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Posted On Friday, 03.09.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bylsma wants Pens to adopt playoff mentality now

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are discovering how difficult it can be to make a push in the standings at a time when the schedule is winding down, the Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't far away and every game is vitally important.
The Penguins carried a seven-game winning streak into their game against division-leading Florida on Friday night, yet they have gained only four points on the New York Rangers, who lead both the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division. And the Philadelphia Flyers are only two points behind them.
If Pittsburgh is to somehow catch the Rangers over their final 16 games, they almost certainly have to sweep their two remaining games, Thursday at Madison Square Garden and April 5 at Consol Energy Center.
But it will take more than that. That's why coach Dan Bylsma's message to his players, in essence, is it's playoff time now.
"I think we know how hard it is to move," Bylsma said Friday. "It's hard to move six points, let alone 10 points. I think we understand that. When we were 10 points behind, we knew we would play them three more times and we knew the only chance we'd have is to win all six points and not give them any points in those games. … We still have our eyes set on them. We know right where they're at. We know how difficult it's going to be. We know we have to win our two games against them for it to be a possibility."
The Penguins also understand they need to keep focused and not be distracted by the seemingly impending return of superstar Sidney Crosby, who is practicing daily as he mends from a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms. Crosby could return as early as Sunday against the Boston Bruins, but might wait until the Penguins go on a three-game Atlantic Division road trip next week.
"For the most part, we don't change the way we are playing. I think that's the biggest strength of our team," forward Matt Cooke said. "It's enabled us to get through with injuries to Sid, (Kris) Letang and a few others."
Bylsma is being forced to juggle his lineup, especially his defensive pairings, on a nearly game-by-game basis.  Defensemen Kris Letang (concussion symptoms) and Deryk Engelland  (undisclosed injury) already were out, and defenseman Paul Martin (undisclosed illness) didn't take part in the morning skate.
Because Martin might not play, defenseman Simon Despres was called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL), four days after defenseman Brian Strait was recalled. Despres would take Martin's spot on the second power-play unit.
The likely Penguins lineup:
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Richard Park
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Simon Despres
Ben Lovejoy - Brian Strait
Marc-Andre Fleury, riding a six-game winning streak, will be back in net after backup Brad Thiessen won for the second time in as many NHL starts, beating Toronto 3-2 on Wednesday. Brent Johnson remains out with an undisclosed injury. Fleury is 8-6 against Florida.
Posted On Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 12:00 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bylsma assessing linemate options for Crosby

PITTSBURGH — The waiting game is on again for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Just like a child awaiting Christmas, the Penguins know there's going to be a major payoff in the end -- if only they're patient.
Sidney Crosby is practicing, absorbing hits from teammates and rounding back into game shape. And his return from the concussion-like symptoms that idled him for three months now appears to be days away.
With the Penguins already on a six-game winning streak going into a game Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it might be easy to get distracted. After all, the Penguins have had the NHL's biggest star in their lineup for only eight games in the last 15 months, and having him back should prove even more rewarding than any deal general manager Ray Shero could have pulled off at the NHL Trade Deadline last week.
Again, if only they're patient.
But could his return be a distraction? Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury says never.
"Sid's been a part of this team for a long time," Fleury said.
Dan Bylsma said every NHL coach would love to have this problem: Where does Sidney Crosby play when he returns?
"Great, great problem to ponder to think about, what line he would fit on," Bylsma said Wednesday. "Certainly, the (Chris) Kunitz-(Evgeni) Malkin-(James) Neal line has been spectacular and probably has been the best line in hockey the last two, two-and-a-half months. Having Sidney Crosby in that mix, the best player in the world, certainly is nice to ponder. Sid has been working hard, and at the trade deadline, there was talk he could be the best acquisition you could ever make. We've won some hockey games but we all know that adding that into our lineup would be the best acquisition we could make, and we welcome that sooner than later."
Bylsma has had discussions with Crosby about his possible linemates when he returns, but no final determination has been made.
Crosby talked with reporters following the morning skate but did not tip his hand as to a possible return date. On Tuesday, he said it won't be until Sunday at the earliest.
The Penguins try to keep their momentum going against the Maple Leafs, who lost 5-4 to Boston in new coach Randy Carlyle's home debut Tuesday night. The Maple Leafs not only lost a game -- their seventh loss in eight games -- but also lost forwards Joffrey Lupul (upper-body injury) and Colby Armstrong (nose) to injuries, and neither is expected to play Wednesday.
Playing back-to-back games, the Maple Leafs did not hold a morning skate, although their extra players did skate at Consol Energy Center. Because of the Lupul and Armstrong injuries, they brought rookie forward Carter Ashton with them to Pittsburgh.
Ashton, a Tampa Bay draft pick and the son of former NHL player Brent Ashton, was acquired in a trade deadline deal that sent defenseman Keith Aulie to Tampa Bay. Ashton has 20 goals and 17 assists in the minors this season and would be making his NHL debut.
The Penguins will start rookie Brad Thiessen in goal -- only his second NHL start. He beat Columbus 4-2 in his NHL debut on Feb. 26, stopping 24 of 26 shots. Rick Nash scored shorthanded for the first goal against Thiessen in the League.
Here are the likely lineups for the fourth and final meeting between the teams this season; the Penguins won the first three, including one in a shootout:

