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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 2:27 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Pens know they must be special on special teams

PITTSBURGH -- Number-crunching or video watching isn’t necessary to determine why the Pittsburgh Penguins trail the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
 
Their dreadful special-teams performance is endangering the Penguins’ season going into Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.
 
The Flyers’ power play is converting at a 60-percent success rate (9-of-15), a remarkably high percentage that dwarfs the next best in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the Panthers and Blues are at 37.5 percent). The Penguins, except for their 10-3 win Wednesday in Game 4, can’t seem to stay out of the penalty box -- and, when they do occupy it, the puck can’t seem to stay out of their net.
 
For the first time since the Penguins owned a 3-0 lead in Game 1, before they went on to lose 4-3 in overtime and set the tone for the all-Pennsylvania series, they tightened up their special-teams play by holding the Flyers scoreless in the final two periods of Game 4.
 
If the Penguins are to keep playing in a series in which their next loss ends their season, coach Dan Bylsma said it’s evident what must happen.
 
“Our penalty kill is going to have to win us a game,” Bylsma said Friday.
 
Bylsma said it’s not as if the Flyers have dramatically altered what they do with the man advantage.
 
“We know exactly what the Flyers have done all year long. There are other teams that have power plays that are very similar. We know what to expect,” Bylsma said. “They’ve found ways to get goals on rushes, they’ve gotten goals on scrambles, coming out of scrambles and their set up. A little bit of that is more mental than anything. … We have to keep the momentum (from Game 4) and win a game special teams-wise.”
 
Bylsma dressed a seventh defenseman for Game 4 and may do the same Friday to help lessen the manpower load on an under-siege penalty kill.
 
Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said the Flyers present problems that not all teams do. He didn’t detail all of them, but it’s evident that the Flyers’ speed, their deep group of forwards and their determination to succeed on special teams have perplexed the Penguins.
 
“Like I’ve been saying all along, they’re a good team. They work hard, they put the puck deep and they finish checks,” Michalek said. “They’re going to make it hard on us. We’ve got to make sure we take care of the puck better, don’t turn the puck over and now we’ve got to go out there and execute all those things.”
 
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby suggested a strong special-team effort in Game 5 could begin to swing the momentum of a series that, except for Game 4 and the start of Game 1, has belonged to the Flyers. During the season, the Penguins’ penalty-killing unit was the third-best in the League with an 87.8-percent success rate.

“Every team kind of goes through tough stints where it feels like every chance a team gets, it goes in your net,” Crosby said. “I think the PK still has a lot of confidence in what it needs to do. They know when the time comes, it’s the timing of the penalty kills that are the most important sometimes. We know we can depend on them for a big kill when we need it.”
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 12:19 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Penguins' Martin out again

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin will sit out Game 5 of his team's Easern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers on  Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) with an undisclosed injury.

Martin also sat out Game 4. The injury could stem back to a hard hit he took from the Flyers' Brayden Schenn in the first period of Game 3.

With Martin out and three players suspended for Game 4 -- forwards Craig Adams, Arron Asham and James Neal -- coach Dan Bylsma went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, something he almost never does. But Bylsma hinted following the morning skate Friday that he could use the same scheme in Game 5, even though Adams and Neal will play.
 
Rookie defensemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait played in Game 4, as did defense regulars Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland. Niskanen had a goal and an assist as Pittsburgh won 10-3 to keep the series going.
 
"Paul is a second (unit) power-play guy and plays a lot of minutes in defensive situations," Bylsma said. "Having seven the last game, we were able to use guys in different spots. We could use Brian Strait for some of those minutes and have Simon Despres for the second power-play unit, which he filled in on and did a good job on. That’s why it was a positive thing and could be [Friday]."
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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 11:00 AM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Projected Game 5 lineup for Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins' likely lineup for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Philadelphia Flyers:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Richard Park
 
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Zbynek Michalek
Simon Despres/Brian Strait - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 4:28 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Pens not looking back as Game 3 approaches

PITTSBURGH--Losing all those multiple-goal leads against the Philadelphia Flyers was bad enough for Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Dealing with them might be just as difficult.

With Game 3 against the Flyers coming up on Sunday, Bylsma said the Penguins must shove aside the bad memories and focus on what they need to do to correct the numerous mistakes they made while losing the first two games of their Eastern-Conference Quarterfinals series.

The Flyers rolled into Pittsburgh and withstood a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime in Game 1 Wednesday. On Friday, they shook off Penguins leads of 2-0 and 3-1 to win 8-5 and take a firm grip on the series. After stealing home-ice advantage, they can now lose once in Philadelphia and still win the series.

"If you're asking does it affect the mindset? It does," said Bylsma, whose team has led the Flyers by two goals or more in five games since March 18, losing all but one. "You can say that losing 4-3 is a 4-3 loss no matter how it goes down; but in an overtime game, it's painful for anyone who is losing 4-3."

The Penguins also led 2-0 in Philadelphia on March 18, only to lose 3-2 in the final second of overtime -- thereby ending their NHL season-long 11-game winning streak. They also lost 6-4 in Pittsburgh on April 1 in a game they led 2-0.

"I think we understand we had leads, and 3-0 leads and two-goal leads, and they were able to come back," Bylsma said Saturday. "We knew they were going to be able to play and I don't think there have been a lot of surprises in that regard. I think it's difficult to deal with those losses and, at the same time, we have to put it behind us. We have to get ready for one game, which is Sunday at 3'oclock in Philly."

While the Flyers are 7-1 in Pittsburgh since the Consol Energy Center opened -- with the only loss coming in a nonessential game last weekend --the Penguins are 10-4-1 in their last 15 in Philadelphia.

"It's not what we planned to start with," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said of the 2-0 deficit. "But at the same time we can't panic right now. We have to play hard, play our best and get some wins."

Defenseman Kris Letang said, "You don't want to [be down 2-0]. Sometimes in life you're forced to go through adversity and that's what we're facing right now."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:19 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Penguins Niskanen Could Return Sunday

PITTSBURGH--Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, out for four games with an upper-body injury, could return for Game 3 against Philadelphia on Sunday.
 
Niskanen, who had been skating on his own, returned to practice Saturday at the team's suburban ice rink.
 
"Everybody plays through pain," he said. "That's not going to be an issue. It's going to be a functional thing, if I can play the way I need to play without anything holding me back."
 
Niskanen hasn't played since apparently injuring a shoulder on a hit by Daniel Paille of Boston on April 3. He sat out the Flyers' 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 and 8-5 decision in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
 
"It's just killing me being in the press box. It really hurts to watch," Niskanen said. "But I've got to get back when I can, and I have confidence in the guys that we're going to turn it around."
 
Niskanen is coming off a strong season in which he was a plus-9 in 75 games, with four goals and 17 assists.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma said the defensive pairings will be a game-time decision. Niskanen's status will be determined by whether he has enough strength in the affected area to play effectively.
 
If Niskanen returns, Ben Lovejoy probably would be scratched. Lovejoy returned for the series only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery.
 
Lovejoy made an ill-advised pass early in the third period of Game 3, mere seconds after Tyler Kennedy's go-ahead goal, that resulted in a steal and a pivotal goal by Flyers rookie Sean Couturier.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Five reasons the Penguins are in trouble

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins can only hope they have five more games remaining to get this right.
 
The Penguins, a popular pick to raise the Stanley Cup only a few days ago, suddenly find themselves in a two-game hole after being swept at home by the Philadelphia Flyers to begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series.
 
What's remarkable is how they're losing: By opening up substantial early leads in both Game 1 and Game 2, only to have the Flyers dominate play the rest of the way. Pittsburgh owns a 6-1 scoring advantage in the first period; Philadelphia has an 11-2 edge in the second and third periods and overtime.
 
The only time in franchise history the Penguins dropped the first two games at home and recovered to win a series was against Washington in the conference quarterfinals in 1996, even though Boston pulled off just such a comeback last year against Montreal and went on to lift the Stanley Cup. And at least there's this: The Penguins have been swept in a four-game playoff series only once, by Boston in 1979.
 
