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: $idney Crosby’s worst stretch ever

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By John Toperzer

Statistically, Sidney Crosby is in the midst of a career-worst, 10-game slump — scoring one goal and four assists in his last 10 games. Those five points in 10 contests represent the lowest scoring stretch of his 645 NHL games, including both the regular season and postseason.

From Nov. 27, 2005 to Dec. 17, 2005, Crosby also compiled five points in 10 tilts, but two of those points were goals.

Even when dousing Crosby with well-deserved criticism, it’s funny to think about how high he’s set the bar. How many players would love to average a half-point per game?

That’s not to make light of his struggles, however. Crosby had a chance to do much more than score a grand total of one time against both the Blue Jackets and Rangers.

What struck me as odd and fascinating at the same time was how the Penguins superstar treated the puck like a hot potato. It was if he couldn’t get the biscuit off his stick fast enough. Throw in low percentage passing attempts (to put it nicely) and his gliding on skates instead of trademark short, choppy “I’ll beat you to the puck” strides, and Crosby had the ingredients for a more-than-disappointing nine points in 13-game performance.

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“In Shero We Trust”

For the past several seasons, this mantra was bounced around whenever the team was looking to make a trade. Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle and David Morehouse voted Shero out of the Penguins’ circle of trust last Friday.

I was never a fan of repeatedly drafting defensemen high in the draft for anything other than flipping them. Why? Defenders typically take a longer time to develop than forwards. Also, the Penguins organization was perceived as ahead of its time, stockpiling blue line talent, but that wasn’t the case either.

Take the 2012 draft. Thirteen of 30 picks in the first round taken were defensemen, including eight of the first 10 overall selections. Every organization loaded up on the blue line.
What’s interesting in the Dejan Kovacevic interview with Lemieux and Burkle is that upper ownership apparently doesn’t want the team to spend to the cap every year, something which Shero did and was always fighting to stay under.

Ron Burkle said the following.

“We certainly don’t disagree with you on that. I think when we made a decision for a lot of good business to go to the cap six years ago, we were opening a new arena, and we wanted to let our fans know we intended to win. It was actually one of those two or three moments where we all got involved in the hockey operations, the GM’s world, and everything else. It’s ultimately our decision how much we spend, but we all sat down and said, look, you guys have a plan for the team you want to have in five years, we want to step it up. We don’t want to wait five years. I’ve got Crosby now. I’ve got Malkin now. I don’t think a five-year plan makes sense.

But what that wasn’t was a commitment to spend to the cap just to say we spent to the cap. And I think what we fell into was spending to the cap just because it was there. We don’t have a driven reason to spend to the cap just to do it. That’s foolish.”

I’m not sure what to make of Burkle’s statement, unless he’s simply saying he wants younger talent – which makes less money – to become a more prominent part of Pittsburgh’s roster.

Even drafting defensemen with the intent to perhaps deal them for a winger or center is risky business. What if your potential trading partner doesn’t need a defender? You can’t fit a round peg into a square hole, or something like that. For example, lots of folks have suggested that Winnipeg’s Evander Kane would be a nice fit with Pittsburgh, but the Peg doesn’t need defensemen. They have Jacob Trouba (taken one pick after the injured Derrick Pouliot and already contributing to the Jets) and plenty of others.

Once Shero finds employment with another organization, it will be interesting to hear any comments he might have to say about the Penguins organization.

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IMG_8470

Vice President Dan Bylsma?

One scenario has the recently fired, no wait, the recently Not fired Dan Bylsma taking a front office job with the Penguins for the remainder of his contract.

He could really use a break. Two crushing playoff runs and a nightmare Olympic finish in the past 12 months. What if Bylsma re-charged his batteries and took a front office job with the Penguins?

He’s on the payroll. The organization really, really likes him.

Why else would Burkle and Lemieux keep Disco Dan around?

It makes sense moving him into a consultant’s role. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.

It would also help explain was he wasn’t fired with Shero on Friday.

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Think back to when the Pens canned Michel Therrien. Did you know how to pronounce the word “B-Y-L-S-M-A”?

Be honest.

Keep that in mind as the team searches for its next head coach not named Mike Babcock.

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What if James Neal says he suffered from some remnants of his concussion in the second half of 2013-14? Forty goal scorers are hard to find. The first half Neal looked like a pretty good deal at $5 million per year. But he took more unneeded and unnecessary penalties than ever before and hasn’t had much success in the playoffs. Most likely, given his tradable contract, Neal’s played his last game in a Penguins sweater.

