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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pens down two defensemen, as Letang, Lovejoy hurt

PITTSBURGH -- So much for the Pittsburgh Penguins finally being back at full strength.
Defensemen Kris Letang and Ben Lovejoy, both of whom were hurt Sunday against the Devils, will be out for Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center. Lovejoy had knee surgery and will be out for 3-4 weeks -- a span that runs through the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Letang, who absorbed several hard hits during the 5-2 win over New Jersey, is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He left the ice a bit shaky after colliding with Dainius Zubrus in the second and also was upended by Ryan Carter in the third period, with Carter drawing a tripping penalty.
"Immediately, to look at his reaction on the ice, we weren't going to put him back on the ice until he's been checked out and cleared and wasn't having any effects from the hit," coach Dan Bylsma said of the head-to-head hit with Zubrus.
However, it apparently was the hit by Carter that put Letang out for the Islanders game.
Letang sat out from Nov. 26 until Jan. 19 with a concussion that occurred when he was struck in the head by the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, then missed another five games after being hit hard by the Stars' Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29. Letang was held out then for precautionary reasons after experiencing headaches and other concussion-like symptoms, but he was never diagnosed with a second concussion.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen will miss a third consecutive game with an unspecified injury.
With Letang and Niskanen out, defensemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait were called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to oppose the Islanders. Despres will be paired with Deryk Engelland and Strait will be with Paul Martin.
"We feel confident putting these guys in the lineup," Bylsma said. "It's a playoff time of the year, and if it were a playoff game we'd be confident playing with these guys."
Despres has 1 goal, 3 assists and is a plus-5 in 16 games with Pittsburgh this season, while Strait has played in four games.
"You try to help them out, for sure," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who will continue to be paired with Brooks Orpik. "They've been here before and they know how the game is played. They're good players and they're going to do a good job. We can rely on them in a big situation to play some big minutes and, if they need some help, they know we are there for them."
Forward Matt Cooke likes that Wilkes-Barre plays the same system as the parent Penguins, a situation he believes creates continuity when a player is called up.
"They play the exact same way down in Wilkes, which is a huge strength for their ability to come up and play and have success," Cooke said. "It's our job as forwards to make sure we're making their job as easy as possible."
When Sidney Crosby returned March 15 after being out with concussion-like symptoms for three months, the same night Letang came back from the Nystrom hit, the Penguins finally had their lineup virtually intact for the first time this season. Until then, centers Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal had played together only 10 times over a 15-month span.
By winning Tuesday, the Penguins -- one point behind the Rangers in the Atlantic Division -- would be guaranteed of finishing no lower than fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The likely lineups for the first of home-and-home games between the Atlantic Division rivals, who also play Thursday night on Long Island:
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Marty Reasoner - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Jay Pandolfo
Mark Streit - Dylan Reese
Travis Hamonic - Andrew MacDonald
Milan Jurcina - Steve Staios
Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
Tavares, the Islanders' leading scorer with 31 goals and 75 points, doesn't have a point and is a minus-4 in four games against Pittsburgh this season. The Islanders have only five goals in the season series; they were shut out 5-0 on Nov. 21, the last time the teams met in Pittsburgh, and 3-0 on Oct. 25. Pittsburgh has won all four games to date, also winning 6-3 on Dec. 10 and 3-2 on Oct. 27.
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Steve Sullivan
Pascal Dupuis - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Paul Martin
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
With 225 wins, Fleury is one away from matching Tom Barrasso's franchise record. His 41 victories this season are a career high and tie him with Pekka Rinne of Nashville for the NHL lead. Barrasso holds the club single-season record with 43 in 1992-93, when the Penguins won the Presidents' Trophy. Fleury is 11-0-1 in his last 12 starts, stopping 339 of 358 shots in those games.
Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pens Showing Off Many Looks as Playoffs Approach