But as they try to figure out how to extend this series for five more games, here are five reasons why the Penguins are in trouble:
 
1) THEIR STARS AREN'T STARRING. Unlike last season's first-round ouster by Tampa Bay, the Penguins appear to be relatively healthy, with both Sidney Crosby and NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Only they're not being stars. Malkin looks frustrated as the Flyers keep targeting him for contact on almost every shift. Crosby scored early goals in each of the first two games, but couldn't find the net when the games were being decided. The Penguins are built to have No. 87 and No. 71 win games for them, especially in the playoffs, but, so far, it's not happening; Malkin is a minus-5. And James Neal, who is coming off a 40-goal season? He has one goal in nine career playoff games. Malkin's other linemate, Chris Kunitz, scored two goals in Game 2 yet, remarkably, was a minus-5.
 
2) THEY'RE OUT OF THEIR LEAD. The Penguins led 3-0 in the first period of Game 1, 3-1 in the first period of Game 2. And they lost both times. An anomaly? Hardly. Four times since March 18, the Penguins have built multi-goal leads against the Flyers, and they've lost each time. The Flyers keep rallying by staying patient and waiting for the free-wheeling Penguins to start making mistakes -- risky cross-ice passes, questionable decisions while in defensive zone coverage, a stubborn refusal to avoid  carrying the puck into traffic in the neutral zone (Malkin is a prime offender). The Flyers simply aren't worried when the Penguins get ahead, and it shows. And here's another worry for Pittsburgh: Philadelphia is 17-0 when it leads 2-0 in a series.
 
"We've got to find a way to do better with a lead, no doubt," Crosby said. "We know they're going to keep going. We know that."
 
3) THEY'RE NOT GETTING SEPARATION. Even while owning the final line change at home, the Penguins are constantly contending with Malkin's line being shadowed by Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier -- a younger version of the Penguins' own Jordan Staal. The 19-year-old Couturier not only is controlling Malkin, he is only the second teenager in Stanley Cup history to score three goals in a game. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma must be more creative to find ways to get Malkin on the ice when Couturier isn't.
 
"I don't know if I know any words to describe his game," 40-year-old Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr said of Couturier, who is less than half his age. "Awesome, maybe -- something like that?"
 
4) THERE'S NO DEFENSE FOR WHAT'S HAPPENING. For most of the season, the Penguins were a solid, stay-within-the-Bylsma system team defensively -- a prime reason why they accumulated 108 points despite not having Crosby for three-quarters of the season. During their 11-game winning streak from Feb. 21-March 17, they allowed only 17 goals. Over their last 11, they've given up 48. With opponents getting so many scoring chances, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury simply has had no chance at times, and he appears to be losing confidence. If the Penguins don't start playing with some pride and a purpose on defense, it won't matter how many goals Crosby and Malkin score.
 
"We've got to tighten up and try to play in their end," center Jordan Staal said.
 
5) THEIR SPECIAL TEAMS ARE ESPECIALLY BAD. As Bylsma desperately tries to find a workable power-play unit -- Crosby began the first couple of Game 2 power plays on the bench -- the Flyers keep turning games around with their special teams play. They scored on their first two power plays of the series, including Brayden Schenn's all-important tying goal in the third period of Game 2. And they struck for shorthanded goals by Maxime Talbot and Claude Giroux in Game 2. Whether it's personnel, or mindset or coaching, the Flyers are dominating the game-within-a-game special teams contest -- and, while they're doing it, the series, too.
 

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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 12:54 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Pens not fazed by having to play from behind in series

PITTSBURGH -- They've done it in the past, now they need to show they can do it again. The Pittsburgh Penguins understand they must prove they can play from behind.
 
It's been the playing while ahead part that’s been difficult for them.
 
Twice during their Stanley Cup run in 2009, the Penguins rebounded from 2-0 deficits to win series -- against Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final. They also bounced back from losing the first game against Ottawa in the 2010 conference quarterfinals to win in six games.
 
But the Penguins couldn't hold a 3-2 series lead against Montreal in the 2010 conference semifinals or a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in the conference quarterfinals last season. And they couldn't hold a 3-0 lead in the first period during their 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series Wednesday night.
 
Detecting a theme?
 
While every team and every season is different, the core group of Penguins has remained the same since 2008-09 -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang and Matt Cooke.
 
"I think experience from playing games before," Fleury said Friday of the Penguins' bounce-back tendencies. "And the best thing is to forget about it (a loss), the quicker the better. The next day's a new day and I think everybody is excited to have another shot at it."
 
Of course, in a short series, the "next days" dwindle quickly once the losses start to mount. Hence the Penguins' belief that they must play with a sense of desperation in Game 2, lest they go down 2-0 heading into Game 3 Sunday in Philadelphia.
 
"I think there's a sense of that in every game. Everyone always talks about the scenarios, the way a series works out. The reality is, everyone's desperate every game," Crosby said. "That's the way it is. There's obviously more emphasis when you've lost a game to bounce back and get the momentum. That's the case in every series. That's the case here tonight. We want to make sure we bounce back."
 
Even if those outside their room keep focusing on how the Penguins couldn't hold onto a seemingly safe lead in their own arena, Crosby said a hockey team can't do that.
 
"You lose a game, you have to bounce back. In the regular season, we've had to do that. The playoffs aren't any different," the Penguins captain said. "You have to have a short memory and forget it and move on. The way you play doesn't change. If anything, you should be even more desperate coming off a loss. I don't see that really being an issue."
 
During the Crosby-Malkin era, the Penguins are 15-8 following a loss in the playoffs.
 
In 1996, the Penguins lost the first two games at home against Washington in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals only to rebound to win the next four games, but that was long before any of these players' careers had begun.
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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 12:10 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Penguins hope room full of Cs translates into Ws

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping that a room full of Cs translates into some Ws during their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
 
The Penguins made a point of wearing specially-designed playoff T-shirts that feature a "C" on the front following their morning skate before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Friday.
 
James Neal said they did it for a reason.
 
On Jan. 13, the Penguins wore taped-on Cs on their practice jerseys during their morning skate in advance of that night's game at Florida. They did so as a sign of team unity -- and to support then-injured team captain Sidney Crosby -- following a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report that the players had discussed appointing a fill-in captain if Crosby could not return.
 
Forward Pascal Dupuis, one of the Penguins' most-tenured players, suggested the players wear the Cs.
 
The Penguins went on to secure a 4-1 victory over the Panthers that not only ended a six-game losing streak but launched them on an eight-game winning streak. From that point, they finished the season with a 30-8-2 record to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference with 108 points, only one point behind the Atlantic Division- and conference-leading New York Rangers.
 
As the Penguins attempt to bounce back from squandering a 3-0 lead during a 4-3 loss to Philadelphia in Game 1 on Wednesday, the players felt it was the right time to wear the T-shirts, which they have shown off several times since they were released two weeks ago.
 
"When we were going through a little slump there and when we had a controversy with Sid and that little stuff kind of brought our team back together," Neal said. "We turned a little losing streak around into a winning streak and it kind of brought back some good memories. It's something we pride ourselves in."
 
Coach Dan Bylsma wasn't aware of any team-unity display by his players.
 
"That's a playoff T-shirt they made and there's more than one or two themes on the shirt," Bylsma said.
 
But it's the black "C" on the right shoulder of the gray T-shirt that stands out most.
 
"That's why we're wearing them today," Neal said.
 
There's also this: The Penguins first wore the Cs on a Friday the 13th in Florida. The day of Game 2 against the Flyers also is a Friday the 13th. So maybe the Penguins are more than a little bit superstitious.
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Penguins hope changes energize power play

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins player agree that their power play needs some work. So it's not surprising that barely 12 hours after they surrendered a three-goal lead and Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Flyers, the Penguins concentrated on their power play at practice Thursday.
 
Almost every player worked on it, too. Coach Dan Bylsma tried a variety of combinations and alignments in an effort to kick-start a unit that was 0-for-3 against the Flyers in that 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday.
 
In the Penguins’ last two playoff series dating to last season, the power play is 1-for-38 (2.6 percent) – and 0 for 28 at Consol Energy Center. By comparison, the Penguins were much better with a man advantage during the regular season, finishing tied for fifth -- with Philadelphia -- at a 19.7-percent conversion rate.
 
That might explain why forward Steve Sullivan, a power-play fixture until Bylsma began experimenting late in the season, was back on the point during the practice Thursday.
 
"Obviously, the power play needs to do a better job,” said defenseman Kris Letang, another point man on the power play. “That’s the reason we practiced it this morning. We could have put the game away with a power-play goal [while leading 3-0 in the second period]. We have to work on it and learn from it and make sure we do the right things.”
 