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“Kovacevic: Finish off wretched Rangers” Click here.

I wonder if the Rangers used the above article as bulletin board motivation against Pittsburgh.

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There’s been talk about a corporate culture within the Penguins. I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the importance of Sidney Crosby and his meaning to the organization. His presence has made it possible for the Penguins to sell out 334 straight games at Consol Energy Center. That’s what makes his disappointing postseason so scary to the franchise. Lose Crosby and lose the sellout string. A drop in the stock of 87 means a drop in the stock of the Penguins, on and off the ice. Pittsburgh’s marketing run has been unprecedented. The team sold over $900,000 worth of Penguin bags during a single broadcast during the 2013-14 – and could’ve sold more inside of Consol (had there been more bags for sale).

The team has basically been able to print money the last six or seven years. Losing Crosby as the NHL’s best player tag means an inestimable amount of money for the franchise, in marketing terms. You don’t think that makes the front office nervous?

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There’s nothing wrong with shaking goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s hands and saying “thanks for your service” and moving on. The Flower’s had a nice run with the Pens, but paying more than $5 million per year for him is probably too much. Historically, goalies come out of nowhere and succeed. Goalies typically play their best hockey in the late 20s and early 30s, but Fleury’s game is more about durability than eliteness. No one is ever going to call Fleury an elite netminder. At the same time, you know what you’re going to get from the Flower and you can’t say that about some other tenders.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: Soldier Field Fog and Mario Lemieux, Pouliot for what?

When I think of Soldier Field, I think of the Bears-Eagles Fog Bowl playoff game, played Dec. 31, 1988. Something else memorable happened the same day that Penguins fans might remember. Mario Lemieux scored five goals five different ways against the New Jersey Devils.

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Speaking of Lemieux, I posted a screen shot from Thursday’s Penguins game (see below). It would be interesting to hear what his Pee-Wee teammates, JJ Daigneault and/or Marc Bergevin had to say about his team-leading penalty minutes.

P1110995

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I can’t say Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler was ever on my personal wish list, but it’s interesting that Pens GM Ray Shero was thought to be considering a Kesler for Brandon Sutter and Derrick Pouliot deal (prior to Kris Letang’s stroke).

Two things:

First, I thought the Pens were set on keeping Pouliot and potentially trading some of the team’s other defensive assets. I’m not saying that’s what I would do, but I believed that to be the position of the organization.

Second, if the team was going to move Pouliot, couldn’t he bring a better return (along with Sutter) than Kesler? Not to sound too much like a partisan Pittsburgh opinion here, but if Pouliot is the Pens’ No. 1 rated prospect and that’s all his return is, he must really have some difficult defensive shortcomings.

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My trade targets would include San Jose’s Tommy Wingels and forward prospect, Dan O’Regan, for a trade framework including one of Pittsburgh’s defensive prospects and another San Jose need. Click here for Hockey Future’s view on O’Regan.

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To get you ready for Saturday’s outdoor tilt, I’ll leave you with a few pics my dad snapped during the 2011 Winter Classic practice day.

P1070558 Fleury’s mask wasn’t too cool for the 2011 Winter Classic

P1070092 If Robbie Brown (no. 44) could’ve converted on a breakaway, Mario would’ve finished with 200 points

P1070548-001 Pascal Dupuis wore a Steelers helmet during the Winter Classic skate

P1070295 Washington goalie, Don Beaupre, had no chance against this Pittsburgh lineup

Infograph Notes - 3 1 14 at CHI

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguins Notes: Inconsistent defense, .01 percent of Kris Letang, Therrien

pens camp 112

The Penguins’ current defense probably doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of well, anyone. Thursday’s game was all too reminiscent of games in the past couple springs. Lots of scoring, shabby defense, overwhelmed goalies.

A common story line in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the past few days has been about how the Penguins aren’t the same team they were before the Olympics break and how expectations should be lowered.

Did anyone watch the Pens in late January and early February? The Pens surrendered four goals or more in five of 12 January contests.

Pittsburgh’s defensive effort was bad but don’t be fooled by newspapers into thinking that it suddenly stinks. The defense hasn’t been very good — or perhaps more accurately, consistent — since the turn of the calendar year.