PITTSBURGH -- If opposing teams are scouting the Pittsburgh Penguins for clues on how to defend against their three elite centers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and no doubt they are -- they certainly are filing up a few computer hard drives.
Coach Dan Bylsma is showing off all kinds of looks -- and multiple line combinations featuring Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal -- as the Penguins try to catch the New York Rangers and secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins' hopes of doing that took a hit when they were blown out 8-4 by the Ottawa Senators with rookie Brad Thiessen in goal Saturday night. It was Pittsburgh's first loss in regulation since Feb. 19 against Buffalo and only its second defeat in 15 games overall, leaving the team three points behind the Rangers.
But playing such a game allowed Bylsma to mix and match his lines, and Crosby -- who scored his first goal since his March 15 return against the Rangers -- wound up playing at least one shift with every forward except Craig Adams.
Crosby has 1 goal and 10 assists in the six games since he resumed playing for the first time since Dec. 5. Crosby is playing mostly on a third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, who have benefitted greatly by playing alongside No. 87. Cooke had a pair of goals Saturday, his third multiple-goal game in the six games he has played with Crosby, and Kennedy has three goals and four assists.
With the Penguins (46-22-6) playing back-to-back games, they did not hold a morning skate Sunday.
The Devils (42-27-6), who lost to Toronto 4-3 in a shootout Friday, held an optional morning skate attended by a majority of the team. The most-watched player on the ice was center Travis Zajac, who has been limited to eight games this season by a sore left Achilles tendon but will play against Pittsburgh. Zajac last played on Jan. 2.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer is shaking up his lines, not just to accommodate Zajac but to try to find some more scoring chances.
New Jersey scored only six goals in its previous five games before scoring three times against Toronto, and has had only one game with as many as four goals in its last eight. Pittsburgh, by contrast, has scored at least four goals all but once in its last seven games, piling up 34 goals during that span.
The new lines find Zajac with Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei PonikarovskyPatrik Elias with Zach Parise and  Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique with Petr Sykora and David Clarkson.
"I'm not even concerned about goals," DeBoer said. "I think the goals will come. What we want is offensive zone time. We want to create chances. We want to look for some chemistry -- all of those things when, when things are going well, you have in place."
The likely lineups for the sixth and final meeting for the Atlantic Division rivals this season; New Jersey won three of the first five:

Ilya KovalchukTravis ZajacAlexei Ponikarovsky
Zach ParisePatrik EliasDainius Zubrus
Petr SykoraAdam HenriqueDavid Clarkson
Ryan CarterJacob JosefsonSteve Bernier
Andy GreeneMark Fayne
Anton VolchenkovMarek Zidlicky
Bryce SalvadorAdam Larsson
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg
Brodeur has nine shutouts in 79 career games against Pittsburgh.

Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Steve SullivanJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Matt CookeSidney CrosbyTyler Kennedy
Eric TangradiCraig AdamsRichard Park
Brooks OrpikZbynek Michalek
Kris LetangPaul Martin
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
Fleury will be back in net after Thiessen gave up eight goals on 28 shots in Ottawa, his first NHL loss in four decisions.
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Challenge for Preds is figuring where Radulov fits in

PITTSBURGH -- OK, so where does he fit in?
NHL coaches, especially those whose teams are gearing up for a long playoff run, usually don't need to shake up their lines to make room for a new player so late in the season. But that is what Predators coach Barry Trotz is doing he welcomes back Russian star Alexander Radulov, who last played for Nashville in 2008 before switching to the Kontinental Hockey League.
Radulov, a skilled scorer with size and speed, will play on a line with center David Legwand and right wing Patric Hornqvist against Pittsburgh on Thursday night. Previously, left wing Gabriel Bourque was on that line.
But Radulov is not just any other player -- he was a two-time KHL MVP -- so Trotz must sort this out, and in a hurry. Trotz not only wants to make a late push for a higher playoff seeding, he must best configure his lines as the Stanley Cup Playoffs draw close. And that means determining where Radulov best fits.
It also means making sure the rest of the Predators keep playing the way they have while going 24-9-4 since Dec. 28.
"We just have to make sure we do the right things as a group and not stand and watch," Trotz said following an optional morning skate. "One of the biggest fears is you get a player like Radulov, I don't want us just standing and watching: 'Let's see what Rad does here.' We have to work as a group of five. That's the only way you play good teams in this League."
Here's how the Predators are expected to line up for their one and only meeting of the season with Pittsburgh, which has won its last eight games at Consol Energy Center and 12 of its last 13 games overall:
Alexander Radulov - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Jordin Tootoo - Craig Smith - Brandon Yip
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Jack Hillen
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
If Rinne (39-15-8) starts as expected, he will have played in 66 of Nashville’s first 73 games. He is tied for the League lead in wins with Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who sat out an 8-4 win over Winnipeg on Tuesday. Rinne is 1-0-1 against  Pittsburgh. Rinne le
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:06 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Crosby's return has made Malkin even more lethal

