseason and a little bit last year. He’s one of those guys that’s always in the right position, and I know where he’s going to be. If that’s the slot I can eventually work into, I’ll be really happy.”

It’s not that Bennett desires a lesser role. It’s that the third line is being featured more prominently under coach Mike Johnston.

“This year, Sid and Geno have been around the 16- to 18-minute mark. Last year, they were getting 21 to 22 every game,” Bennett said. “The minutes are more evenly spread throughout.”

The minutes reduction for Crosby and Malkin might really come in handy for the playoffs.

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Center of Penguins’ third line doesn’t mind giving more, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

“To me, having watched him play over the last couple years, he’s a very good defensive center, but, at the same time, I think he can produce more offensively,” said coach Mike Johnston. “A part of the challenge for him this year is to pick up his numbers offensively. You start to see that lately.

“You don’t want to give up his defensive side of his game, because I can play him against anybody. I know every night he’s good in his own zone, end. He’s one of our top penalty-killers. [But] think you’ll start to see his numbers go up.”

I voiced my opinion on Sutter and the third line in the following tweet.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: Thoughts on Fleury’s contract extension

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by John Toperzer

The much-discussed contract extension of Marc-Andre Fleury on Wednesday comes down to whether you believe in him, whether you think you can win a Stanley Cup with him in goal.

Yes, he won a Stanley Cup in 2008-09. Since then, his playoff numbers have been terrible, up until last season. If you’re going to say the Flower won a Cup, you can’t discount his body of work since then. By the same measure, if you’re going to say he’s been an abject failure in the postseason, you also have to acknowledge his above average showing last year.

Fleury isn’t the type of goalie who will stand on his head and win games on his own like a Jaroslav Halak circa 2009-10. He’s not going to be the difference winning games but a good team can win with him in goal.

One aspect of Fleury and his debatable peripheral numbers is the fact that Pittsburgh’s philosophy has never centered around caring about defense and/or its goalie. Former coach Dan Bylsma’s best defense was to keep the puck in the offensive end of the rink, but at some point the opponent spent time inside Pittsburgh’s blue line. Bylsma’s system never successfully accounted for that aspect of the game.

Fleury has made more than his share of embarrassing gaffes, going back to his World Junior days. Click here (note Braydon Coburn wore No. 29. Foreshadowing?).

Do I think the Penguins should’ve extended Fleury. No I don’t. But I think that new head coach Mike Johnston’s system pays better attention to defense and insulates the Pittsburgh goalie better than before. I think that the team can win without Fleury needing to stand on his head.

He is entering the prime goaltending years from his late 20s to early 30s. The team is also talking about his positive veteran presence in the dressing room, which is nice but never stopped Tom Barrasso from having a heck of a career.

I don’t buy that the team should have re-signed him because it couldn’t do any better. How many times does a goalie come out of nowhere and have success? Happens all the time. I would’ve at least waited longer before re-signing Fleury. San Jose has both Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock. Chicago has Corey Crawford, Antti Raanta and Scott Darling. There are backups on other teams, some of whom simply need a break. But rather than getting bogged down in specific situations which will continue to play out over the coming months, it’s sufficient to say that there will continue to be alternative goaltending options available. That’s what scouts are for.

In the final analysis, Fleury proved first-hand to GM Jim Rutherford after the first 11 games of 2014-15 that keeping the goalie for four more seasons was the right thing to do. Whether you or I agree with the move really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s done.

On the other hand, it would be interesting to know whether the new deal gives Fleury a limited non-movement clause …

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Kasperi Kapanen is injured (I think). He’s been stuck on three goals and six points in five games for at least one week. His KalPa Kuopio squad in Finland has played 18 games, going 12-4-2, yet Kapanen has suited up for only five.

Click here for a Finnish-to-English translated article from late October discussing the son of Sami Kapanen.

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On a note of which all Penguins fans can agree upon, Fleury needs seven minutes and 57 seconds of scoreless hockey in Winnipeg on Thursday to break Tomas Vokoun’s consecutive scoreless stretch among all Pittsburgh goaltenders. Fleury sits at 154:46 and Vokoun holds the all-time mark of 162:42.