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Richard Park
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Matt Niskanen
Deryk Engelland - Ben Lovejoy
Brad Thiessen
Marc-Andre Fleury

Matt Frattin - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Nikolai Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Clarke MacArthur
Carter Ashton - David Steckel - Tim Connolly
Jay Rosehill - Matthew Lombardi - Joey Crabb\Mike Brown
Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson
John-Michael Liles - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson
Carlyle did not announce his goaltender in advance, but Reimer is 2-0-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average in his career against Pittsburgh. Gustavsson has started the last three games.
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:36 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

NHL R&D camp benefitted Tippett, Bylsma

PITTSBURGH -- The last two Jack Adams Award winners, Dave Tippett of Phoenix and Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh, will coach against each other for the one and only time this season Monday. It was a matchup both coaches have looked forward to for months.
They didn't discuss strategies or philosophies in advance of the game, of course, but they did so last summer while taking part in the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Toronto.
The summer session allows the League to test various rules proposals and potential changes to the game, and gain instant input from coaches and general managers. The players utilized were some of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft, and they tested such concepts as three-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, hybrid icing and minor penalties that must be served in full even if a goal is scored.
Generally the coaches have opposite approaches to the game -- Tippett is all about playing skillfully in the defensive end, minimizing scoring chances and turning defense into offense, while Bylsma emphasizes puck possession and getting to the offensive zone as much as possible.
At the R&D camp, however, Tippett and Bylsma discovered that their seemingly different ways of competing are very similar.
"As a coach, you very seldom get into a game where you can throw caution to the wind and try a lot of different things,” Tippett said Monday. “I really liked what the NHL does; they bring those young players in and you get a look at them. And Dan I had a great time trying to concoct rules and try different things that might help the game. Any time you can spend time around other coaches, it benefits everybody.”
Especially when you discover that a coach shares much of the same philosophy as you do, yet implements it in a different way.
Talent, of course, has something to do with the way each coach goes about his business. With players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Bylsma understandably wants to keep the pressure on opponents at all times. Tippett doesn’t have as much offensive skill in Phoenix, so he must make certain the Coyotes play with discipline and determination and turn an opponent’s mistakes into goals.
That’s evident from the statistics. The Penguins are a plus-40 in goal differential (207-167) despite a succession of injuries to key players; the Coyotes are only plus-5 (170-165), yet Phoenix went into Monday’s games with 75 points, only six fewer than Pittsburgh.
“It's always interesting because most conversations when it comes to their team is that their team plays on the other side of the puck. When you read their clippings and their articles, they tend to talk about the defensive side," Bylsma said. "If you read ours, you probably tend to talk about the other side. But I know they're cognizant of the other side of the puck as well. They're a very aggressive team, both on their forecheck and in the neutral zone. It's not sit back and play defense or trap and wait for the other team to come at you."
When Tippett and Bylsma talked, it turned out that the words "be aggressive" appear frequently in each coach's conversations with his players.
"While they do talk about the other side of the puck more than our team does, they are a very aggressive team and are going to come at you both forechecking-wise and in the neutral zone," said Bylsma. "I think it's a key to how they play the game, very similar to the way we play the game, being aggressive and coming at you."
Both coaches would like to attend another Research and Development Camp in the future. Tippett called it "a great experience," in part because coaches gain insight into how others prepare and motivate their teams and implement strategy.
"Both of us tried some interesting things there," Bylsma said. "I don't think we'll see any of those things tonight in the game. (Tippett) did do some interesting things, but I'm not sure I've seen any of it in the two full games I've watched of his team. That was more experimenting than anything."
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Coyotes hoping to rediscover February success