Bylsma explained the multiple combinations as simply making sure multiple players know how to play the same position. That became a concern when most of the players on the top power-play unit had just been out for a shift and substitutions had to be made on the fly during one of the three failed power plays in Game 1.
 
“We’re struggling a little bit with the units we do have so we’re trying to mix and match a little bit to make sure everyone’s comfortable at everyone’s position,” Sullivan said.
 
Bylsma also worked with multiple combinations, rather than keeping the top unit led Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for most of a power play.
 
“We want to try to use two units, two sets of players that can play a minute and get us going and get us a goal,” Letang said.
 
Bylsma began tinkering with the power play after Crosby returned in mid-March, with the most radical change being an all-forwards unit. However, the Penguins had four different games down the stretch in which they went 0-for-4 on the power play.
 
Letang went back to the point late in the season, and now it appears Sullivan will return there, too, which allows Malkin and Crosby to try to find openings down low.
 
“He's played there all year and shown he's pretty comfortable there,” Crosby said of Sullivan. “He can make plays and he's a smart player. He distributes the puck well so he brings all of that to the power play. He's pretty familiar with that area.”
 
Sullivan often was used during the season to carry the puck out of the defensive zone and establish the power play. In Game 1, the Flyers were successful in disrupting that flow, one reason the Penguins' extra-man units sometimes looked ragged.
 
“It felt like we'd take a shot and they'd clear it,” Crosby said. “We didn't really get set up and really try to expose anything there. We were trying to get shots, which is always a good mentality to have on any power play, but sometimes I think we could have been a bit more patient to try to set something up.”
 
Pittsburgh also didn’t have much success during the season against the Flyers’ penalty kill, going 3-for-22 (13.6 percent).
 
“They’re a very pressure-first mentality of a penalty kill over there, and they’re not giving us much time,” Sullivan said. “So we’ve got to make sure we execute the passes we make, that we’ve got some support and we’ve got some clean entries so we have as much zone time as we can.”
 
The Flyers had only one power play and took advantage of it, with Brayden Schenn’s goal at 12:23 of the third tying the game. Philadelphia has scored a power-play goal in all seven games against the Penguins this season, counting Game 1, and is 7-for-30 overall against Pittsburgh (23.3 percent) despite going 1-for-6 in three different games.
 
“We let the special teams get away from us,” Chris Kunitz said.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:48 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Bylsma respects Laviolette despite recent remarks

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s ears perked up the other night while he was watching a scouting tape in advance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
An announcer was discussing the most successful U.S.-born coaches in the NHL, and he mentioned Peter Laviolette of the Philadelphia Flyers and John Tortorella of the New York Rangers. Both coached teams that won the Stanley Cup -- Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lighting in 2004 and Laviolette two years later with the Carolina Hurricanes.
 
Left out of the discussion? Bylsma, who didn’t take over until midseason in 2008-09 yet coached the Penguins to a seven-game Stanley Cup Final series win against the Detroit Red Wings.
 
An unintended slight? Perhaps. A bit of a motivator for Bylsma? Perhaps that, too.
 
"I was disappointed not being mentioned in the commentator's comments about American coaches," Bylsma said. "But that's part of the game."
 
And a Bylsma vs. Laviolette coaching matchup in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is bound to contain some coaching gamesmanship, too.
 
Bylsma said Laviolette deserves all the praise he has gotten during a season in which the Flyers withstood the offseason departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and the influx of a half-dozen rookies to finish with 103 points, the sixth-most in the League.
 
"They play a consistent game," said Bylsma, whose team won 51 games -- the second-most in Penguins history. "I think their team has a real identity, which isn't the old Flyers identity, but a real good identity. This team in particular, they talk about (Claude) Giroux and (Jaromir) Jagr. Their power play has been a factor, but this is a team that does it throughout their lineup. They keep coming at you and they play well throughout their lineup. They’ve dealt with injuries."
 
Bylsma added, "He (Laviolette) is going to have matchups that he goes after and these things are important for his team. You'll see their team go after those. He's also a coach that does a good job of adjusting his team and their mindset. I have a lot of respect for Peter as a coach for what he’s done -- regardless of the name calling."
 
Bylsma was referring to Laviolette's comment after an April 1 game against the Pens that Bylsma was "gutless" for putting out his toughest players against the Flyers' Danny Briere line late in Philadelphia's 6-4 victory in Pittsburgh. During that shift, Penguins center Joe Vitale put a clean but hard hit on Briere, who went on to miss the final three regular season games with a back contusion that caused back spasms.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 12:13 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Cooke wary of Flyers' skill more than braun

PITTSBURGH — Matt Cooke wants to make something clear now that the long-awaited Flyers-Penguins playoff series is finally here.
 
The Penguins are not – with the emphasis on "not" – playing the Broad Street Bullies in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
The Flyers-Penguins regular season game April 1 was intense and physical and wound down with two coaches screaming at each other as all 10 skaters on the ice skirmished briefly. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was incensed by a clean but hard hit by center Joe Vitale on Flyers forward Danny Briere and was highly critical of the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma.
 
After the teams met again this past Sunday in a far-less-emotional game, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said he expected this series to be a "bloodbath."
 
However, the Penguins believe the Flyers teams they defeated in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs better fit the Broad Street Bullies stereotype. To them, these Flyers are built around elements other than tough guys and a push-it-to-the-limits mentality.
 
"I mean they're not a bruiser team. They don't physically punish you, I wouldn't say, any more than the way we want to play,” Cooke said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. "They have that persona from the 1970s and that’s what the Philadelphia Flyers are about. They have a lot of skill over there. They play a skill game and they look for turnovers. Those are the things that are going to win them games, not physical play."
 
Not that the Flyers don’t have agitator-type players that try to disrupt and distract a team. After that April 1 game, Penguins star Sidney Crosby acknowledged he gave more retaliatory hits than in any recent game he can remember.
 
The Flyers also are expected to try to provoke Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin into taking a retaliatory penalty – he can be prone to doing that – that not only puts Philadelphia on the power play but takes one of the NHL’s most creative offensive players off the ice. Malkin had 70 penalty minutes this season – 26 more than long-reputed agitator Cooke, for example.
 
“They’ve got certain players that are willing to irritate guys," Cooke said. "I think that's a situation where playing three games against them late in the season are fresh in our memories and make us understand and realize how we have to defend against that."
 
While the Flyers may not try to beat up an opponent at the same time it is trying to defeat it, Bylsma said the Penguins must be prepared for the offensive pace Philadelphia will attempt to mount with all four lines.
 
“This is a team that keeps coming at you," Bylsma said.
 
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy is expected to play only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery; he was expected to be out for three-to-four weeks. Defenseman Matt Niskanen didn’t take part in the morning skate and is all but certain to miss a third consecutive game.
 
One change: Deryk Engelland, usually on the right side when he is paired with Niskanen, will be on the left side with Lovejoy playing the right side.
 
The only other defenseman in uniform is rookie Brian Strait, who was a minus-two in the final two regular season games.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 7:05 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Pens' Lovejoy could return for Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy could return for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Philadelphia on Wednesday, two weeks after having arthroscopic right knee surgery.
 
Lovejoy was expected to be out for 3-4 weeks after getting injured March 25 against New Jersey. But he resumed skating last week and returned to practice on Monday.
 
With Matt Niskanen (lower-body injury) unlikely to be ready for Game 1, the only other healthy defenseman available on the Penguins' roster is rookie Brian Strait. He was a minus-2 in season-ending games against the Rangers and Flyers last week.

Niskanen was held out of practice Tuesday, although he skated beforehand. He missed the final two games of the regular season.
 
Lovejoy has been limited to 34 games because of injuries and the depth the Penguins possess on the blue line when Niskanen is healthy. He has one goal and four assists and is a plus-3.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma seemed to suggest following practice Tuesday that Lovejoy could be ready to go.
 
"Ben Lovejoy is a guy who three times this year has played after long absences and has played really well after he's stepped back in," Bylsma said. "He's played in the postseason and has that experience there. He's been a guy who's stepped in for us this year when we've had injuries. When and if Ben gets healthy, he's going to be a guy we're comfortable putting in situations."
 
Lovejoy had two assists while playing in all seven games of the Penguins' conference quarterfinal round series loss to Tampa Bay last season.
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Posted On Monday, 04.09.2012 / 7:56 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Neal, Sullivan ready to go for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Dan Bylsma skated onto the ice Monday for the Pittsburgh Penguins' first practice in advance of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against Philadelphia and was greeted by an uncommon sight.
 