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Douglass Murray was called for interference on Brian Gibbons in the third period Thursday.
Said ROOT’s Bob Errey, “I guess Gibbons is okay, you never get any kind of reaction from him, positive or negative. But he seems to be a little shaken up … I mean he doesn’t give you much.”

Murray blew Gibbons up and absolutely no reaction from Gibbons. The winger might not be one of the Pens’ better players, but he rates highly on the “fun to watch” scale.

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Canadiens coach Michel Therrien is another one I could watch all day. Therrien benched the reigning Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban for the entire overtime because of Subban’s giveaway leading to a short-handed Brandon Sutter goal (and for whatever other reasons Therrien had). Therrien isn’t afraid to let anyone know that he’s the coach. Another Habs doghouse dweller, David Desharnais, scored the game-deciding shootout goal and has played well since re-gaining Therrien’s trust.

Therrien’s barking at the refs bought him a five-minute power play in the third period, too. Say what you want but the man knows how to work a crowd.

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Any season the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both healthy, the organization is in it to win it. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. That said, managing expectations is a good way to take the heat off a team which has had its share of postseason shortcomings.

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In case you missed Mario Lemieux’s Pee-Wee scoring exploits, here’s one of his seasons, courtesy of ROOT Sports in Pittsburgh.

P1110995

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Crosby has played in more games (59) in 2013-14 than he did in the last two seasons combined. The Art Ross and Hart trophies are his to lose.

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I’d like someone to ask Kris Letang what side and where in his brain he suffered his blood clot. That would go a long way toward determining what long-term effects he might have to deal with. I haven’t heard anyone ask those questions yet.

I’d also like to know how long he was on the floor of his bedroom before his wife found him. Could he speak, could he see? Apparently he suffered some sort of paralysis, since he couldn’t move — or is that a too great of an assumption? How long did the episode approximately last?

Letang mentioned that he’s still dealing with some of the same symptoms he felt prior to his stroke. That’s not necessarily a good thing. The hole in his heart (the “PFO”) is something that can be stitched up and remedied with a fairly common procedure. His media scrum, however, leads me to believe that his docs are unsure whether the hole in his heart was the entire cause of stroke.

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I almost cried when I heard Letang say he was among the .01 percent to have a stroke. That’s exactly the way I felt. I was too young to stroke and the type of stroke I suffered is rare. I like to jokingly say I bucked the odds when I had my stroke.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Telling his family that he had a stroke was the hardest part, Letang said.

“My family is still worried,” he said. “That was the difficult part, when you see your mom crying and your wife (crying).”

Letang said he has been spending more time with his 1-year-old son and his family.

Dealing with the realization that he had a stroke at 26 has been as difficult for Letang as the physical setbacks.

“It’s been, mentally, very tough,” he said. “It’s tough to believe. I’m in the .01 percentage. When I found out, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t even understand the word.

“I had to call my wife and ask her what it was. She went to school in English.”

For a month or so after my stroke, I had to crawl up and down my steps to the second floor, I couldn’t stand walking up steps. Every stroke is different, however, and I know how fortunate I was not to suffer any paralysis.

Kris Letang:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pens writer, Shelly Anderson, also suffered a stroke in the last couple years. Perhaps she’ll write something about her experiences, perhaps not.

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One of the best things about the Pens returning to action Thursday was listening to Mike Lange on the radio for a bit.

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Team Notes:

Despite the shootout loss, the Penguins extended their unbeaten streak to 4 games (2-0-2).

The Penguins lost in a shootout for the 2nd straight home game. It’s only the 2nd time all season the Penguins have gone back-to-back home games without a win (Oct. 21 and 25 was the other; 0-2).

This also marks the first time the Penguins have gone 2 straight games without a win since Nov. 23-25 (0-1-1).

Pittsburgh finished 2-for-5 on the power play. The Penguins have scored at least once on the man-advantage in 4 straight games (6-for-16). The Penguins’ power play has scored 2 goals in each of the last 2 games.

Player Notes:

Sidney Crosby notched 2 points (1G-1A), extending his point streak to 3 games (2G-3A). Crosby now has a NHL-leading 80 points (29G-51A) – 13 more than second-place Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim.

Crosby notched his 9th power play goal of the season. He now has 29 power play points (9G-20A) second to only Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals (32).