PITTSBURGH -- Maybe the Phoenix Coyotes should turn back the clock and put a February calendar on their dressing room wall.
Unbeaten in regulation (11-0-1) in February -- talk about a month to remember -- the Coyotes are winless so far in March, albeit in only two games.
But those two games were nothing like February, when they won six times by one-goal margins; they lost 4-2 to Calgary on Thursday and 5-2 to last-place Columbus on Saturday, both at home. Before that, they hadn't lost consecutive games since Dec. 23 and 26.
A March in which the Coyotes hoped to seal up a playoff spot -- they are tied with Dallas for the Pacific Division lead with 75 points, but went into Monday's games with the tiebreaker -- finds them playing nine times at home. First up, though, is a brief two-game road swing in which they play the streaking Penguins on Monday before they play a rematch with Columbus on Tuesday.
"We've got to playing back to playing how we were," coach Dave Tippett said following the morning skate Monday. "February, we had great record, but if you look at how we played, it was very much the identity of our team. We were 11-0-1, and nine of those games were one-goal games other than a couple of empty-netters that went in. And eight of those games we gave up one or less goals. You don't need brain surgery to figure out how we have to play."
The Coyotes aren't getting much from a power that ranks 30th and last in the League with a 13.5 percent conversion rate -- the Penguins' penalty kill is tied for second -- but they are maximizing their scoring.
They have only five more goals than their opponents, 170-165 (Boston, by contrast, has a 209-150 edge), yet they are tough to beat when they score first. They own a 26-4-5 record when getting the first goal, one reason why they are a combined 23-12-9 in games decided by one- or two-goal margins; they are only 10-11 in three-goal games.
"I think the last couple of games, we've gotten away from what made us successful in February, and that's doing a lot of little things right and having everybody in here doing their job," said goalie Mike Smith, who will make his ninth consecutive start Monday. "We've talked about it the last couple of days and we have to put our minds where our mouths are."
Smith, chosen as the NHL's First Star in February, has allowed seven goals on 55 shots in his first two games this month.
Phoenix was swept by Pittsburgh in home-and-home games last season and has dropped five of its last seven to the Penguins. But top-line forward Ray Whitney frequently troubled the Penguins while with Carolina and Florida, among other teams; he has 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points in 43 career games against them.
The Coyotes' likely lineup:
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Mikkel Boedker
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
David Rundblad - Chris Summers
Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pens injury report: One in, one out

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have been watching players go on the injury list all season. For a change, they’re getting one of their sidelined players back.
Forward Tyler Kennedy was full-go in Monday's morning skate and is expected to play Monday night against Phoenix, his first game action since he suffered a high ankle sprain exactly a month ago. He hasn’t played since Feb. 5 in New Jersey.
"The first couple shifts I'm going to try and get out and try to set a tone with my play," Kennedy said.
The layoff was the second extended one this season for Kennedy, a situation that hasn't helped his production. He was out for a month early in the season with a concussion.
"I haven't had this injury before -- it's my first one," Kennedy said of the ankle sprain. "I talked to guys and they said it's always going to feel a little different than usual. But it's one of the things you've got to kind of fight through a little bit. We'll see what happens."
After having a breakout 2010-11 season in which he scored 21 goals in 80 games and earned a new two-year contract, Kennedy has been limited to 6 goals and 16 assists in 42 games.
Still, Kennedy's return adds more depth to a balanced lineup that featured goals from five different players during the Penguins’ fifth consecutive win, a 5-1 victory at Colorado on Saturday.
Not that all of the Penguins' injury news is favorable. With defenseman Kris Letang out for the second time this season with concussion-like symptoms, defenseman Deryk Engelland (lower-body injury) isn't expected to play after getting hurt in Colorado --leaving the Penguins without two of their top six defensemen.
To replace Engelland, Brian Strait was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL), where he has 3 goals and 9 assists in 34 games. Strait previously was called up to play Oct. 18 against Minnesota, only to sustain a wrist injury that put him out for 25 games.
Letang, who was hurt Wednesday in Dallas, was evaluated Monday by the Penguins' concussion specialists. Sidney Crosby, whose concussion-related layoff reached the three-month mark Monday, skated before practice.
The Penguins' projected lineup for the first of their four home games in seven days, a homestand that includes games against two first-place teams in Florida and Boston and a Wednesday game against Toronto and new coach Randy Carlyle:
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Richard Park
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Matt Niskanen
Brian Strait - Ben Lovejoy
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal, with Brad Thiessen as the backup. Fleury has won each of his last five starts, last losing Feb. 15 against Anaheim.
"I think if the team plays well in front of you, you can win games," Fleury said. "I think you just have to get in the groove, get comfortable in the net. I always try to reach that point as a goalie."
Posted On Monday, 02.27.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Clitsome: 'Bittersweet' feeling leaving Jackets for Jets