All of his forwards were in uniform , healthy and ready to go -- including James Neal and Steve Sullivan.
 
James Neal
During a season in which star Sidney Crosby missed 60 games with concussion-related issues, Tyler Kennedy was out for 22 games, Jordan Staal sat out 20 and Neal and Sullivan were sidelined for the final two games, Bylsma rarely had all four lines healthy at the same time.
 
Evgeni Malkin even missed seven games early in the season, although he still managed to easily win the scoring title by 12 points over Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay.
 
Neal, whose 40 goals ranked fourth in the League, and Sullivan, who had a 48-point season, each missed games Thursday against the Rangers and Saturday against the Flyers with lower-body injuries.
 
"We saw Sullivan and Neal return to practice and play on the lines they played on three games ago and will be playing on for the start of Game 1," Bylsma said.

That means Neal goes back onto the Malkin line with Chris Kunitz, where he has played nearly all season, while Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis will be the wings on Sidney Crosby's line.
 
"It was good to get back out there and get the legs going, get your timing back and get ready for playoffs," said Neal, who had one goal in seven playoff games against Tampa Bay last spring.

Asked whether his condition was a concern with the start of the playoffs so close, Neal said, "No, it's fine. I'll be all right. I had a good week of rest. That's what I needed and I'll be ready to go, 100 percent."
 
Sullivan felt he could have played Saturday but, since that game did not affect the Penguins' playoff seeding, he was held out.
 
"Awesome," Sullivan said when asked how he is feeling. "I'm ready to go."
 
Sullivan signed with the Penguins before the season started in part because he has never lifted the Stanley Cup since breaking into the NHL with New Jersey during the 1995-96 season.
 
"It's probably the best opportunity that I've had," Sullivan said. "I think I'm very excited, energized and ready to go. These opportunities don't come along very often, so I'm going to make the best of my opportunity here."

Defenseman Matt Niskanen's status for Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday is uncertain. He missed the final two regular season games with an upper-body injury, and he didn't practice Monday although he skated on his own.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:54 PM

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

Rangers turn to reliable Biron for 21st start of season

PITTSBURGH -- Martin Biron will play his 21st game of the season in net for the New York Rangers on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. It's probably more than he expected play as Henrik Lundqvist's backup, but not as much as he would like to play.
 
Backup goalies never have it easy, as Biron can attest. They often play when the starter is slumping, is hurt or needs a rest, sometimes under the worst of conditions -- the second night of a back-to-back -- or against the best of opponents.
 
Still, Biron has a 12-5-2 record and a 2.38 goals-against average -- the kind of numbers that would have earned him significantly more playing time on a team other than one that is contending to win the Presidents' Trophy. Biron played in 17 games last season, going 8-6-0 with a 2.13 goals-against average.
 
For a coach, there's nothing like the security of a reliable backup goalie. That's exactly what Biron provides to the Rangers, who have locked up first place in the Eastern Conference and the top seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
"I think the year went really good for everybody. We struck to the schedule and stuck to the plan and for me, Hank, it's worked out well," Biron said Thursday. "I was happy the way it went. You want to play more, you just want to get it. But you're patient and you practice and when you get that opportunity, you have to respond. We've been able to do that, nut just me but everybody else."
 
Lundqvist (39-17-5, 1.93 goals-against average) injured his right hand as the Rangers beat the Flyers 5-3 on Tuesday, but he was able to handle the stick without considerable discomfort during the morning skate.
 
Coach John Tortorella expects him to be fine, and there is a possibility Lundqvist could play in the final regular season game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
 
The Rangers won seven of nine to secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and Biron likes how they are playing as the playoffs approach.
 
"Some teams finish really strong, some teams don't," Biron said. "It's a matter of timing and being mentally prepared and being ready for anything. If you have to make adjustments, you make adjustments. There's no secret recipe, you've got to go with what you have. Right now we've been playing well, so we've got to go with that."
 
Perhaps that's why Tortorella plans to stay with his regular lineup against the Penguins, who lead the season series 3-2.
 
Forward Mike Rupp showed no signs of a concussion following a fight Tuesday with Jody Shelley and is expected to play.
 
The Rangers' likely lineup:
 
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Brandon Prust
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
 
Martin Biron
Henrik Lundqvist
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 1:22 PM

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

Penguins still motivated to gain home ice

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins talked it about for weeks -- if they could sweep their final three games against the Rangers, they just might overhaul New York for first place in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma didn't discourage such talk, believing it might be a motivator for the stretch drive.
 
As it turns out, the Penguins could sweep those three games but still not overtake the Rangers, who secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by finishing off a season sweep of the Atlantic Division rival Flyers with a 5-3 victory Tuesday.
 
The Rangers go into the next-to-the-last game of the season for both teams with 109 points, and the most the Penguins could end with is 108 if they beat New York on Thursday night and Philadelphia on Saturday. Both games are at Consol Energy Center.
 
It's not that the Penguins lack motivation. They can secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by beating the Rangers. If they can do that -- or if the Flyers lose in regulation to Buffalo -- then their Saturday home game against the Flyers would be relatively meaningless.
 
That's a scenario the Penguins would welcome, if only to give goalie Marc-Andre Fleury another much-needed day off; he is expected to play in his 66th game of the season Thursday. Three injured players -- forwards James Neal and Steve Sullivan (lower-body injuries) and defenseman Matt Niskanen (upper-body injury) -- also would get another day off. None of the three will play against the Rangers.
 
"It's not everything, but it's nice, though," captain Sidney Crosby said of home ice. "It's something that if you have the opportunity to get, you want to get it, I think it's something that's on our mind the last couple of games, making sure we do that. We love playing here and it gives us a lot of energy."
 
Still, the Penguins are aware they owned the home-ice edge against Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season and against Montreal in Game 7 of the semifinals the season before, and they lost both games.
 
To Crosby, that's why it is important for the Penguins to be concentrating on sharpening their game, paying attention to detail and managing the puck well -- and that means cutting down on neutral zone turnovers -- over the next two games.
 
"We've got to make sure we've got our game and it's where it needs to be," Crosby said. "We dropped a couple of games there to the Islanders and we weren't happy with our play. I think it's just a matter of making sure we're on the right track."
 
Those home-and-home losses to the Islanders last week blunted the momentum the Penguins generated by going 14-1-1 over the previous 16 games, and cost them any chance of overtaking the Rangers. Pittsburgh won the last two matchups, 2-0 at Consol on Feb. 21 and 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on March 15.
 
New York isn't entirely without motivation against the Penguins -- the Rangers still can win the Presidents' Trophy for regular season superiority -- so Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma doesn't expect to see a relaxed opponent.
 
"They've certainly locked their position, the top of the conference. They've locked home ice through the
first, second and third round if they advance that far," Bylsma said. "It would seem like they don't have a lot to play for, but you never know what the case will be. We're anticipating the first-place team in here. This is a team we've been trying to catch and win the last three games against them. Our last one is [Thursday]."
 
While the Penguins could finish with the second-most points in the conference, they can finish no higher than fourth because division winners automatically claim the top three spots in the playoffs.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Richard Park
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Paul Martin
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
 
Fleury (41-17-4) would be playing in his 66th game, one off his career high set twice previously. Johnson played and won two of Pittsburgh's previous three games.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:48 PM

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

Neal, Sullivan, Niskanen all sidelined for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will be playing somewhat shorthanded against the New York Rangers on Thursday night, as forwards James Neal and Steve Sullivan and defenseman Matt Niskanen sit out with injuries.
 
All three might also miss the regular-season ending game Saturday against the Flyers, but coach Dan Bylsma said they are expected to be ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that begin next week.
 
Neal and Sullivan have lower-body injuries and Niskanen has an upper-body injury, all of which occurred during the Penguins' 5-3 victory at Boston on Tuesday night. Niskanen was injured during a collision with Daniel Paille in the first period and did not return. Sullivan played the entire game, but was seen limping afterward.
 
It is uncertain when Neal was hurt.
 
With Neal missing, Richard Park -- who has not dressed for 10 of the last 13 games -- was on a line with Chris Kunitz and NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin during the morning skate. Eric Tangradi and Pascal Dupuis were the wings on the Sidney Crosby line.
 
Joe Vitale took part in the morning skate despite being struck in the jaw by a Zdeno Chara shot Tuesday.
 