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Is it just me or does Pittsburgh radio host, Mark Madden, ring hollow whenever he criticizes Evgeni Malkin for scoring just five assists at even strength in 11 games thus far? Malkin enters Thursday with an NHL-leading five power-play goals and 11 points on the man advantage.

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It was kind of surprising to hear Pens coach Mike Johnston discuss his team intimidating opponents into not taking penalties because of Pittsburgh’s powerful power play. He’s right, of course. That was never more evident than Tuesday in Minnesota, but for him to actually come out and say it matter-of-factly gives us insight into the 57-year-old rookie head coach. The book on Johnston is still being written.

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Links ‘n At

Pens’ Fleury signs 4-year, $23 million extension, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“These are never easy because we’re talking about big numbers, and we’re talking about a player’s career,” Rutherford said. “I don’t want to suggest it’s easy. But Marc made it very clear that he wants to be a Penguin.

“He laid out his guidelines. I laid out ours. Once we did that, it moved forward fairly quickly.”

I have a hard time getting Rutherford’s midseason signing of Alexander Semin for five years, $35 million out of my head when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes. That deal has to be one of the poorer signings in recent years.

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Starkey: Fleury deal perfectly sensible, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

“Historically, there’s evidence they can get better into their 30s and play at a much higher level,” USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen said. “I know fans have a love-hate relationship with Fleury, but I really think he was their best option.”

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Scuderi Scores! Bylsma Speaks, Brent Johnson Remembers, Scenes From Practice

— Fun discussion with former Penguins goalie, Brent Johnson, the Pittsburgh Trib’s Josh Yohe and Twitter friends Josh Bagiackas and Josh Feitknecht after the Pittsburgh Steelers kickers got into a skirmish with the Baltimore Ravens team Sunday night.

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— Some visual evidence from Monday’s Penguins practice…

IMG_3381Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff

Ehrhoff has assists in his last two games and looks more comfortable taking shots from the point. He’ll be needed more than ever with Olli Maatta out for much of November.

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IMG_9482Roberto Bortuzzo and Patric Hornqvist

Bortuzzo will likely make his season debut Tuesday. Hornqvist showed no problems mixing it up with the big, physical blueliner Monday at Southpointe.

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IMG_9674Evgeni Malkin

Malkin has picked up a point in each of Pittsburgh’s first 10 games. This streak has a chance to be even more amazing than when he scored a goal in each of his first six NHL games as a rookie.

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IMG_3436Close-Range Combat

After working 2-on-1’s, the Pens put together cages at the top and bottom of the right faceoff circle, playing 2-on-2 with goalies defending each net.

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IMG_9706Rob Scuderi

Scuderi scored a big goal for the black team. Don’t think guys like Geno and Sid were happy? You’d think Scuderi just won the Stanley Cup in quadruple overtime!

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IMG_9700Malkin and Paul Martin

IMG_9701Malkin and others

Is it great to see a smiling Geno or what? Looks to me like he’s “buying in.”

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IMG_9707Sidney Crosby

Sid happy too!

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IMG_9716IMG_9717IMG_9718Sprint City Baby!

All good times must come to an end and after the mini-hockey matchup coach Mike Johnston had his guys skate lines just like the suicides many of us ran for baseball, basketball, etc. Notice the competition between Crosby, Hornqvist and Pascal Dupuis. Intense.

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IMG_9720IMG_9723Malkin

Notice how Malkin puts his stick out in front to win the race, like an Olympics speed skater reaching across the finish line. No shootout at the end of practice. Death of the monthly Moustache Boy?

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IMG_3499Again!

Herb Brooks tribute. #RIP

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IMG_9803Crosby

Crosby took feeds from the right point to finish his work Monday. Look for him to follow that up Tuesday night against the Wild.

Many thanks to John Toperzer Sr. for his photographic contributions. Love you, Dad

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— Penguins super prospect Derrick Pouliot is day-to-day with an upper body injury. He skated Monday for Wilkes-Barre but wore a red non-contact jersey, according to the Citizen’s Voice.