Olli Maatta’s power-play goal was his second of the year. Maatta’s 7 goals this season are the 2nd-most ever by a Penguins rookie D-man behind only Zarley Zalapski’s 12 in 1988-89.

Since Jan. 15, Maatta has recorded 11 points (4G-7A). Only 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson of Ottawa has more (12 points).

Jussi Jokinen’s assist marked the 400th point of his career. He has 20 points (7G-13A) in his last 20 games and 6 assists in last 6 games.

James Neal scored the first goal for the Penguins, notching his 300th NHL point in the process. Neal’s 2 points (1G-1A) tonight extended his point streak to 6 games (4G-4A).

Matt Niskanen tailed a helper on Crosby’s power-play goal to tie his career high of 35 points (7G-28A) originally established in 2007-08 with Dallas.

Brandon Sutter’s shorthanded tally was his 10th goal of the season. Sutter has 2 of the Penguins’ 3 shorthanded tallies this year.

Evgeni Malkin had 2 assists tonight, extending his point streak to 6-games (4G-5A).

Deryk Engelland scored his career-high 5th goal. He has scored 2 goals as a defenseman and 3 at right wing.

Attendance: 18,636 (315th consecutive sellout)

Dan Bylsma:

Sidney Crosby:

Marc-Andre Fleury:

Brandon Sutter:

Michel Therrien:

Notes courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: By the numbers, Despres with great opportunity

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**Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in scoring with 78 points (28G, 50A), 11 more than Ryan Getzlaf and 12 more than the Sochi-fallen John Tavares.

**Crosby has 55 primary points, which include goals and first assists. Getzlaf leads with 58 primary points.

**Evgeni Malkin ranks 9th in the league with 58 points (18G, 40A) despite playing in only 47 of 58 games.
Interestingly, Malkin has one more primary assist (28) than Crosby does (27).

**Crosby has registered 32 fewer hits than he’s received (63 hits to 31 hits) while Malkin has been hit 64 times more than he’s registered hits on opposing players (84 to 20).

**Chris Kunitz sits 17th in scoring with 55 points (27G, 28A) in 58 games. Kunitz has taken 24 penalties while drawing 15, giving him a net minus-9 penalties (24-15). That’s the worst mark among the top 20 scorers and fourth-worst among the top 50. Dustin Byfuglien (-15), Thomas Vanek (-11) and Jason Spezza (-11) are the only other top-50 scorers with worse ratios.

**The best Penguins forward not to make an Olympics team, James Neal, is one of 12 players to pot eight power-play goals, good for fifth-most. Kunitz ranks second in the league with 12 power-play goals, three behind the leading Alexander Ovechkin (15).

**Crosby leads the NHL in points per game scoring (1.34) while Malkin holds down second place (1.23 ppg) and Neal (1.22 ppg) is third. Steven Stamkos has the best numbers (1.35 ppg) but has only played in 17 games and doesn’t qualify.

**Penguins fans might remember defender Alex Grant, who was draft 118th overall by Pittsburgh in 2007. Grant has an amazing statistic in that he has scored two goals and has taken a total of two shots. Nothing like a 100 percent shooting percentage!

**Malkin, who missed in the Olympics shootout loss to Team Oshie, has converted all three of his NHL shootout attempts. Only Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle (4-for-4) is better.

**Defenseman Matt Niskanen leads the NHL with a plus-29 rating. There is a precedent for his impressive plus-minus rating and it’s not in Pittsburgh. Niskanen registered a plus-22 rating as a rookie with Dallas in 2007-08. His play had slipped the last couple games before the Olympics, but he’ll be needed more than ever with both Kris Letang and Paul Martin sidelined.

**Out of the top-50 hitters, Tanner Glass (4.05) and Matt Martin (4.58) are the only two players averaging better than four hits per game.

**For whatever it’s worth, Ovechkin’s Corsi (576) and Fenwick (429) are miles ahead of Crosby’s (302 and 248, respectively).

**Marc-Andre Fleury 22nd among goalies with a .921 save percentage during 5-on-5 play. That’s not really very good, but it’s not very unexpected, either. Fleury moves up to 10th in the league with a .919 save percentage overall.

**Despite missing 25 games, Kris Letang has scored the seventh-most goals (10) among blueliners, matching his career high.

**Boston’s Torey Krug leads all rookie defenseman in points with 12 goals and 32 points in 57 games. He cut his teethin 15 playoff games a year ago. Olli Maatta is a rookie in the truest sense and has totaled the second-most points (23), including six goals and 17 assists, in 57 games.

