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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 1:10 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Thomas chases career-best 10th straight win

PITTSBURGH -- Goaltender Tim Thomas goes for a career-high 10th consecutive victory when the Boston Bruins -- the NHL's hottest team with a 13-0-1 record in its last 14 -- take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.
 
Thomas has enjoyed some success against the Penguins, going 7-4-4 with one shutout and a 2.74 goals-against average against them. The NHL's First Star for November, when he was 9-0 with a 1.76 GAA, Thomas hasn't lost since Oct. 27 against Montreal.
 
Thomas, as usual on a game day, did not speak to reporters following the morning skate.
 
Of course, a lot of goalies don't have much to say on a day they're opposing Sidney Crosby. For the record, Crosby -- who returned to the Penguins two weeks ago following a concussion layoff that lasted more than 10 months -- has 6 goals and 22 assists and is a plus-9 in 18 career games against Boston.
 
Coach Claude Julien did not reveal any anticipated lineup changes.
 
"It's exciting to be able to play a game like this, against a team that's extremely good and has Sidney back. A team that has earned a lot of respect around the League," Julien said. "For us, we've got to make it fun. It's not a situation where we've got to win at all costs. It's about going out there and competing and playing as good as you can, and having fun with it."
 
Apparently, that fun began about seven hours before the opening faceoff. Rushing to get to the team bus for the short ride back to the Bruins' hotel, rookie forward Tyler Seguin -- wearing shorts -- went from room to room in the dressing room, looking for a suit that linemate Brad Marchand had hidden.
 
The Bruins' likely lineup:
 
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
 
Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid
 
Thomas is 4-3 in Pittsburgh during his career. The backup goalie will be Tuukka Rask, who made 21 saves during a 4-1 win over Toronto on Saturday night. He is 4-0-1 in his last five starts.
 
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 11:58 AM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Penguins' young defense gets test from Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' depth is one of the organization's strengths. That depth will be severely tested Monday night against the streaking Boston Bruins in an Eastern Conference matchup of division-leading teams.
 
The Penguins (16-7-4), who are 5-1-1 since star Sidney Crosby returned, lead the Atlantic Division and the conference with 36 points. The Bruins (16-7-1) top the Northeast Division after going 13-0-1 in their previous 14.
 
"They've been at a high level, an elite level," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "The best in the League."
 
Three of the six Penguins defensemen expected to be in uniform were with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) only days ago: Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo and Alexandre Picard. Picard returned to the Penguins Monday after Kris Letang -- off to a fast start with 3 goals and 16 assists in 22 games -- was placed on the injured reserve list, backdated to Nov. 26.
 
Letang and Zbynek Michalek, who have concussions, did not take part in the morning skate. The Penguins also are without defenseman Deryk Engelland (lower body injury), who is listed as day-to-day. Forward Richard Park (lower body injury) also missed practice.
 
While their forwards are healthy -- Jordan Staal (cut below left eye) will play -- the Penguins will rely on a realigned defensive corps during their only home game in a two-week period. They went 3-1 on a just-concluded road trip, and will head off to play the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders later this week.
 
"Situations like we've been in, you can expect to see a lot of different pairings," Bylsma said. "Paul Martin with a lot of guys. Brooks Orpik with a lot of guys. Matt Niskanen with a lot of guys. If someone is playing well, you might play him more minutes."
 
The Penguins' expected lineup for the first of their four games against Boston this season:
 
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Matt Niskanen - Paul Martin
Brooks Orpik - Simon Despres
Robert Bortuzzo - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, tied for the NHL lead with 14 victories and 11-2-2 in his last 15 starts, will be in net. Backup goalie Brent Johnson won at Carolina 3-2 on Saturday, holding on even as the Hurricanes ended the game with a three-man advantage after pulling their goalie.
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Posted On Friday, 11.25.2011 / 2:36 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gonchar believes Malkin has reached next level

PITTSBURGH -- Sergei Gonchar and fellow Russian star Evgeni Malkin played four seasons together in Pittsburgh, winning a Stanley Cup in 2009. That same season, Malkin won the NHL scoring title with 113 points and the Conn Smythe Trophy after scoring a League-high 36 points in the playoffs.
 
Still, Gonchar never saw a Malkin quite like this one.
 
After Malkin's 2010-11 season ended prematurely Feb. 4 with two torn knee ligaments, he started working out sooner -- and much harder -- than he did in any previous offseason.
 
Gonchar believes Malkin's statistics a season ago, with career lows in goals (15) and points (37) in 43 games, contributed to that determination. While the numbers were bound to be lower than usual because of the games missed to injury, Malkin had never averaged less than a point per game in the NHL.
 
"To me it seems like he is making that next step and maturing," the Ottawa Senators defenseman said of the 25-year-old Malkin. "He is more serious about his job. Last year, he didn’t have a successful season like everyone expected him to have, so obviously he was hoping to play better."
 