"All of us and everyone in the building (TD Garden) saw the puck rise off his stick, it was only a wrist shot, but it was (Zdeno) Chara," Bylsma said. "He got it up and around the head area, so there was concern. It left a mark, but he's doing well and everything seems to be good with him."
 
Vitale is expected to center the fourth line, which also includes Arron Asham and Craig Adams.
 
The Penguins can secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, as early as Thursday if they defeat the Rangers or the Flyers lose to Buffalo in regulation.
 
 
 
 
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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 1:17 PM

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

Letang makes surprise return to the lineup

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins defenseman Kris Letang made a surprise return to the lineup for a key Atlantic Division game Sunday against Philadelphia.

Letang missed three consecutive games with a lower body injury that resulted from him slamming feet first into the boards after he was tripped last Sunday against New Jersey. Letang did not accompany the Penguins on a two-game road trip in which they played the Islanders Thursday and the Sabres Friday.

The Penguins also did not practice Saturday -- coach Dan Bylsma called off a scheduled practice -- but Letang returned to play Sunday despite not being on the ice with the team for a week.

Letang, one of the NHL's premier two-way defensemen, has nine goals and 27 assists in 47 games, missing nearly two months with a concussion earlier in the season.

Letang has 20 points, including three goals, in 26 games against the Flyers, who went into the game trailing Pittsburgh by three points in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division standings.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 11:30 AM

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

Fleury, Bobrovsky get the start Sunday

PITTSBURGH -- Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers in a key Atlantic Division game Sunday that could help decide home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
 
Fleury gave up nine goals combined in his previous two starts, home-and-home losses to the New York Islanders Tuesday and Thursday. Brent Johnson, returning from a 17-game layoff with an injury, started and beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 Friday for his first win since Feb. 12.
 
Fleury is 21-12-2 in his career against Philadelphia, which will be coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to Ottawa Saturday.
 
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang could play after missing three games with a lower-body injury caused when he was tripped and went feet-first into the end boards March 25 against the Devils. Coach Dan Bylsma said he will be a game-time decision.
 
As expected, Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net for the Flyers -- just as he was for each of Philadelphia's four victories in Consol Energy Center since the start of the 2010-11 season. The Flyers have not lost in Consol, where they play twice this week. The Flyers and Penguins wrap up the regular season there Saturday afternoon.
 
The Penguins, currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, go into Sunday's game with a three-point lead over the Flyers, 102-99.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 2:26 PM

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

Pens' Letang to miss at least two more games

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins star defenseman Kris Letang will miss at least two more games with a lower-body injury that occurred when he was tripped by Devils forward Ryan Carter during Sunday's game.
 
Letang was held out of the Penguins' 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday and did not practice with the team Wednesday. He also did not accompany the Penguins on a two-game road trip that sends them to Long Island for a rematch with the Islanders on Thursday and to Buffalo on Friday.
 
The earliest Letang could play would be Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m., NBC).
 
"Kris Letang was not on the ice," coach Dan Bylsma said following practice. "(He) is still day-to-day with a lower-body injury."
 
Letang absorbed a pair of hard hits during Sunday's game. He was checked by a doctor and was cleared to return after he and Dainius Zubrus collided head-to-head during the second period, but after he returned, he fell feet-first into the endboards after being tripped by Carter 5:30 into the third period.
 
The Penguins are overly cautious about any possible head injury to Letang because he was out from Nov. 26 until Jan. 19 with the first concussion of his career -- one that interrupted what until then was the best offensive season of his career.
 
Letang began producing again after he returned -- he had 6 goals and 6 assists in 18 games -- only to be sidelined again for five games following a collision with Stars forward Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29. Letang experienced headaches after that hit, but was not diagnosed with a concussion.
 
Letang, a point man on the power play and one of the NHL's top puck-moving defensemen, has 9 goals, 27 assists and a plus-16 rating in 47 games this season.
 
With Letang, Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy (knee) out against the Islanders, AHL call-ups Simon Despres and Brian Strait took regular shifts in Tuesday's game. Strait also earned his first NHL point by assisting on Tyler Kennedy's goal early in the second period.
 
"Brian Strait and Simon have proven that they can come in, play the right way for us and defend and limit other teams' opportunities in the time they've played," Bylsma said.
 
Penguins forward Joe Vitale, out for five games with an upper-body injury, is on the road trip, although Bylsma did not say if he would play in either game. Niskanen, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury, stayed back in Pittsburgh.
 
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said he is fine despite being rammed hard by teammate Paul Martin on Frans Nielsen's second goal of the game late in the second period Tuesday. Fleury sat out the third period.
 
"We're lucky we play with good helmets, compared to back in the day," Fleury said. "It's good. There's no injury, so there are no lingering effects. Just a tough game."
 
By losing to the Islanders -- a team they had beaten four straight times this season -- the Penguins fell three points behind the Rangers in the race for first place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division. The Penguins have six games remaining.
 
"There have certainly been words spoken about where we're at and the situation we're in and how we're playing right now and our mindset in terms of where we're at in relation to the end of the season," Bylsma said.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 2:10 PM

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

Crosby reunited with Dupuis on line at Pens' skate

PITTSBURGH -- Maybe it's a subtle change, maybe it's not. But Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma may be signaling how he plans to roll out his lines when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in two weeks.
 
Bylsma tweaked his combinations during the morning skate Tuesday, reinserting Pascal Dupuis onto the Sidney Crosby line that also includes Tyler Kennedy. Matt Cooke, who has been thriving offensively while playing the last seven games on Crosby’s line, was back with Jordan Staal and Steve Sullivan.
 
The top line of Chris Kunitz (23 goals), Evgeni Malkin (46 goals) and James Neal (35 goals) remains together.
 
Bylsma usually doesn't do such game-day tinkering unless he plans to go with such a lineup that night. The Penguins (47-22-6), just one point behind the New York Rangers in the race for the Eastern Conference lead, take on the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
 
"I think more and more in the next seven games you're going to see people who are going to be playing with each other going forward," said Bylsma, who has been trying out different line combinations ever since Crosby returned March 15.
 
Crosby, for example, played at least one shift with every forward except Craig Adams during an 8-4 loss in Ottawa on Saturday. One night later, Crosby not only played a little with the gritty Adams, they both picked up an assist on Dupuis' goal during the second period.
 
Dupuis has played on Crosby's line regularly in the past, usually with Kunitz. Dupuis and Kunitz were Crosby's linemates before Crosby missed the second half of the 2010-11 season with a concussion, and Bylsma put them together again when Crosby returned to play eight games starting Nov. 21.
 
Most recently, Dupuis and Steve Sullivan were playing on Staal's line.
 
"You play with Sid, you play with Jordan, you play with Evgeni, you play with a great player," said Dupuis, who is enjoying a career year with 23 goals and 50 points in 75 games. "You play with a great centerman. When you play on this team, you play with unbelievable talent. It's a matter of clicking together."
 
Dupuis added, "And we play one way. It's not like somebody is going to do different things on the ice, forecheck differently, we all do it the same. Some do it with more skill than the others, but that's what our game looks like."
 
By reinserting Dupuis on Crosby's line, Bylsma is restoring the speed element that was present when Kunitz was on the Penguins captain's line. Returning Cooke to Staal's line with Sullivan means Bylsma could be anticipating using them for defensive purposes against opposing teams' top lines in the playoffs.
 
Cooke is known more for his aggressiveness and physicality than his scoring skills, yet he had 5 goals and 3 assists in seven games on Crosby's line.
 
And while Bylsma wants all of his lines playing the same way, Dupuis said a wing must anticipate anything -- any pass in any situation -- while playing alongside the gifted Crosby.
 
"Jordan likes to hold onto the puck, use his big frame to create space, and Sid is also very strong on his skates and he wants to deke guys and spin on guys," Dupuis said. "With Jordan, you go to the net hard and you expect passes, you make plays. With Sid sometimes it ends up on your stick and it’s like, 'Whoa. How did he do that?' But you can't get mesmerized by what he does out there, you've just got to try to keep up with him."
 
The Penguins' difficult schedule down the stretch may be one reason why Bylsma is starting to look at his potential playoff lines now rather than later. After a home-and-home series with the Islanders that ends Thursday, the Penguins play at Buffalo on Friday, followed by the Flyers at home Sunday and again on April 7, the Bruins on the road April 3 and the Rangers at home April 5.
 
"For us, we want to make sure we're playing well down the stretch here," Crosby said. "Playing divisional games kind of gets a little more rowdy, too. I think it's a good thing."
 