The difference between Maatta and Despres is the way they handle setbacks. Maatta served as a healthy scratch for one game. He didn’t get down or pout while he was out and returned with a vengeance. Despres reportedly didn’t have the same, positive reaction.

Despres will join the Pens for Thursday’s tilt against Montreal. He has the greatest opportunity of his career ahead of him right now – no reason to pout. Here’s to hoping he takes advantage of it. Whether that means he simple raises his long-term value or becomes a regular top-six blueliner in Pittsburgh, he has a remarkable chance in front of him.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Wednesday’s Pens-Habs preview, Tuesday’s pics from practice

Habs (27-17-5, 13-9-2 Road) at Pens (34-13-2, 20-4 Home), 7:00 PM ET

Based upon recent history, it’s difficult to say whether the Penguins will be capable of turning off the leaky goals faucet against Montreal.

Since the Christmas break, Pittsburgh has allowed its opponents 3.2 goals per game (in 10 contests). The team has compiled a 7-2-1 mark, but key players like Sidney Crosby know they have to be better.

“We can’t play a hockey game like that,” captain Crosby said after Monday’s 5-1 loss to Florida.

“I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance,” Crosby said. “The way we executed was bad.”

The Canadiens have struggled since Christmas, too, going 5-4-2.

Currently, they rank fourth in the Eastern Conference with 59 points, 11 behind the East-leading Penguins.

Montreal also has played inconsistently in its own end, giving up 3.18 goals per game over the last 11 contests.

The Pens will be sure to keep an eye on the likes of Max Pacioretty. He leads his team with 21 goals in 40 games and scored twice against Pittsburgh earlier in the year.

P.K. Subban leads the Habs in points with 35 (8G, 27A) in 48 games. The reigning Norris Trophy winner has not-surprisingly been at the center of controversy in recent days for his celebratory exuberance upon scoring an overtime goal against Ottawa.

Wednesday marks the meeting of one Canadian Olympic goalie against another who some feel should be on the squad. Carey Price will likely battle Roberto Luongo for playing time in the Sochi Winter Olympics while the tender with the most NHL wins – Marc-Andre Fleury – will be sitting at home watching the games on television with a league-leading 27 victories.

Brandon Sutter and Kris Letang are two players to watch Wednesday. Sutter netted four goals in three games against Montreal last season. Letang, for his part, compiled seven assists in those three games.

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The Montreal Canadiens beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, back on Nov. 23, 2013 in the only meeting between the teams in 2013-14. The Habs’ Max Pacioretty netted two goals and netminder, Carey Price, stopped 29 of 31 shots.

Marc-Andre Fleury took the loss. He surrendered three goals on 29 shots, including two during an 80-second span early in the third period. Those goals gave Montreal a 3-0 lead, a cushion it would need after a pair of James Neal scores made it a one-goal game with two minutes and 53 seconds remaining in regulation.

The game was played in Montreal, where Pittsburgh was playing in its second of back-to-back games.

Sidney Crosby went pointless and won just six of 27 faceoffs. The Habs’ Tomas Plekanec, on the other hand, scored a goal and went 16-5 in the circle. He also had some interesting things to say about Crosby after the game.

“You want to make sure he’s not on the score sheet, and that’s what we’ve done,” Plekanec said. “When he’s not on his game, when the game doesn’t go his way, he’s frustrated.

“That’s what you want to accomplish. We wanted to get under his skin and make sure he wasn’t on his game. When Crosby’s slashing guys, jumping guys, you know he’s off his game.”

Crosby recorded four shots, but was a minus-1 and won only 22 percent of faceoffs.

Plekanec said Crosby trash-talked all game long.

“He was talking all the time,” he said. ”I didn’t say anything. I was just listening. I’m a good listener.”

The Penguins won all three meetings in 2012-13, including twice at Consol Energy Center, where the teams play Wednesday.

Pittsburgh prevailed, 7-6, in a defensively-challenged, overtime thriller in Montreal on March 2. Price let in all seven scores on 36 shots while Tomas Vokoun – who skated Wednesday morning at Consol – gave up six in 39.

Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter all lit the lamp two times apiece. Kris Letang tallied four assists but finished minus-2.