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin was leading the NHL in scoring even before Sidney Crosby returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup last week. But Malkin felt he would be an even better player once Crosby returned because No. 87 requires so much attention from opponents, it creates more open ice for his teammates.
Malkin was right. Sidney Crosby has been Sidney Crosby since he returned -- and Malkin has been an even-better Malkin.
Going into Thursday night's attractive interconference matchup between the Penguins and Nashville Predators, Malkin had 5 goals and 4 assists in the four games since Cosby returned against the Rangers on March 15 -- with at least one goal in every game.
Crosby hasn't found the net in his last 11 games overall, including the last seven he played before concussion-like symptoms sidelined him following a Dec. 5 game against Boston. But Crosby has 9 assists in the four games since he returned, giving him 21 points in the 12 games he's played in a season in which he endured injury layoffs of 20 and 40 games.
In those 12 games Crosby has played, Malkin has 9 goals and 19 points. So much for the perception that Malkin acquiesces to Crosby when the captain is in the lineup, willing to accept a less-prominent role.
"I'm not surprised at all," Crosby said of Malkin's production with both superstars in the lineup. "He's a great player; he's got every tool it takes to be consistent and to be as dominant as he is. As for me coming back, I don't think it's changed anything. It (Malkin's production) probably has helped me a bit to be able to come back and ease myself into it. That's something that anybody coming back will tell you, the better the team's playing, the easier the transition is."
The Penguins are 12-0-1 in their last 13 and 24-4-2 in their last 30.
With 93 points, Malkin took a nine-point lead over Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay and Claude Giroux of Philadelphia into Thursday's NHL games. Despite missing seven games earlier this season as he mended from offseason knee surgery, Malkin is in a very strong position to win his second Art Ross Trophy in four seasons.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin is a better player since he returned from that disappointing 2010-11 season in which he had only 15 goals in 43 games before tearing two ligaments in his left knee. During his lengthy rehabilitation, most of it in his native Russia, Malkin took on the look of a focused, determined player intent on returning to the elite level at which he once played.
To do so, Malkin didn't just get into better playing shape, he worked on and polished up some often-overlooked aspects of his game.
"A few things strike me about his game that are real evident," Bylsma said. "When he's playing really well, he's the guy who takes the puck away from other team. He tracks the puck, lifts the stick and takes the puck the other way. In the offensive zone, he wins puck battles and strips people of the puck. … That's when he's at his best."
Bylsma added, "You see the highlights, but you don't often see the highlight of him tracking back, stripping the puck and going the other way."
Malkin also has improved significantly on faceoffs, once a major deficiency in his game. He is winning 47.2 percent of his faceoffs, compared to 38.5 percent a season ago, and is becoming so reliable that Bylsma now uses him for defensive-zone draws.
"What you're seeing this year that you never saw before was Geno in the faceoff circle winning faceoffs -- in the left circle, he's over 65 percent. And that has contributed to us scoring goals. You're talking about a guy who was under 40 percent last year."
A set play in which Malkin slams the puck directly to James Neal's stick on a faceoff has resulted in multiple goals this season.
No doubt Malkin will draw motivation Thursday from the return of fellow Russian star Alexander Radulov, who will play for Nashville for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Radulov played the last four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The Predators and Penguins haven't played in 17 months, or since Pittsburgh won 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 21, 2010, at Bridgestone Arena.
The Penguins' projected lineup for their one and only meeting of the season with Nashville -- unless the two elite teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final:
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Kris Letang - Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
Fleury will be back in net after Thiessen, a rookie with a 3-0 record, beat Winnipeg 8-4 in an up-and-down game Tuesday. Fleury has opposed Nashville only five times, going 2-2-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average.

Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 2:27 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Crosby happy with comeback, wants more goals

PITTSBURGH — There has been only one element missing from Sidney Crosby’s two comebacks this season. His speed and instincts are there. So are his elite playmaking skills and his innate ability to make everyone playing around him better.
What’s not there? Goals.
Since Crosby scored twice during his four-point comeback game against the Islanders on Nov. 21, he has 13 points in 10 games – five in three games since returning Thursday against the Rangers – but no goals.
Crosby has 15 points in 11 games this season, but only the two goals against the Islanders. It’s an unprecedented drought for a superbly-skilled player who has averaged more than a goal for every two games played during his NHL career; he has 217 goals in 423 career games.
This is the first time since he broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2005 that Crosby has gone 10 consecutive games without a goal. His previous longest goal-less stretch was nine games from Dec. 3-20, 2008, during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship season.
Last season, when Crosby sat out the second half after piling up 32 goals in his first 41 games, he never went longer than five games without a goal. He also had seven-game streaks in the 2007-08 and 2005-06 seasons and an eight-game stretch in 2006-07.
Of course, there are extenuating circumstances to this streak given that Crosby sat out 61 games over two seasons before returning in November and another 40 games from Dec. 6 until last Thursday. Still, this is a first -- Sidney Crosby stuck in a double-digit streak without a goal.
Neither Crosby nor the Penguins seem all that worried. After all, Crosby started producing as soon as he returned to the lineup, getting two assists against the Rangers and three more Saturday against the Devils. He was held off the score sheet during the 3-2 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Sunday
“I feel good; (I) just want to start burying some chances,” Crosby said following the morning skate before the Jets-Penguins game on Tuesday night. “Other than that, they’ve been there and as a team, we’ve played really well. So it’s been easier coming in when everyone is playing so well and each line is
clicking. It’s gone pretty much the way I expected.”
Crosby is adjusting to playing on the third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy as, with the Penguins riding an 11-game winning that ended Sunday, coach Dan Bylsma didn’t want to tinker with a successful lineup. So, at least for now, Bylsma hasn’t broken up his top line of Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-James Neal and the second line of Steve Sullivan-Jordan Staal-Pascal Dupuis.
For good reason, too; Cooke has four goals and Kennedy has four assists in the three games since Crosby became the center on their line.
“They work really hard,” Crosby said of his linemates. “They go to those tough areas. TK shoots the puck. Cookie goes to the net hard. I don’t think there were any real surprises or secrets there. I think as the games have gone on, we’ve generated some good chances and we just want to keep building off that. I don’t think there are any surprises there. I think we all know what to expect.”
The Penguins also know what to expect from Crosby, and that’s the puck finding the back of the net with regularity. They anticipate that happening very soon, even if Crosby is playing a slightly different role than before as a point man on the power play and as a third-line center rather than being on the top line.
Crosby admittedly was tired after playing three games in four days following his three-month layoff, especially given that he has played in only 11 of the last 112 regular season games. There’s no time to rest the rest of the season, either, as the Penguins finish up with 11 games in 18 days.
The best news to Crosby is that there have been no medical issues since he resumed playing.
“I feel really good,” Crosby said. “(I’m) really happy the way things have gone -- so no setbacks.”

Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:51 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Jets set for first meeting with Crosby

PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby has tormented the Winnipeg franchise throughout his career, getting 13 goals and 35 points in 21 games against the team that formerly played in Atlanta. But he has never opposed the Jets since they relocated to Winnipeg after last season.
Crosby sat out the first three Jets-Penguins games this season, but will be in the lineup Tuesday night as Winnipeg attempts to remain in playoff contention and Pittsburgh looks to build on its seven-game home ice winning streak.
The Jets will be missing center Nik Antropov (lower-body injury), who was hurt in the second period of a 4-3 loss to Carolina on Sunday. He has three goals in three games and five goals in eight games, so his absence is a setback for the Jets, who will be playing away from MTS Centre for only the third time in their last 14 games.
 Ben Maxwell, scoreless in four games earlier this season for Winnipeg, was called up from St. John’s (AHL) to take his place. Maxwell was traded to Anaheim in November, but was later reclaimed on waivers. He has one assist in 10 NHL games this season.
Maxwell’s first game with the Jets since Nov. 6 will be Crosby’s first game at Consol Energy Center since Dec. 5 because of concussion-like symptoms that kept him out for 40 games. Crosby has five assists in three games since returning to play.
Jets forward Blake Wheeler’s not-entirely-serious reaction: Couldn’t he have waited a few more games to come back?
“It’s great to see him back on the ice,” Wheeler said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. “Any time you get a player of his caliber back, it’s exciting for us as players and exciting for the fans as well.”
What the Jets can’t do, they said, is get too caught up in defending against Crosby and forget about the lines centered by NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
“You start talking about Crosby this, Crosby that – he’s a great player, he’s the best in the game, but if you get caught up in it you’re going to be nervous and you’re going to be thinking about where he is on the ice,”  defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “That being said, they have a lot of other players that can out the puck in the back of the net. They’ve been doing a really good job with him out of the lineup and, so, with him in it, it makes them that much better. I wouldn’t say he’s not intimidating – I think he is – but you’ve got to get the job done and get the two points.”
The Jets, currently four points behind Washington in the race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, finish up with seven of their final 10 on the road. They’re beginning a Pittsburgh-Washington-Nashville road trip then, after playing two home games, they make late-season swing to face the Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida and the New York Islanders.
All these road games must be of concern to the Jets because, as well as they have played at home by going 23-11-4, they are only 11-19-4 on the road. Only Columbus and Edmonton have fewer road points than the Jets’ 26.
“We’ve been resilient all year long. We’ve had bumps in the road and we've come back stronger because of it,” Wheeler said. “It’s crunch time now; it’s a huge game for us. It’s a huge game as well for them; they’re fighting to get on top of the Eastern Conference. We more than respect what they bring to the table and it’s a pretty good team, but we truly believe that if we play a certain way we’re going to give ourselves a shot to win.”
But that road record …
“Well, if we play well on the road (now), we could possibly make the playoffs because of it,” Wheeler said. “It would be a great ending to the script because of all the hardships we’ve had on the road if we’re able to salvage our season and make a strong push for the playoffs here, it’s going to be because we play well on the road here these last 10 games.”
Winnipeg’s projected lineup:
Andrew LaddBryan LittleBlake Wheeler
Evander Kane – Andrew Burmistrov – Kyle Wellwood
Tim StapletonBen MaxwellAntti Miettinen
Tanner GlassJim SlaterSpencer Machacek
Tobias EnstromDustin Byfuglien
Ron HainseyZach Bogosian
Mark StuartGrant Clitsome
Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 12:48 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Thiessen earns another start in net for Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has had only four games off since well before Christmas. If Brad Thiessen plays as well as he did in his first two NHL games, Fleury will get a fifth game off Tuesday night.
Thiessen, called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) last month, will start against Winnipeg as the Penguins try to get the much-used Fleury some rest during a busy stretch of play. Their last-second loss in overtime Sunday in Philadelphia was their third game in four days, and they begin another crowded stretch of games – five in eight nights – on Tuesday.
Fleury (39-14-4) has played in 40 of 44 games since Dec. 3.
Brent Johnson is still on the shelf with an undisclosed injury, so Thiessen is getting a chance to play in some important games for a team that is pushing the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins began the night three points behind New York, a 4-2 winner over New Jersey on Monday.
Thiessen was in net as the Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 on Feb. 26, turning aside 22 of 24 shots. He had exactly the same numbers during a 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 7.
Thiessen, last season’s AHL goaltender of the year, couldn’t have had a much better start.
“In his first start, he was pretty confident in front of the net and looked pretty comfortable there,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s been playing well, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in there.”
Winnipeg will be the first contending team that Thiessen has faced.
“Leading up to it, you’re a little bit anxious,” he said. “It’s a good kind of excitement. But once the game gets going, you focus on playing your game and everything kinds of settles down a little bit.”
Johnson took part in the morning skate as he begins his rehabilitation, but a return date has not been established.
The Penguins will attempt to bounce back from one of their toughest losses of the season, although they earned a point in their 3-2 loss at Philadelphia decided by Scott Hartnell’s goal with less than a second remaining.  Pittsburgh couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead in the third period of a defeat ended their 11-game winning streak and cost them a chance to, at least for a day, catch up to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings.
Sometimes, players will attempt to put such a loss behind them as quickly as possible. This one was more difficult to push aside.
“I haven’t forgotten about it,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I had a phone call from a friend in hockey who watched the game on TV and knew how I probably felt. … He said, `You have to look at it
this way: You’ve gotten 23 out of the last 24 points.’ That was better than saying we got five out of six (on a three-game road trip). We wanted to go in there and beat Philly and we let that slip away. We got off our game a little bit in the third period. That’s what sits with you about that game. We’ll put that one behind us, but it’s not far behind you.”
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh will attempt to match its longest home winning streak (eight games) since the 2004-05 work stoppage. The Penguins have won 13 of 14 at Consol Energy Center since Jan. 17. They also have won 10 in a row at home against the Winnipeg franchise, which relocated from Atlanta after last season, and 13 of the last 15 meetings overall.
The Penguins are 2-1 against the Jets this season.
Pittsburgh’s projected lineup:
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Steve SullivanJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Matt CookeSidney CrosbyTyler Kennedy
Eric TangradiCraig AdamsArron Asham
Kris LetangPaul Martin
Brooks OrpikZbynek Michalek
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland
Brad Thiessen
Marc-Andre Fleury
Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 8:02 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Letang might return for Penguins vs. Rangers