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Defenseman Grant Clitsome came off the ice following an hour-long practice Monday with the Columbus Blue Jackets to learn he was in the wrong uniform.
He now is a member of the Winnipeg Jets after being claimed on waivers, and he couldn't hide that he is excited about the late-season change of uniforms.
Just like that, he is moving from a team that effectively has been out of playoff contention for weeks to one that is currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Suddenly, the postseason is a realistic possibility.
"In a day or two looking back on it, I'm sure there will be some emotion, but I think right now I'm kind of caught up in the excitement and the atmosphere," Clitsome said. "I'm excited. They're in a playoff push and they've got a great team, so it's going to be exciting times."
Columbus is 18-37-7 and has 11 fewer points than any other team in the League, while Winnipeg is 30-26-8 and only two points behind Southeast Division-leading Florida and third place in the Eastern Conference.
The move followed an emotional 48 hours for Clitsome after he was placed on waivers, his future very much uncertain. He acknowledged, "It felt strange." Now that he knows where he's going, he can't help but be enthused.
"It's my first time being put on waivers so I wasn't sure what to expect. It's kind of bittersweet. I developed a lot of relationships here and friendships," Clitsome said. "The organization has put a lot of time into developing me as a player and I thank them for the opportunity they gave me. On the flip side of that, I'm really excited to go to an organization like Winnipeg."
Clitsome, 26, has 4 goals and 10 assists and is a minus-6 in 51 games this season. In 93 NHL games spread across three seasons, he has 9 goals and 36 points.
Posted On Sunday, 02.26.2012 / 7:03 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - Countdown to the Trade Deadline blog

Was Sunday Nash's last game as a Jacket?

PITTSBURGH -- The Columbus Blue Jackets without Rick Nash? Interim coach Todd Richards didn't even want to think about such a possibility.
Less than 24 hours from now, Richards understands he might have to do exactly that.
Nash, an elite forward with the talent to significantly improve a contender's Stanley Cup playoff chances, played what possibly was his final game Sunday with the Blue Jackets. If it was, Nash gave Columbus fans something to remember him by as he scored a shorthanded goal – his first since 2009 – during a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh at Consol Energy Center.
Columbus' asking price for the former All-Star is reported to be immense, with a mix of current NHL players, prospects and draft picks. But with no other marquee type players known to be on the market, that could be a price a desperate team is willing to pay as the NHL Trade Deadline nears at 3 p.m. ET.
Richards knows it, too, even though he tried to deflect any Nash-might-be-traded questions following the Blue Jackets' fourth loss in five games.
"Why would I even answer that?" Richards said when asked what the Blue Jackets (18-37-7) might look like post-Nash. "Rick Nash is part of our team. Right now, he's a Columbus Blue Jacket. Twenty-four hours from now, it might be a different story. But, right now, he's a Columbus Blue Jacket and I treat him as one of our players."
While Nash's 2011-12 stats are down compared to those earlier in his career – he has 21 goals and 22 assists in 62 games – he has the combination of size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), skill and intangibles that franchise players possess. Nash had 40 goals in the 2008-09 season and 38 the season before that.
Nash's goal Sunday was his 280th in 654 career games, and he can only wonder how productive he might be on a team with more talent, more depth, more of everything that is missing in Columbus.