Sutter scored two goals in that exciting tilt and then added two more in Pittsburgh on April 17. The center totaled five points (4G, 1A) in three games against the Canadiens, including two on the power play and two which held up as game-winners.

The Pens won the mid-April tilt, 6-4. After Habs goalie, Peter Budaj, allowed three goals on nine shots, Price replaced him and served up three more on 20 shots.

Brenden Morrow and the aforementioned Sutter each scored twice. Letang picked up two more helpers, giving him six in the three-game set.

Letang always plays an intense game against Montreal and Wednesday figures to be no different. In 2011-12, Letang suffered a concussion courtesy of Pacioretty but returned to the ice in overtime to score a game-winning goal.

P.K. Subban was held to one goal in three games against the Pens. He racked up 17 penalty minutes in the April 17th game, fighting Morrow and spearing Chris Kunitz. The refs wisely got Subban off the ice late in the third period. Someone from Pittsburgh would have likely sought revenge on Subban for the Kunitz spear.

Sandwiched in the middle of two crazy contests, Fleury and the Pens shut out the Canadiens, 1-0, in Pittsburgh on March 26.

Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal.

“He’s the best player in the world, so we got beat tonight by the best player in the world, by the perfect shot,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said.

In case you’ve never seen Therrien’s legendary post-game rant while he served as Pittsburgh’s head coach, click here for a review.

Fleury and Vokoun combined to make 37 saves in the 1-0 victory. Fleury left after two periods after colliding with Tyler Kennedy. The win pushed a Pittsburgh winning streak to 13 games.

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Tomas Vokoun, who has missed the entire 2013-14 campaign due to blood clots, skated on Consol Energy Ice on Thursday morning.

Congratulations to the 15th-year NHL veteran. Click here for more on Vokoun.

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I struggled to practice Tuesday, through the snow, wind and my father’s doctor appointment.
Here’s some of the photographic evidence.

IMG_8584 Fleury and Zatkoff sharing cooking recipes

IMG_8602 Matt Niskanen, 13 points in 14 games

IMG_8641 Letang looking for the biscuit

IMG_8659 Jokinen, underrated showing this year

IMG_8667 1 point in last 4 games

IMG_8688 Coach Bylsma with Fleury

IMG_8704 Never takes a practice off

IMG_8711 Pens practiced deflections Tuesday

IMG_8788 Malkin with the stick flex

IMG_8937 IMG_8938 IMG_8939 Fleury stones Letang’s shootout sequence

IMG_8951 This makes me hurt just looking at the picture

IMG_8963 IMG_8964 In case you wondered what “top shelf” means

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Dan Bylsma:

Sidney Crosby:

Jussi Jokinen:

Brooks Orpik:

Kris Letang:

Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT

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Team Canada names Sidney Crosby captain for Sochi Olympics

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By John Toperzer
@JohnToperzer

Sidney Crosby was named the team captain for Canada’s entry into the Sochi Winter Olympics on Sunday.

Crosby says he just recently heard the news.

“I found out a couple days ago,” Crosby said after Sunday’s practice. “It’s definitely a huge honor. I think, playing for Team Canada, playing in the Olympics is a great opportunity but being able to be captain is definitely an honor.”

It doesn’t sound as though he’s feeling any added pressure with the title.

“We’ve got lots of good leaders there, lots of experience,” he noted. With a short-term event like that you just want to come together as a team and make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Crosby added that he doesn’t believe being named team captain will change how he approaches the winter games.

“I don’t know if you need a boost or extra motivation,” he said. “I don’t think it changes my mindset. As time gets closer to the Olympics we all get excited for it. There are so many leaders, guys leading by example. I don’t think it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot.”

Zdeno Chara recently received permission to leave early for the Olympics as a flag carrier. Crosby would be forced to miss at least one game with the Pens if he left early for Russia. It doesn’t sound as if it’s a likely scenario, however.

“It hasn’t been brought up,” Crosby said. “To be honest, I haven’t given anything thought to it. I don’t think it’s something they did in Vancouver so I doubt they’d be asking this time around.”

The Penguins center doesn’t believe chemistry will be a problem for Team Canada.

“I don’t think that it takes a lot of work,” he said. “I think most guys have played for Team Canada in the past. You might have a different role. The most important thing is that you come together quickly, no matter if you’ve played in three or one (Olympics).”