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— Former Penguins coach, Dan Bylsma, co-hosted on NHL Live Monday and talked about Marc-Andre Fleury.
“He has to be himself, smiling, happy-go-lucky,” The former coach says that’s a tell with Fleury. He has to be showing shooters in practice the puck after he makes a glove save.

Fleury has three shutouts in his last four games. If GM Jim Rutherford was thinking about trading the Flower in his final season before unrestricted free agency, now would be the time! While that last statement is meant to be a joke, there’s something to the old adage “buy low, sell high.”

Fleury needs eight minutes and 57 seconds of scoreless hockey to become Pittsburgh’s all-time record holder for consecutive shutout minutes in goal. Tomas Vokoun currently sits atop the record with 162:42 TOI and Fleury now has 154:46 TOI.

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— Not surprisingly, Bylsma was very gracious in all of his talk about the Penguins. Yes, he’s still getting paid by Mario Lemieux and company, but the man is all about class.

Co-host Steve Mears asked Bylsma about Beau Bennett.

“Talented guy. Got great hands, real nice touch with the puck. Does have a shot to finish, would like him to use it a little more. Had strong training camp in the absence of Malkin. He was one of the better players with the Penguins. Looking for him to come back strong, I think he can play on the top two lines. He’s got a lot of puck possession skills, hopefully he can go down to Wilkes-Barre get some conditioning in, be inserted into the Penguins lineup. I’d like to see him play 65-plus games.”
Bennett has played just 47 games in the last two-plus years.

Bylsma on Pascal Dupuis: “My favorite moment of the season to this point (Dupuis’s four-point Opening Night). Had a long rehab. He was out with major knee surgery. He was really happy to get back in that game. He’s been effective for them. He’s got a couple power-play goals. He’s been on a line with Evgeni Malkin. He’s not been playing with Sidney Crosby but he is playing with Malkin, with Sutter at times but with Malkin all of the time.

“Ray Shero’s made a couple of nice moves. That one (Marian Hossa trade with Dupuis package) was a throw-in that turned out to be a real good one for the Penguins.”

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— If Olli Maatta can handle thyroid tumor treatments/surgery with such grace, just think how easy it will be when the Pens rely on him to stop a 2-on-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final some day.

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— The Washington Capitals allowed six goals to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. Mike Green and his $6 million salary need to go. Coach Barry Trotz stresses defense but Alexander Ovechkin is a coach killer. At least former Penguins Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen got paid.

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— When on-ice officials overruled a called penalty to the Kings’ Jarret Stoll on Brandon Sutter last week, Penguins coach Mike Johnston argued the call but didn’t go crazy or blow his top. Fans are still learning about the former Portland Winterhawks head coach, but so far the results are encouraging. That said, what a bunk ruling that was.

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Interviews, Courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins

Mike Johnston:

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Sidney Crosby:

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Scott Harrington:

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Links

Ryan Wilson of Hockey Buzz previews the Penguins-Wild Tuesday. Click here.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

PS — If you are an American, vote today!

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Penguin Notes: Ehrhoff Stock Up, To Penalize Or Not To Penalize, Pouliot Hurt

By John Toperzer

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— Thursday was an excellent showing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but keep in mind that the Stanley Cup champs played their backup goalie and were missing leading scorer Anze Kopitar, plus Marian Gaborik and the suspended Slava Voynov.

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— Pittsburgh recalling Jayson Megna makes one wonder if the team’s forwards aren’t completed healthy. Kind of like when Scott Harrington was with the team for a week-plus but never saw any time.

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— Christian Ehrhoff seems to be finally getting “it.” He attempted seven shots Thursday (though he compiled only two registered shots on goal) and came out strong from the drop of the puck.

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— Will Beau Bennett reunite with Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter when he comes back from knee injury in 10 days or so? Bennett has top-six forward ability, but the above third line played well in the preseason and coach Mike Johnston anxiously looked forward to displaying the trio before Bennett got hurt. Johnston doesn’t like to mess with a good thing – he’s made very few lineup changes through nine games – and Pascal Dupuis, Evgeni Malkin and Blake Comeau have looked pretty good over the last week.