Crosby has scored in each of his last two games, a possible sign that he is fully on his game seven games into his second comeback from concussion-like symptoms this season. Before getting goals Saturday against Ottawa and Sunday against New Jersey, Crosby had gone a career-long 12 games -- albeit it over a span of four-plus months -- without a goal.
 
His goal against the Devils highlighted the improvisational ability that Dupuis talked about.
 
Crosby swung his stick around Marek Zidlicky to control a pass that the defenseman was attempting to intercept. After redirecting the puck around Zidlicky, Crosby skated hard from the blue line as Zidlicky went in the opposite direction and beat Martin Brodeur on a shot that restored Pittsburgh's two-goal lead in the third period.
 
"It's not unlike Sidney Crosby to pull that off," Bylsma said.
 
It's also not unlike Bylsma to joggle and adjust his lines frequently during a game.
 
 
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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:
 
ISLANDERS
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.
 
PENGUINS
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.
 
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Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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:
 
DEVILS

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.
 
PENGUINS

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.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:06 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.
 


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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 2:27 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.”

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:51 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 12:48 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 8:02 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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."
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Posted On Sunday, 03.11.2012 / 12:56 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.
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Posted On Friday, 03.09.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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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Posted On Friday, 03.09.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 12:00 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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:
 
PENGUINS

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
 
MAPLE LEAFS

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.
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:36 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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."
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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."
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Posted On Monday, 02.27.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - NHL.com 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.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.26.2012 / 7:03 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - NHL.com 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.

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Posted On Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 12:22 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:58 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:10 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 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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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 1:32 PM

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

Tortorella likes off-ice chemistry Rangers are building

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers' 38-14-5 record -- the best in the Eastern Conference going into Tuesday night's play -- signals to the rest of the NHL that they are a very good team on the ice.
 
Off the ice, coach John Tortorella said, the Rangers remain a work in progress.
 
The addition of Stanley Cup-winning veterans Brad Richards and Mike Rupp has greatly added to the Rangers' locker room chemistry, Tortorella said before Tuesday night's game against Atlantic Division rival Pittsburgh.
 
"That's one of the positives out of this year, our locker room is growing," Tortorella said.
 
Still, Tortorella isn't ready to call his team a finished product, not with more than one-quarter of the regular season and the playoffs remaining.
 
Does he like what he sees -- and, most importantly, what he hears? Most definitely. But Tortorella said there remains work to be done, even if there is every suggestion this is a tight-knit and cohesive group.
 
"If teams are going to be successful, the locker room needs to grow and self-sustain," Tortorella said. "I think we're still in the middle of that. I've talked to a lot of coaches after the season's over, guys that have won the Stanley Cup, and you hear about how coaches say the room takes over itself. I think that's a very important characteristic. It's not (all) about the play on the ice; how the locker room is conducted and how people handle themselves there sometimes is more important that some of the things that go on on the ice. Most successful teams have that."
 
Tortorella had it in 2004, when the Tampa Bay Lightning -- with Richards in the lineup -- won the Stanley Cup.
 
Rupp points to team leaders such as Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi as helping unite these Rangers. A season ago, the Rangers earned the conference's eighth and final playoff spot, winning 44 games; this season, the Rangers already have 38 victories with 25 games remaining.
 
"They sacrifice their bodies every night for the team. It goes a long way when your leaders are doing that," said Rupp, who won a Stanley Cup with the Devils. "It brings the team together. We're willing to make sacrifices to get team wins, so it's good."
 
The Rangers held an optional skate in advance of their second game in Pittsburgh this season. They won 3-1 on Jan. 6, their fourth consecutive victory there since Consol Energy Center opened last season.
 
Among those skating was former Penguins forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has missed the last five games with a head injury.
 
The Rangers' projected lineup:

Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Ruslan Fedotenko
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Marc Staal - Steve Eminger
 
Henrik Lundqvist, who is 8-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage and three shutouts in his last nine games, is expected to be in goal, with Martin Biron as the backup.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 12:55 PM

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

Orpik out as Pens look for first win vs. Rangers

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins moved into Consol Energy Center 17 months ago, but they're still looking to establish a true home-ice advantage there.
 
To do that, they need to prove they can beat division rivals like the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers there.
 
With the first-place Rangers visiting Tuesday for the second time this season, the Penguins still are looking for their first home win against New York since they played in Civic Arena. The Rangers are 1-0 at Consol this season and 4-0 since Consol opened -- the same record the Flyers have.
 
The Penguins are going into Tuesday's game a bit shorthanded, as Brooks Orpik, their most physical and consistent defenseman, won't play because of an upper-body injury that coach Dan Bylsma said is expected to be short-term.
 
Backup goalie Brent Johnson, struggling with only one win in the last two months, has an undisclosed illness and won’t suit up. Brad Thiessen, 20-14-2 with a 2.88 goals-against average at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, was called up to take his place.
 
Also back in uniform is forward Eric Tangradi, who was recalled Monday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the fourth time this season. Bylsma said the Penguins need the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Tangradi to add a physical presence, especially with Orpik out.
 
"Eric, when he played his last time (in mid-January), really provided a physical element, a forechecking presence, (was) good in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "The reason why we called him back up was because we felt in our third and fourth lines, we need that presence, we need that size, we need that physicality. He's getting called up to be in that role. If he's getting four to five hits a game, he'll be a real factor."
 
Bylsma did not say what player would come out of the lineup so Tangradi can play. Matt Cooke didn't practice Monday, a day after being struck in the arm by a puck in Buffalo, but he participated in the morning skate Tuesday.
 
If the Penguins have any hope of overtaking the Rangers to win the Atlantic Division, winning Tuesday is a priority because a loss would drop them 12 points out of the division lead.
 
"Yeah, we still want to catch them," forward Jordan Staal said Tuesday. "I watched the last game we played in that building (a 4-1 win in New York on Jan. 19), and I felt like we had a really solid game. We are right there with them, but we definitely need to play our best to have a good chance for the win."
 
That game represents the Penguins' only win in three games against their long-time rival this season. There are two other matchups remaining after Tuesday -- March 15 in New York and April 5 in Pittsburgh.
 
"They're the best team in East by nine points, 10 ahead of us, and certainly a team where if we have any idea that we're going to catch them, we're going to need to win all three games against them, starting with the one here tonight," Bylsma said. "The consistency with which they play, the way they play their game, is the determining factor in their success. Their penalty kill is near the tops in the League; (they have) well-rounded defensive play. … They come at you in a lot of different ways."
 
Bylsma also called the Rangers "a dangerous, aggressive team. They've got a lot of different guys being effective and scoring for their team."  Ten Rangers currently have 20 or more points.
 
Without Orpik, here's what the Penguins' lineup could look like tonight:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Eric Tangradi - Dustin Jeffrey - Craig Adams
 
Kris Letang - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Paul Martin
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for the 31st time in the Penguins' last 33 games; in three of those, he replaced an ineffective Johnson.  In 39 career games against the Rangers, he is 19-12-7 with a 2.79 GAA.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:34 PM

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

Boudreau faces Pens for first time since joining Ducks

PITTSBURGH -- The Anaheim Ducks' record has improved substantially since Bruce Boudreau took over as coach on Nov. 30, and that doesn't surprise Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke in the least.
 
During the last five years, the Penguins and Boudreau's former team, the Washington Capitals, maintained one of the NHL's best and most competitive rivalries outside of division play.
 
With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading Pittsburgh and Alex Ovechkin a threat to score in every game for Washington, Capitals-Penguins games often were among the highlights of every regular season.
 
Pittsburgh's come-from-behind victory in a memorable seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal in 2009, when the Capitals won the first two games at home and Game 6 in Pittsburgh, yet couldn't win the series, helped propel the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup in 17 years.
 
The Penguins won't see Boudreau nearly as much now that he is coaching in the Western Conference, but they know what to expect Wednesday night at the Consol Energy Center.
 
The Ducks are 16-11-5 since Boudreau replaced former Stanley Cup winner Randy Carlyle as coach following a 6-13-4 start. They are 13-2-3 in their last games, gaining at least a point in 16 of 18 games, and they've moved to within eight points of the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
 
"They're in desperation mode. They are making a push to get into the playoffs. They didn’t have the start that they wanted, but they've played unbelievable the last 18-20 games," Cooke said. "I give Bruce credit and the team credit for responding to a new coach. We're going to have to be at our best to beat them."
 