There have been at least two separate bombings not far from Sochi in recent weeks, but Crosby believes the security should be adequate for the Olympians and their families.

“The way it’s set up, everything takes place,” he noted. “Guys will be together a little bit more together than last time.

“Obviously, everybody watches the news and knows that they’ve been things happening fairly close to there. From what we’ve been told, they’re going to do everything they can to make sure it’s safe and secure. We’re going to play and focus. It’s not something we’re totally worried about, but I think it’s hard not to think about when things are happening close to there.”

A couple reporters tried to get Crosby to bite on a new nickname, but he was having none of it. One reporter asked if “Captain Canada” would be a better name than “Sid the Kid.”

“Ah, I’ll let you guys work with that, I’m not going to get into that,” Crosby said.

It’s clear that Crosby is no longer a kid but a leader willing to accept the challenge of leading a hockey-starved Canada into its quest for a second consecutive Olympic Gold Medal.

Courtesy Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Not only was Olympic captaincy a question with Crosby in 2006, he couldn’t even make the team.

Team Canada director Wayne Gretzky told Penguins owner, Mario Lemieux, Crosby was under consideration for the honor but decided to go in another direction.

To his credit, Crosby accepted the decision diplomatically.

“There are a lot of great hockey players from Canada and I realize that,” Crosby said at the time. “You’re not making an All-Star team, you’re not choosing the guys who are the best scorers or who have the most points or the top 20 point-getters in the NHL, you’re making a team to go and win.

“That includes guys who have to be defensive forwards, guys who have some different roles. Either I didn’t fit that role or I didn’t earn a place to be there.”

Crosby was just a rookie for the Pens when he was left off Team Canada.

“I knew there were a group of guys in the mix for so many spots — I don’t know how many it was, but I think I was right in there,” said Crosby, who had 31 points in 31 games. “It’s special to play in the Olympics and when you’re that close, it’s a little bit tough because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you’re 22 or 26.”

Lemieux, who was still Crosby’s landlord at the time discussed his bright future in the NHL and Olympics.

“He’s young and he’s going to have many opportunities,” Lemieux said. “I know he was disappointed last night, but there are so many good young players now with a little bit more experience. It’s unfortunate, but he’ll be there for the next one.”

For his part, Crosby was already looking past the Olympic break.

“It’s important for me to move on,” Crosby said. “I try to go out and give myself an opportunity to play there and if not, I’m not second-guessing any guy there because they all deserve to be there. It’s tough because I thought I had a chance, but it’s not tough because I think I should replace someone else, it’s not like that at all.”

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Here are some interesting tidbits from TSN’s James Duthie and the book “The Day I (Almost) Killed Two Gretzkys … and Other Off-the-Wall Stories About Sports and Life.”

No. 1 on the list is that one of Sidney Crosby’s nicknames in the Penguins locker room is “Creature”, which Duthie writes is a nod to Crosby’s “freakish lower body.”

“It is huge,” Duthie writes. “Gigantic. Hugantic. His caboose would make J-Lo jealous. His thighs are bigger than my torso. All his pants have to be custom made. And the scary part is, his upper body is starting to catch up.”

Among other items on Duthie’s top 10 list:

No. 2: Sid can fight. “He came to me last year after I’d shown a couple of the other guys how to defend themselves properly in a fight,” former teammate Georges Laraque told Duthie. “He wanted to learn. I was showing him some stuff and we were going at it, and I couldn’t move him, he’s so strong. He’d be really tough to fight.”

No. 3: Sid is superstitious. “When he eats, Maxime Talbot must sit on his left, Pascal Dupuis on his right.” (Talbot has since gone to the Philadelphia Flyers.)

No. 5: Sid is not a health-food freak. “You must have me mixed up with Robs (Gary Roberts),” Crosby told Duthie with a laugh. “I’m not picky. When I’m hungry, I eat.”

No. 6: Sid understands the media better than Marshall McLuhan. “It’s crazy how smart and savvy he is,” former teammate Hal Gill told Duthie. “Sometimes he’ll say to us, ‘The media is trying to write a certain story, so when they ask you this question, answer it this way.’”

Credit the Montreal Gazette blog for the above Sidney Crosby information.

If the You Tube footage hasn’t been disabled in the above link, take a look at the Crosby interview. A 13-year-old Sidney Crosby wonders what it would be like to play hockey and even get paid for it.

My how times change.

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Treasure Life!
JT

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