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— Of course, the team is striking on the power play like nobody else. Olli Maatta will be lost on the second unit for November and it looks like Ehrhoff will benefit the most. Paul Martin has seemingly served as Johnston’s ugly stepchild and has averaged only 55 seconds on the man advantage.

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— Johnston was not pleased with the referees reversing a Penguins power play Thursday. “I thought it was unusual, usually’s a call’s a call. If the referee felt he made a bad call, usually he’ll say “that’s what I saw.” They were very adamant that they erred on the call and they got it right. I don’t think you can go with that approach because probably most calls can be debated between two officials. I’d rather see them always trust their instincts. When they make a call, they make a call.”

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— KDKA-TV’s Bob Pompeani was at it again Friday. The Pittsburgh Steelers will retire their second number in history Sunday night, Mean Joe Greene’s number 75. Here’s what he had to say during Friday’s sports report.

“None of the players on the current team of course were even born when Mean Joe Greene was leading the Steelers on a dynastic run through the NHL history books.”

Pompeani then interviewed longtime veteran, Brett Keisel, and it got me wondering how old Keisel was. It turns out that the defensive lineman was born on Sept. 19, 1978, when the Steelers from that era had won only two of their four Super Bowls. Incidentally, Greene retired after the 1981 season and I still have the “One for the Thumb in ‘81” bumper sticker for which he coined the slogan.

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— Perhaps the only funny part about the sombering Maatta news was the rampant speculation prior to the 1:00 PM press conference. Twitter went crazy with the possibilities. Whether the news was about owner Mario Lemieux or GM Jim Rutherford, everybody seemed to have a guess.

There’s not much more anyone can say about Maatta other than that he’s a brave person and we keep him in our prayers.

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— Does anyone else find it funny that ROOT Sports announcer Jay Caufield spends time during games in Mario Lemieux’s private box? Isn’t he supposed to be an objective reporter? I realize he’s in the inner circle, so I guess “it is what it is” as coach Cowher always used to say.

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— Coach Johnston noted that Kris Letang is played good defense, challenging forwards, using his physicality well. What the coach would like to see Letang improve upon is his decision making coming out of his own end with the puck.

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–Say what you will about the ROOT broadcast duo of Bob Errey and Paul Steigerwald, but I would rather listen to them (or HOFer Mike Lange and Phil Bourgue on radio) than any national outlet.

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— Penguin super prospect Derrick Pouliot is dealing with an upper-body injury and won’t play over the weekend for AHL Wilkes-Barre.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Live Pens-Kings Blog Notes

By John Toperzer

First Period

Liked seeing Christian Ehrhoff with the number of shot attempts he took. Growing confidence can only help, especially when Maatta sits out November.

Malkin getting his 400th assist was a big landmark. Was it Malkin and Crosby that had achievements on the same puck and thought about splitting it in half?

Wonder how much of a difference game would be if Quick was in goal instead of Jones. Of course, giving the Pens four power-play opps is a recipe for disaster right now.

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Biggest surprise of the night is that Martin Jones is starting in goal for Los Angeles. Kings play tomorrow in Detroit and Jonathan Quick will start against the Red Winges.

Jones allows Dupuis rebound attempt on long Simon Despres backhander. Not sharp early, but not tested much thus far.

Christian Ehrhoff with a nice wrister from high in the slot. Jones hangs on. Would be nice to see Ehrhoff put the puck on net more often.

Andy Andreoff called for tripping on Patric Hornqvist. Early Pens’ PP 3:28 into game.

Alec Martinez with nice board work, preventing Evgeni Malkin from keeping puck in offensive zone.

Blake Comeau with an early Subway check of the game against Drew Doughty behind the LA net.

Kings go on PP 6:25 into contest. Don’t want to fall behind Los Angeles the way Pens did versus New Jersey.
Tyler Toffoli hooks Olli Maatta, LA power play ends. Good thing for Pens, Can’t fall behind.

Doughty puts slapper on net from between center red and blue line. One of Rick Tocchet’s favorite players in the NHL.

Doughty crunches Hornqvist, flagged two minutes for interference.