Even if that was exactly what Nash didn't want to do.
Nash suggested he has the patience to ride this out, if the Blue Jackets do, too.
"It's been a great time living in Columbus," he said. "I'm a Blue Jacket today and we're going to do everything we can to move forward as a team. These fans deserve a winning game and a winning team; they're the ones who've been the most patient."
This time, though, it will be Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson whose patience is about to be tested.
As the minutes tick down Monday, Howson might be forced to decide if an offer that doesn't quite match what he is seeking might be preferable to that he gets when more players are on the open market next summer.
Nash wouldn't comment Sunday on comments made Saturday by his agent, Joe Resnick, to TSN that the list of teams acceptable for a trade won't expand if Columbus doesn't make a deal by Monday's deadline.
"There's been so many rumors, so much speculation, it's been tough on everyone," Nash said.

Posted On Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 12:22 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Thiessen might spell Fleury, earn NHL debut Sunday

PITTSBURGH— A day off for Marc-Andre Fleury? It really might happen.
On Sunday, Brad Thiessen could become the first Pittsburgh Penguins goalie other than Fleury and Brent Johnson to start a game in more than two years.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is leaning towards starting Thiessen – who is up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) for the second time in a week – against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. Thiessen, a 25-year-old former Northeastern University goalie, hasn’t played in an NHL game.
Thiessen is 20-14-2 with a 2.88 goals-against average at Wilkes-Barre after having a superlative season in 2010-11, when he was 35-8-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
Johnson, the Penguins’ backup, was injured in practice Thursday – two days after an undisclosed illness prompted Pittsburgh to bring up Thiessen for a 2-0 victory over the Rangers. Thiessen did not play in that game, but was back in uniform for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fleury has had an exceptionally heavy workload – the Tampa Bay game was his 31st appearance in Pittsburgh’s last 33 games, including three games in which he replaced an ineffective Johnson.
With the Penguins playing at a more than every other day pace for the next month – 18 games in 35 days – Bylsma wants to give Fleury some time off as the playoffs grow closer.
Fleury, enjoying a second consecutive strong season and the Penguins’ MVP a year ago, has 31 of the team’s 34 victories this season. He is 31-14-3 and has 2.36 goals-against average.
Johnson is 3-7-2 and has won only once in six appearances since Dec. 3.
Only once in the last three seasons has a goalie other than Fleury or Johnson started for Pittsburgh. John Curry stopped only nine of 14 shots during an emergency start at Vancouver on Jan. 16, 2010, a game in which amateur callup Alexander Pechurski finished up by stopping 12 of 13 shots. Both Fleury and Johnson were unavailable that night.
Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:58 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