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby's comeback might not be the only one worth watching for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
Defenseman Kris Letang, the puck-moving defenseman who is a key to the Penguins' power play, practiced for a second consecutive day Wednesday – a sign that he could join Crosby in the lineup against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
Just like Crosby, this is Letang's second layoff this season with concussion-related issues. But while Letang was out for six weeks after getting hurt in Montreal on Nov. 26, he has been out five games this time.
"He's heading towards being in," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He had a good day (Tuesday) with the team, he had another good day today and we're expecting him to come to the rink (Thursday) having a good day and being ready to play."
Getting Letang back would put the Penguins at close to full strength, something that hasn't happened nearly all season on a team that has had 14 players miss at least seven games with injuries.
"I had a good practice. I stepped on (the ice) earlier and everything went well, so we will go from there," Letang said following an optional practice attended by 11 players. "We will see how I feel after the morning skate (Thursday)."
The Penguins weren't certain how long Letang would be out after a hit by the Stars' Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29 forced him from the lineup. It was a worrisome sign after he developed the symptoms; Crosby has been out more than three months with concussion symptoms.
Letang reports he is now symptom-free, just as Crosby is.
"Obviously I had a few symptoms after the hit. (But) compared to the first one, it's not like I waited after three days and I had bad symptoms and I was sick," Letang said. "So we were just being really careful. We were waiting for those symptoms to go away."
Letang's ability to move the puck, find the open man and keep the Penguins' power play rotation going is one of the reasons why the unit ranks sixth in the League, compared to 25th last season. However, the power play failed to convert on its first 14 opportunities without Letang and is 1 for 18 since he left the lineup.
That unit is expected to have a different look as soon as Letang returns, with Crosby and Letang on the points. In the past, Crosby has operated along the half-wall, where Evgeni Malkin has been playing this season.
Bylsma also experimented with five forwards on the power play in practice Tuesday, with Crosby and Steve Sullivan on the points and Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz down low.
Bylsma said Crosby's expert passing adds a previously unseen element to the Penguins' special teams – especially if Letang is at the other point.
"I've talked to our power play and Sid that when we go with five forwards, we're not going to go out there with the idea that one mistake is going to hurt us," Bylsma said. "We don't want to give up a chance against, we don't want to give up a puck, but we also think that those five forwards can be very effective on the power play and that's the mindset they should be going over the boards with."
Letang doesn't feel the urgency to rush back to a team riding a nine-game winning streak. But with three key games against the Rangers, Devils and Flyers this weekend, he sees no reason not to play if he is symptom-free.
When Letang returned Jan. 19 after being out since Nov. 26, it also was against the Rangers; he had an assist. He had a goal and two assists in his first two games back.
"Geno (Malkin) went down and we were playing well. Sid went down and we were playing well," Letang said. "I went down and guys were still playing really well. The guys are doing an unbelievable job right now so there's no need to rush it."
Posted On Sunday, 03.11.2012 / 12:56 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Thomas gets the start for Boston