Gonchar also believes it helped that Penguins conditioning coach Mike Kadar went to Russia to train Malkin in person. While he was there, Kadar sent video of Malkin's workouts back to the Penguins.
 
"He was mentally ready for it. He was willing to do whatever it took to make sure he was ready for the season," said Gonchar, who often trained alongside Malkin. "Every morning he was doing whatever Mike was telling him to do."
 
Malkin and Gonchar remain close friends, and they shared a Thanksgiving dinner together on Thursday night before their teams met Friday night at Consol Energy Center. When Malkin joined the Penguins as a rookie in 2006-07, he stayed in Gonchar's house so that a fellow Russian could help ease his transition to a new league, a new country and a new language.
 
Now, the two almost always get together socially when their teams oppose each other.
 
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Posted On Friday, 11.25.2011 / 1:04 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Senators wrapping up successful road swing

PITTSBURGH -- The Ottawa Senators wind up a six-game road trip when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night -- a successful journey to date in which they have gone 3-1-1. The road swing took on a slightly different twist when they spent three full days at home following a 2-1 overtime loss Sunday at Vancouver.
 
After they return home to play Carolina on Sunday, it's back on the road to play the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals.
 
"The last game in Vancouver was against an elite team, and again here in Pittsburgh it's an elite team," coach Paul MacLean said. "We're measuring ourselves against some of the best teams in the League. We've had some success and we've had some nights that haven't been very successful. So this is another opportunity for us to come in here and be prepared to play the game the Senators' way and see how it goes. But we're looking forward to the opportunity."
 
MacLean isn't displeased that his team is playing nine of 10 on the road.
 
"The mix of old and young we have -- we were home quite a bit (earlier) -- these long road trips at this time of the year allow you to bond as a group," MacLean said. "Just have the fellows go out and do some things. We've been home now for four days coming back from Vancouver, and we thought the trip out west was a good opportunity for us to show the people in Canada what kind of a team we have and for our team to go together. I believe that we did a good job on both sides of that."
 
MacLean said there would be no lineup changes for the Penguins, who took three of four in the 2010-11 season series after eliminating Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals the previous season.
 
The Senators' lines:

Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Nick Foligno - Stephane Da Costa - Daniel Alfredsson
Kaspars Daugavins - Zack Smith - Erik Condra
Zenon Konopka - Jesse Winchester - Bobby Butler
 
Erik Karlsson - Filip Kuba
Sergei Gonchar - Chris Phillips
Brian Lee - Jared Cowen
 
Craig Anderson will be in goal, with Alex Auld as the backup. Anderson's career record against Pittsburgh is 2-1-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Auld is 5-1 against the Penguins.
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Posted On Friday, 11.25.2011 / 12:16 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Crosby already rocketing up All-Star tally list

PITTSBURGH -- One more statistic from Sidney Crosby's comeback game on Monday: 14,000.
 
Those were the number of votes the Pittsburgh Penguins captain received that day alone as part of the NHL All-Star Fan Balloting. Even though he has played just two games this season, Crosby already is 10th in the balloting among forwards for the 2012 Tim Hortons All-Star Game in Ottawa.
 
Crosby has led all vote-getters during each of the last four All-Star Games (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011).
 
Crosby had a four-point game Monday against the Islanders as he returned from a 10-month layoff with a concussion. He was held without a point during a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Wednesday.

Crosby will remain on a line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis when the Penguins wrap up a three-game homestand by playing the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.
 
The Penguins' lines:
 
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Richard Park - Craig Adams
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal as the Penguins play the front end of back-to-back weekend games. Fleury is 6-8-1 with a 3.63 goals-against average in his career against Ottawa, while backup Brent Johnson is 8-1-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average against the Senators. Coach Dan Bylsma, who has not revealed his goalie choice for Saturday night’s game at Montreal, said records aren't the only factor in choosing a goalie.
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.23.2011 / 1:24 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bylsma wants players to enjoy their Thanksgiving

PITTSBURGH -- To paraphrase Hall of Fame announcer Mike Lange, the turkey will be on the Pittsburgh Penguins' tables on Thanksgiving.
 
While some coaches caution their American-born players about overindulging during their holiday feast, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma's recommendation to his players will be to enjoy themselves.
 
The Penguins are playing on the days before and after the holiday -- they meet the Blues on Wednesday and the Senators on Friday -- during a stretch in which they play three games in four days and four in six days. With such a workload, Bylsma obviously feels that a few extra calories probably won't hurt.
 
The Penguins plan to practice Thursday at Consol Energy Center, but will be sent home in time to watch Bylsma's beloved Detroit Lions play their annual Thanksgiving home game, against the unbeaten Green Bay Packers.
 