Thirty-nine seconds for two-man PP, set it up in O-zone with 21 ticks left.

Kunitz with a pretty little re-direct, gives Pens 1-0 lead on power play.

Evgeni Malkin collects his 400th assist. Still remember his first NHL goal. Do you know who assisted on it?*

Simon Despres draws penalty 5:36 left in first. Can’t believe he didn’t take the penalty.

Mike Lange announces Dustin Brown has served as LAK captain since 2007, Phil Bourque correctly guesses that he replaced Rob Blake.

*Mark Recchi assisted on Geno’s first career score.

Kris Letang passes up good look on PP and attempts pass to Kunitz, only to see puck go off Kings’ Dwight King for his first goal of season. Letang netted a career-high 11 goals in only 37 contests in 2013-14.

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Second Period

Kings shooting themselves in the foot tonight. Taking penalties, though the refs changing their minds on penalty call to Jarrod Stoll for interference on Brandon Sutter at the blue line is a first.

Steve Downie got into a little bit of trouble, but maybe that’s something the team has lacked in recent years, I’m not sure.

The Pens are only six goals short of their Saturday total.

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Kunitz just misses third point, almost shovels puck past Jones but misses net.

Don’t think Kings want to play Quick tonight, might be sink or swim with Jones. Would’ve been interesting to see what might have happened if Kunitz had converted.

Malkin took a shot coming down right wing 2-on-1. Good thing for Malkin to take those shots. He’s feeling it.

Jarrod Stoll called for interference on Sutter, refs change mind not penalty. Bourque incredulous on radio, says he’s never seen that before.

Dustin Brown called for two minutes slashing on Malkin. He has been a big waste since signing his last contract. Huge disappointment last season, which is shocking because of how consistent he had been.

Dupuis misses pretty set-up in slot. Best chance on an unsuccessful power play.

Malkin shoddy defense on the right boards of his own end, no surprise but Fleury makes glove save of shot from the slot to cover up.

Downie and Stoll stir the pot, both go to the box, Downie gets an extra two minutes. Even so, it’s amazing to see Downie restraining himself from going totally loco.

Kings miss on second power-play attempt. Seems like last minute of first period was Kings’ best showing of sustained pressure.

Mike Richard slashes down on Kris Letang hard, earns a trip to the sin bin. Pens 2-for-5 thus far on the man advantage.

Letang wrister from high in the slot save, then Matt Greene pushes Hornqvist from behind after the whistle. Kings frustrated.

Took potty break. Saw Mark Madden going for a food/drink break. I got popcorn and Snapple didn’t stick around to report on Mr. Madden’s choices.

Robin Regehr with a two-minute shift killing penalty, Pens’ first unit apparently stayed out for the bulk of man advantage.

Section 120 winning the cheer award for the game. Out-rooting rest of Consol like kids on a field trip.

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Penguins Notes: Jagr’s Giggle, Downie’s Restraint, Maatta’s Maturity

By John Toperzer

— Tuesday’s game will mark the first time the Penguins have played New Jersey without Martin Brodeur on its roster since 1993. Does it matter, will it help? Even at 41 years of age, Brodeur beat the Pens in both of his starts last season – limiting Pittsburgh to one goal in each contest.

On a side note, one wonders if Brodeur would have the backup job he so desires right now if he’d been a little less cranky working with fellow goalie Cory Schneider.

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IMG_8574Misty water-colored memories of the way we were

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— If you’re Jonesing for a quick little Mario Lemieux fix, Click here for your daily dose.

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— Olli Maatta’s announcement Monday that he has a thyroid tumor and possible cancer seemed eerily similar to Lemieux’s presser 21 years ago. Both players were scared, which isn’t the least bit surprising or unexpected. Maatta leads the team’s blueliners with a goal and five points in seven games and plays in every possible situation. The Pens might miss Maatta’s composure amidst chaos more than anything else, which sounds crazy to say about a 20-year-old – and one who still must complete his military obligation to Finland before age 28 — but he’s proven himself hockey-wise beyond his years. Surely he’ll handle his off-ice setback with equal aplomb.