PITTSBURGH -- Tim Thomas played in his ninth consecutive game in goal Sunday when the Boston Bruins tried to extend their Pittsburgh winning streak to four games.

The Bruins have never lost in Pittsburgh since Consol Energy Center opened in 2010, going 3-0 there -- including a 3-1 decision on Dec. 5.

Bruins coach Claude Julien hinted before the game that Marty Turco might make his first NHL start in 13 months. Turco was playing in Austria's top league until signing with the Bruins with backup goalie Tuukka Rask injured his groin and abdomen against the Islanders on March 3.

No goaltender except Thomas or Rask has played in a Bruins game since the 2008-09 season. Turco's last NHL start was on Feb. 11, 2011.

Thomas is 4-4 over his last eight games, including a 4-3 loss to Washington on Saturday in which he made 26 saves. He has played in 17 of the Bruins' last 19 games, starting the last five.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has an 0.98 goals-against average in his last five home games, was in net for Pittsburgh. He is second in the NHL with 36 wins.
Posted On Friday, 03.09.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Panthers know time to perform has arrived

PITTSBURGH -- No time to rest now.
With the first-place Florida Panthers coming off a 5-0 loss in Philadelphia barely 12 hours before, coach Kevin Dineen held a morning skate in advance of Friday night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It wasn't a full-squad workout, but 11 players showed up -- a significant number at a time of the season when every player covets his time away from the rink.
With the Panthers leading Washington and Winnipeg by only two points each in the Southeast Division standings, coach Kevin Dineen said every game has become a must game, every point possible must be won, every moment of preparation is important.
"One of our players (John Madden) described it earlier this week, you've got to have amnesia when things don't work out and believe in the positives, and a quick turnaround is the best way to get back at it," Dineen said.
The Panthers have lost three of four and are 7-6-1 over their last 14 with four shutout defeats, but Dineen said it doesn’t matter as much what happened then as what happens now.
Florida plays every other day for the next week, taking on Carolina on Sunday, Toronto on Tuesday, and Boston and Buffalo following that during what could be a make-or-break four-game homestand.
"I look at it as an exciting time of the year. We've had our opportunity to separate ourselves from the muck and now we're right in the thick of it," Dineen said. "This is what you play for. You train all summer, you get personal trainers, you get psychologists, guys flying all over working to prepare for the season. And now is the time you look forward to, get excited about. This is what you work for."
He added, "You like to say you're working for April and May and early June, but it's right now. It's not the end game, it's the road traveled. And we're right in the thick of it."
The Panthers are proving to be resilient, winning 14 times following a loss, but Dineen wishes they didn't have to bounce back so much.
"You can call that a good thing, or call it a little inconsistent as well," Dineen said. "We need some consistency within our game as well as game to game. That's part of our growth as a group, and something we'll address and learn from. It's getting down to the time of the season where that's really important to come out. We had a decent start last night, played some solid hockey, created some chances early, but when we had adversity, we didn’t respond."
The Panthers have won only two of their last 11 against the Penguins, who won two of the first three this season. Florida's likely lineup:
Sean Bergenheim - Stephen Weiss - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Fleischmann - Marcel Goc - Wojtek Wolski
Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli - Tomas Kopecky
Krystofer Barch - Jerred Smithson - Jack Skille
Eric Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver
Dineen didn't disclose his goalie, but Jose Theodore (18-13-6) has allowed three goals or more in three of his last four starts. Scott Clemmensen (11-6-5)  is 4-6-2 in his career against Pittsburgh.
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— Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom on Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Penguins forward Sidney Crosby each scored hat tricks
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