"I'm going to tell them to eat. I'm going to be eating," Bylsma said. "That's what I’m doing. We'll probably have a practice in the morning, but I'm going to tell them to eat, sleep it off and watch the Lions and the Packers play."
 
In case any players already had some holiday treats at home, Bylsma didn't plan to deliver his message until after the Blues' game.
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.23.2011 / 1:22 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Penguins to reward 25-millionth fan

PITTSBURGH -- A Pittsburgh Penguins fan attending Wednesday night's home game against the St. Louis Blues will discover that 25 million is his or her lucky number.

The Penguins plan to honor the 25-millionth fan to attend one of their home games by giving away a road trip to a Penguins game and a Sidney Crosby autographed jersey. Bar code technology will be used to determine when the fan has entered Consol Energy Center.
 
The fan will be notified during the first period and recognized during the second period.

Counting regular season and playoff games, the Penguins have drawn 24,983,853 spectators at home since they joined the NHL in 1967. They have attracted 22,733,362 for regular season games and 2,250,491 for playoff games.

The Blues game will be the Penguins' 220th consecutive home sellout, a streak that began at the now-closed Civic Arena, formerly known as Mellon Arena, and continued when they moved into Consol at the start of the 2010-11 season.
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.23.2011 / 1:03 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stewart back for Blues after suspension

PITTSBURGH – Chris Stewart returns from a three-game suspension for his hit from behind against the Red Wings’ Niklas Kronwall on Nov. 15 when the St. Louis Blues play Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. Stewart received a five-minute major and a game misconduct on the play. Coach Ken Hitchcock said Stewart will return to playing on a line with Matt D’Agostini and Patrik Berglund.
 
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said he “respected” NHL Senior Vice President for Player Safety Brendan Shanahan’s decision to suspend Stewart because the team supports Shanahan’s efforts to enforce player safety measures.
 
The Blues are one of the few teams that have managed to limit Penguins star Sidney Crosby’s production. Crosby, who played his first game of the season Monday night against the Islanders, does not have a goal and is a minus-3 in five career games against the Blues. He does have four assists.
 
The only other teams that Crosby has not scored against are the Blackhawks, Sharks and Oilers.
 
Here’s what the Blues’ lineup could look against during their second game in as many nights. They lost 3-2 at home to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
 
Alexander SteenDavid BackesT.J. Oshie
Matt D’Agostini – Patrik BerglundChris Stewart
Vladimir SobotkaJason ArnottJamie Langenbrunner
Evgeny GrachevScott NicholRyan Reaves
 
Barret JackmanKevin Shattenkirk
Ian ColeAlex Pietrangelo
Kris RussellRoman Polak
 
Brian Elliott, off to a great start with a 7-1 record and a League-leading 1.43 goals-against average and two shutouts, will be in goal. Against Pittsburgh, Elliott is 3-1 with a 3.05 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in five career game. Elliott has stopped 161 of his last 168 shots, a .960 save percentage. In his last start, Elliott beat the Red Wings 2-1.
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.23.2011 / 11:52 AM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pens follow up Crosby debut by facing Blues

PITTSBURGH -- Now, it's on to Game 2 of Sidney Crosby's comeback for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
The Penguins begin a stretch of three games in four days by playing the St. Louis Blues, who are 4-1-2 since former Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock was hired -- including a 3-2 loss at home to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night. The Penguins remain at home Friday to play the Ottawa Senators, and then travel to Montreal on Saturday night.
 
Not surprisingly, given the Penguins' 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Monday, there are no lineup changes:
 
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Richard Park - Craig Adams
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will be back in net after recording his second shutout of the season and the 21st of his career. Fleury is 7-1 at Consol Energy Center this season and is 2-2 with a 2.63 goals-against average in four career games against the Blues.
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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 1:42 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Islanders give Nilsson his first NHL start

PITTSBURGH -- If the New York Islanders are planning any lineup changes for Monday's night Sidney Crosby comeback game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach Jack Capuano wasn't revealing them following the morning skate.
 
His lineup configuration, Capuano said, will be a game-time decision. But, given that the Islanders have lost three of their last four and, counting overtime and shootout losses, 11 of their last 13, it's possible there could be some shuffling.
 
Anders Nilsson, a 6-foot-5 rookie just up from Bridgeport (AHL), will make his first NHL start -- and what a game for it to occur, with Crosby returning from his extended injury layoff for Pittsburgh. Nilsson gave up three goals during the final two periods of a 6-0 loss to Boston on Saturday night.
 
The Islanders' possible lines:
 
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Michael Grabner
Brian Rolston - Frans Nielsen - PA Parenteau
Blake Comeau - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter
Matt Martin - Josh Bailey - Jay Pandolfo
 
Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina
 
The Islanders have dropped their last 12 games (0-10-2) in Pittsburgh, last winning there 4-2 on Dec. 21, 2007.
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It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players