Before Dale Hunter replaced him in Washington, Boudreau's Capitals beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime Oct. 13 at Consol.
 
The Ducks, who are 6-1-3 in their last 10 road games, won 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday night. They did not practice in advance of their first game in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has opposed Boudreau's teams regularly, dating back to their time together when Bylsma coached for the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) farm club and Boudreau was with Hershey.
 
"I see some Bruce Boudreau coaching in their team, how they are playing," Bylsma said. "They've always been tough games. I think Bruce has had great teams and great success. You see that now in his record. His teams are playing really hard and playing really well. … We're expecting a team that’s playing really well and coming at you in a lot of different ways."
 
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:10 PM

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

Bylsma marvels at play of ageless Selanne

PITTSBURGH -- To Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, Anaheim Ducks star Teemu Selanne isn't aging as he approaches his 42nd birthday. Rather, his play suggests he is ageless.
 
No matter the era, no matter the opponent, no matter the arena.
 
During an NHL career that began 20 years ago, Selanne has scored in a remarkable 52 arenas -- or nearly every rink in which the League has played during that time. He's missed out only on the Prudential Center in Newark, the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
 
Selanne can't cross Winnipeg off his list during this regular season; he had a pair of assists but did not score a goal when his Ducks played their only game of the season there Dec. 17, losing 5-3.
 
But he has a chance this week to score in both Consol and the Prudential Center as the Ducks continue an eight-game road trip that takes them to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and New Jersey on Friday.

Anaheim did not play in Pittsburgh last season, when Consol replaced the Civic Arena as the Penguins' home rink.
 
Selanne's scoring touch has not disappeared even though he is only five months away from his 42nd birthday; he ranks 19th in the League in scoring with 18 goals and 33 assists for 51 points in 56 games. He also is a plus-5.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, himself a former Anaheim player, is the same age (41) as Selanne, yet he hasn't played in the NHL since the 2003-04 season.
 
"I've watched, played against, played with and then went back to watching Teemu," Bylsma said Wednesday. "I think when things changed in the game, it allowed him not to have to adjust. Since the (2004-05) lockout, when the rules changed and the speed of the game (increased), it looks like he's gotten faster at the ripe old age of 38, 39, 40, 41. He was able to utilize some of the things that maybe I saw him do when he was a Duck and I was playing with the Kings."
 
To Bylsma, Selanne is one of those rare players whose skills seem to improve the longer they play.
 
"He's got a rare gift of speed and shooting and scoring ability," Bylsma said. "He's also a guy who if you didn't think he's a physical player, you're wrong. He doesn't run you over, but he can play physically down low, he can reverse-shoulder you and knock you off your feet. He can drive the net. He's got a lot of power in his game. And that is not real evident when you see the guy flying up the ice."
 
Bylsma also suggested that Selanne may have benefitted from the transition from the traditional wooden stick to the now-popular composite stick.
 
"I know we used to give him a lot of grief for having a muffin of a shot," Bylsma said. "We used to scream 'Muffin!' He had a wood stick then and his shot wasn't the greatest, but he's got a goal scorer's touch. His shot's pretty lethal now. The stick maybe helped him out a little bit there, but he's always that goal-scoring touch."
 
Selanne has had plenty of success against the Penguins, getting 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points in 20 career games. He also is a plus-11.
 
Selanne also has a couple of other milestones awaiting him; he needs one goal to match Brendan Shanahan for 12th place in career goals (656) and is two from tying Luc Robitaille for fourth place in career power-play goals (247).
 
Selanne has 15 points, including 7 goals, as Anaheim has gone 13-2-3 in its last 18 games. The Ducks rallied to win 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday, scoring twice twice in the third period.
 
"Teemu Selanne, it's a marvel to watch him skate up the ice still," Bylsma said. "He's leading them in points. He's dangerous, and the team is playing very well right now."
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 1:23 PM

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

Lineups for rare Ducks visit to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- Wednesday's game will be Anaheim's first in the Consol Energy Center, and the first matchup between the franchises since Anaheim won 3-2 on Nov. 5, 2010 at the Honda Center, getting goals from Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu and Bobby Ryan.
 
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, however, has plenty of first-hand information about the Penguins, having started the season as the Washington Capitals' coach. The Boudreau-coached Capitals beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime at Consol on Oct. 13
 
While they play infrequently, the Penguins are 5-1-1 in their last seven against the Ducks, who have dropped four straight in Pittsburgh since last winning there Oct. 6, 2001.
 
Bylsma shook up his defense pairings following an 8-5 win against Winnipeg on Saturday, breaking up the Paul Martin-Zbynek Michalek duo that had played together much of the last two seasons. Bylsma paired Martin with Engelland and Michalek with Matt Niskanen in Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he is expected to stay with that configuration against Anaheim.
 
While the Penguins had an optional morning skate Wednesday that was attended by 12 players, the Ducks stayed off the ice following the late-night flight from Minnesota after their win there Tuesday.
 
The projected lineups:
 
DUCKS
Jason Blake - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Nick Bonino - Andrew Cogliano
Niklas Hagman - Rod Pelley - George Parros
 
Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank
 
Jonas Hiller will start in goal, with Jeff Deslauriers the backup. Hiller is 1-2-0 with a 3.70 goals-against average in three career games against Pittsburgh.
 
PENGUINS
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Cal O'Reilly - Dustin Jeffrey
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Richard Park
 
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Zbynek Michalek
Paul Martin - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal, with Brent Johnson the backup. Fleury will be playing for the 28th time in 30 games, although Johnson started twice in the previous six games.  Fleury is 15-9-1 during that stretch, twice taking over for Johnson during losses.
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 1:18 PM

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

Hot Ducks try to end Pens' success against West

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins keep running into teams that wouldn't make the playoffs if they started now, yet are playing better than most teams in the NHL.
 
On Sunday, they were 4-2 winners against Tampa Bay, which came into the contest with the League's best record over the previous 10 games (7-1-2).
 
Now, they meet the Anaheim Ducks, who went into Wednesday's games eight points out of the Western Conference's final playoff spot. However, the Ducks have earned at least a point in six consecutive games and are 13-2-3 in their last 18 games.
 
The Ducks' 13-3-3 record (29 points) since Jan. 1 ties them with the New York Rangers for the second-best record during this calendar year; the Red Wings have earned 31 points while going 15-4-1.
 
Anaheim also is 2-0-1 during an extended road trip in which it plays eight games in 15 days.
 
Corey Perry, who has a team-leading 27 goals, had a hat trick Sunday against Columbus and has five goals in his last four games. Teemu Selanne, at age 41, has seven goals and 15 points during that 13-3-3 run.
 
"They've got a lot of size up front, good hands and good speed, so you've got to keep them in front of you and play physical on them," Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland said. "You've got to limit their time and space in the zone and get the puck started moving forward so you can go to work."
 
Playing physically also means playing smart, he said.
 
"You can't run out of position to try to get a bit hit on them, because they can make you look awfully bad with the skill they have," Engelland said.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is well aware of the dangers of playing an opponent that knows it can afford very few losses the rest of the way if it is to mount a legitimate run at the playoffs.
 
"Right now they're playing as well as and are as hot as anybody in the League," Bylsma said. "They come at you with a very good goaltender right now in Jonas Hiller, who I expect to see tonight, and they certainly come at you with a lot of speed and power. They're tough."
 
Hiller needed to make only 17 saves as Anaheim clamped down defensively in winning 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday. Niklas Hagman, who didn't have a point in nine games, and Perry scored in the third period for the Ducks, who won for the first time all season (1-21-1) when trailing after two periods.
 
Bylsma has some knowledge of the Ducks, of course; he was a forward on their 2003 Stanley Cup finalist team that lost to New Jersey in seven games, a Final in which the home team won every game. Bylsma had 10 goals and 22 assists in 209 regular-season games with Anaheim.
 
The Penguins have been good home and away against the Western Conference, going 8-1-3. 

"I don't have an explanation for that, but I've seen that and I know what our record is," Bylsma said. "We played some very good teams early on and our focus was there."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:30 PM

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

Projected Lightning linuep

The Lightning's possible lineup for their first game in Pittsburgh since that Game 7 on April 27:
 
Steve DownieSteven StamkosTeddy Purcell
Ryan ShannonVincent LecavalierMartin St. Louis
Nate ThompsonDominic MooreTom Pyatt
Brett Connolly - JT WymanAdam Hall
 
Pavel KubinaEric Brewer
Victor HedmanBrett Clark
Bruno GervaisBrendan Mikkelson
 
Mathieu Garon
Dwayne Roloson
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:29 PM

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

Despite cold, Bolts have warm memories in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- With temperatures in the teens and the wind chill far below that -- yes, there was snow, too -- the Tampa Bay Lightning received a bitterly cold greeting when they arrived in Pittsburgh for Sunday night's game against the Penguins.
 