No contact, but Crosby joins Pens for practice

PITTSBURGH— Call it a step forward for Sidney Crosby, even if it might be only a small one.
Crosby took part in the Penguins’ off-day practice Thursday at the suburban Iceoplex at Southpointe, but sat out all contact drills. Crosby still has not been cleared for contact as he recovers from the concussion-like symptoms that have kept him out of game action since Dec. 5.
While Crosby also skated with the full Penguins team two other times since he last went through a full practice on Dec. 7, this was his most extensive on-ice time with them in the last two-and-a-half months. Since then, he has worked mostly with conditioning coach Mike Kadar and the other players who are out with injuries.
While Crosby’s status still has not changed, the Penguins remain hopeful that he can return this season. They have 22 games remaining.
The concussion-related issues have limited Crosby to eight games this season.
“(It’s) a chance to get on the ice with some more players,” Bylsma said Thursday. “He was out there with our team for the entire practice, although he did not participate in the contact drills that we did have. We’ll see how he progresses and where he’s at in terms of getting on the ice. Sometimes it (what Crosby does) is dictated on if it’s an optional (practice) or how many people will be out there.”
Crosby skated with the Penguins two weeks ago in Montreal and again last Friday, but only because there weren’t any other players to work out with in advance of practice.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero has not indicated whether the uncertainty regarding Crosby’s status will affect what he does at the trading deadline. The Penguins could use another reliable scorer at forward, but numerous other teams have the same need during what looks to be a seller’s market.
Shero has dealt for at least one forward at or near the deadline each of the last five years.
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (undisclosed illness) missed practice Thursday, but defenseman Brooks Orpik and goaltender Brent Johnson participated. Both were out for the Penguins’ 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday -- Orpik with an upper body injury and Johnson with an illness.
After one of their best all-around performances of the season, the Penguins remain at Consol Energy Center for back-to-back weekend afternoon games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
The Penguins beat Tampa Bay 4-2 behind Evgeni Malkin’s two goals Feb. 12 in Pittsburgh, so Bylsma doesn’t need to go back very far for a reference point on how the Lightning are playing. Tampa Bay is 3-1 since then, with a Thursday night game against Winnipeg still to play; while the Penguins are 2-2.
What the Penguins didn’t see then was the 1-3-1 defensive system the Lightning were playing earlier under coach Guy Boucher.
“I think Tampa Bay has started to play a little bit differently in their system,” Bylsma said. “They’re not as stout at playing the 1-3-1 that we saw from them (previously), where the game was getting clogged in the neutral zone and really tough to play against. We played a team a couple of weeks ago that had won a lot of games in a row (7-1-2 in their previous 10) and was making a push.”
If the Blue Jackets haven’t moved forward Rick Nash by then, Sunday’s game could be played with an air of anticipation that it could be Nash’s last in a Blue Jackets jersey.
“They don’t have the pressure of a playoff race or that type of pressure, but they’re going out and playing hard right now,” Bylsma said of the Blue Jackets, who beat San Jose 6-3 on Tuesday after losing to the Rangers 3-2 in overtime on Sunday “We’ll look at that and expect that on Sunday.”
Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:10 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Opponents getting physical with Malkin

PITTSBURGH -- Opponents aren't exactly using gimmick defenses or radically adjusting the way they play when they go against NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But since the Penguins' star enjoyed a midseason stretch in which he piled up 17 goals in 17 games, he has been held without a goal in his last three games, although he had a pair of assists.
Teams appear to be taking a more physical approach with Malkin, a tactic that has worked at times in the past. The Buffalo Sabres, for example, shadowed Malkin with the 6-foot-5, 212-pound Paul Gaustad during their 6-2 victory on Sunday.
"That's something he has to deal with," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's something to be aware of when certain teams play those types of players against him."
To be successful against such defenses, Bylsma wants Malkin to continue to use his own size -- he's 6-3 -- and his speed to create room to operate.
"I think he's done a really good job with the way guys have targeted him physically," Bylsma said. "In past years he may not have responded, or responded after the whistle in a way that was detrimental to his game. (This season) he's really been focused and not really gotten into that type of scenario. He wins the physical battle a lot of times."
Former Penguins forward Mike Rupp, now of the Rangers, said controlling Malkin is a priority. Malkin has three goals in three games this season against the Rangers, even though New York has allowed a League-low 116 goals. Despite Malkin's success against them, the Rangers are 2-1 against Pittsburgh going into Tuesday night's Atlantic Division matchup at Consol Energy Center.
With 32 goals and 39 assists for 71 points, Malkin owns a three-point lead over Claude Giroux of Philadelphia in the NHL scoring race.  The Flyers play at Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
Malkin has 15 goals and 12 assists in 33 career games against the Rangers, including two goals during Pittsburgh's 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19. That effort came during a stretch in which the 2009 Art Ross Trophy winner scored eight goals in five games.
"He's playing at a level that you don't see too often," Rupp said. "He's a talented guy that we've seen for a long time. This year is another feather in his cap as far as elevating his game. He's a guy that, I think, a lot goes off him and the team seems to do very well with him leading the way."
Even with star Sidney Crosby out of the lineup for all but eight games, Malkin has helped keep the Penguins among the Eastern Conference leaders with 71 points, only one fewer than reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston.
Malkin recently scored at least one goal in eight consecutive home games. However, Pittsburgh has dropped two of its last three and is 4-4-1 since ending an eight-game winning streak.
Crosby (concussion-like symptoms), as usual, worked out in advance of the Penguins' morning skate on Tuesday. He is not yet cleared for contact or for full practice, and his return remains indefinite.
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Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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