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Click here for an article from 1992 about Jaromir Jagr.

So popular is Jagr, teammate Rick Tocchet said yesterday, that “a bunch of us will go out for a drink and he’ll head straight for the video games. There’ll be 100 young girls giving him quarters to play. They tell me, ‘Get your own quarters.’ “

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From Five quick points about the New Jersey Devils.

3. The penalty killing is terrible.

Having allowed seven goals in their last 13 shorthanded situations, the Devils’ PK now ranks last in the NHL (11 power play goals allowed in 35 shorthanded situations, 68.6 percent). What makes it so hard to believe is they’ve excelled at penalty-killing in recent years.

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Jagr netted his record 19th overtime game-winning goal and 125th game-winner Saturday.

“The scoring (stats) don’t show it, but I feel the best I’ve felt in probably the last 10 years,” Jagr said. “I had confidence that hopefully my luck was going to turn around and it did today. But even when the scoring wasn’t there I felt okay.”

After 11 seasons skating in a Pittsburgh sweater, 2014-15 marks Jagr’s 11th season skating for a different NHL organization.

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— Mike Cammalleri is not expected to play Tuesday. Penguins fans will remember his three-game stretch during the 2009-10 postseason when he blitzed Pittsburgh with four goals and five points, helping to bring the closing of Mellon Arena to an ignominious end.

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— Listening to the Bob Pompeani radio show Saturday morning illustrates why he’s the fluff-master of Pittsburgh sports.

Pompeani corrected a caller on air for mispronouncing the name of a Pittsburgh Steeler who said “Mar-ta-vee-us” instead of “Mar-ta-vis.”

Then, Pompeani — who is the KDKA-TV Sports Director — interviews former Penguin, James Neal. Pompeani asks Neal how it felt to score a hat trick on James Neal Bobblehead Night in Nashville on Thursday. Neal didn’t call out Pompeani until he further pressed the topic. Finally, the forward told Pompeani that his bobblehead giveaway was scheduled for the upcoming game Saturday night.

So Pompeani goes out of his way to correct a name that is difficult to pronounce in the first place but doesn’t even prepare for an interview with Neal. I hesitate to write bad things about other reporters, but it happens all the time with him and it’s annoying.

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— Back to hockey. Did anyone else see the restraint Steve Downie displayed Thursday? The Wings’ Jonathan Ericsson attempted to goad Downie into a retaliatory penalty during a third-period Pittsburgh power play. Ericsson struck Downie across the back of his legs but Downie kept his cool. Both players were flagged for minors though Ericsson was the initiator. Downie got a coincidental minor probably because of the name on the back of his sweater, but it was impressive to see his restraint. His talks on the bench with coaching mentor, Rick Tocchet, are fun to watch. One of these games Tocchet will tell Downie to “sic ’em” but only when it won’t hurt the team.

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— One thing that sets Jagr apart from other people is his boyish enthusiasm for life. One time I met him at the Hooters near Station Square in Pittsburgh. I used to give him hockey cards of himself to give to kids in hospitals. So I met him and Martin Straka and their buddy, Dave at Hooters. Jagr introduces Straka to me and then says “that’s Dave, he’s nobody” and proceeds to chuckle for the next five minutes over what he said.

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— Hopefully Maatta isn’t taking any risks by playing in the next three games before undergoing his thyroid procedure next week. Roberto Bortuzzo isn’t expected back for another five or six days, according to The Trib’s Josh Yohe. Maatta’s impending departure and Bortuzzo’s return sets up the timing almost too perfectly.

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Sidney Crosby took some heat for his whining against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, but his reactions were warranted. Henrik Zetterberg might be one of the sneakiest dirty players in the NHL. Zetterberg repeatedly held Crosby’s stick, picked off Penguins players like Pascal Dupuis in the offensive zone. If Simon Despres played like Zetterberg he’d be in the box the entire game. Of course, Despres is no Zetterberg.

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Penguins Audio (courtesy of the Pens)

Mike Johnston:

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Sidney Crosby:

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Kris Letang:

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Pascal Dupuis:

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Paul Martin:

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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