Not that they needed it. At least for a while longer, the Lightning are likely to retain very warm memories of Pittsburgh when they make their infrequent visits there.
 
Last spring, the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the favored Penguins in their Eastern Conference opening round playoff series. They won each of the final two games in Pittsburgh, in a pair of couldn't-be-different contests -- a free-wheeling 8-2 decision in Game 5 and a tighter-than-tight 1-0 win in Game 7.
 
Sunday's game was the Lightning's first in Pittsburgh since that series, which marked only the second time in franchise history that the Penguins lost a playoff round in which they led 3-1. Tampa Bay went on to sweep favored Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, then took eventual Stanley Cup champions Boston to seven games before losing the Eastern Conference Final.
 
The Lightning didn't have a morning skate in Pittsburgh after winning in Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night behind Steven Stamkos' NHL-leading 37th goal. They will finish up a three-game, four-day road trip that began with a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
 
Still, the Lightning are 3-0-1 in their last four road games.
 
Stamkos has five goals during a six-game scoring streak, but he isn't the only Lightning player who is streaking. Martin St. Louis has six goals and 11 assists while scoring in 10 of his last 12 games, and Vincent Lecavalier has 10 goals and 23 points over 21 games.
 
While the Lightning's stars are leading a 7-1-2 surge over their last 10 games, star Evgeni Malkin has eight goals and seven assists as the Penguins have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10. Malkin had his third 5-point game of the season Saturday, netting a goal and setting up four others during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg.
 
An admiring Guy Boucher, the Lightning's coach, said Sunday that Malkin looks “gigantic” at ice level the way he is playing these days -- much like former Penguins star Mario Lemieux did during his prime.
 
Forward Ryan Malone (upper body injury), a former Penguins player, was expected to play during this road trip after being out since Jan. 21, but Boucher said he will remain out for precautionary reasons. The Lightning don't want to take a chance that Malone will have a setback.
 
While Dwayne Roloson was in net during that first-round playoff series last season, Mathieu Garon made 27 saves while beating Buffalo and is 6-0-2 in his last eight, so Boucher plans to start him.
 
While the Lightning won't have long to experience the cold of a February day in Pittsburgh, they'll be back in less than two weeks -- on Feb. 25 -- to finish out the season series. The teams split the two games in Tampa, with the Lightning winning 4-1 on Nov. 17 but the Penguins earning a 6-3 win on Jan. 15.
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:09 PM

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

For Now, Pens' Jeffrey Just Winging It

PITTSBURGH -- It's not the easiest thing to do -- change from one position to another during an NHL season -- but, at least for now, Dustin Jeffrey of the Pittsburgh Penguins is just winging it.
 
In every sense of the word.
 
Jeffrey, a center most of his career, is currently seeing time as a right wing mostly on the Penguins' third line, which is centered by the recently acquired Cal O'Reilly. Jeffrey was on a line with No. 2 center Jordan Staal and left wing Steve Sullivan when he scored a goal during an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday.

With the Penguins overloaded with centers now that two-way star Staal is back after missing 15 games with a left knee injury, coach Dan Bylsma felt that Jeffrey's proven versatility would allow him to adjust to the move.
 
"I think it's a bigger move when wingers go from left to right wing, that's not as big a move as from center to wing," said Bylsma, a former NHL forward. "But Dustin Jeffrey has played  a full season at wing in Wilkes-Barre (AHL). For that reason, there was a possibility he could play wing up here because we have so many center men. We've had some injuries so we've needed him to play center, but the possibility of him playing wing has been brought up for a long time."

Currently, the Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Staal, O'Reilly and Joe Vitale at center, with Jeffrey in reserve. Right wing Pascal Dupuis has filled in at center. And that group doesn't include No. 1 center Sidney Crosby, who remains out with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby skated again Sunday in advance of the Penguins' optional morning skate.
 
Jeffrey has 3 goals and 2 assists in 20 games during a season in which he wasn't a full-go until mid-January after having knee surgery last year.
 
"While he hasn't played there this year and moving to wing is an abrupt change, he's had a fair amount of experience doing it," Bylsma said. "He knows the wall play, he knows the details of playing wing, so it's not a drastic move for him. I think his best season points-wise in the American Hockey League was at wing. He's a smart player and he understands the game really well."
 
Jeffrey, who realizes that a player's versatility can greatly aid his chances of remaining in the NHL, seemed to make the adjustment rather easily after practicing at wing for several days.
 
But, despite scoring  against the Jets, Jeffrey believes the Penguins need to tighten up defensively – especially when they play Tampa Bay and the ever-dangerous Steven Stamkos on Sunday night. Stamkos leads the NHL with 37 goals.
 
"We were almost trading chance for chance, and that's not how we're going to have success," Jeffrey said. "Obviously, we needed some secondary scoring; we got some. … But we can't let up that many goals. Especially against a good team; they're not going to let us score eight goals a game."
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Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 12:44 PM

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

Projected Penguins lineup vs. Lightning

PITTSBURGH — The standings might not show it, but the Tampa Bay Lightning-Pittsburgh Penguins game on Sunday night matched two of the NHL’s hottest teams.
 
While the Lightning are currently out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference with 54 points,  13 behind the fifth-place  Penguins and eight points out of the conference’s final playoff spot , they appear to be making a determined playoff push with a 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games. 
 
The Lightning won at Buffalo 2-1 on Saturday night, and they recently ran off a five-game winning streak in which they defeated Boston, Dallas and Washington.
 
Despite going 1-2-1 on a road trip that wound up Tuesday, the Penguins are 7-2-1 in their last 10 after riding Evgeni Malkin’s five-point game to an 8-5 win over Winnipeg on Saturday at Consol Energy Center. They have won their last five at Consol, where they are playing 10 of 14 games during a stretch that began Saturday and ends March 11.
 
The Lightning know they must keep playing like this if they are to return to the playoffs, where they ousted Pittsburgh in seven games last season. The Penguins, even without injured captain Sidney Crosby, know they can put a relatively firm grip on a sixth consecutive postseason appearance if they can maintain their home-ice edge over the next month.
 
Less than a year since the Lightning rebounded from a 3-1 series deficit to beat his Penguins in the final three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma understands how dangerous the Steven Stamkos-led Lightning can be.
 
“Just seeing them back in this building, for our team, regardless of how many points they do have, this is the team that beat us out of the playoffs. And that’s the reminder I was stricken with this morning when I saw their logo on their bags,” Bylsma said. “I know we’ll have some of that tonight. They have dangerous aspects of their team.”
 
The most dangerous is Stamkos, who leads the League with 37 goals – seven more than the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel of Toronto. Stamkos, currently on a six-game scoring streak in which he has five goals, has 3 goals and 10 assists in 14 career regular-season games against Pittsburgh.
 
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Penguins must be much more defensively sound than they were against Winnipeg, which opened a 2-0 lead against them. The Jets scored on five of their 25 shots against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was propped up by an offense that matched the Penguins’ season high with eight goals.
 
“It’s always better to learn a lesson when you get a win like that,” Niskanen said. “That’s not the type of game we want. We don’t want it to be a 50-50 game where we’re exchanging chances. I think we can do a better job of spending more time in their zone and controlling the play there, and that will cut down on some of our chances against.”
 
Nine players took part in an optional morning skate Sunday as the Penguins finish up what , at least for them, is an uncommon set of back-of-back games in which they play in the afternoon one day and the evening the next. Because Tampa Bay played Saturday night, the game could not be scheduled in the afternoon.
 
Bylsma did not reveal his goalie, although he recently said Brent Johnson would get more playing time down the stretch. Johnson took part in the morning skate and Fleury did not. Fleury has played on all but one of the Penguins’ last 27 games, starting 24 times.
 
Johnson is 7-2-3 with a 2.52 goals-against average against Tampa Bay.
 
Defenseman Simon Despres, who has missed  14 games with a knee injury, did practice. He appeared to aggravate the injury while practicing Thursday.
 
Pittsburgh is 4-5-1 in the second half of back-to-back games.
 
The Penguins’ likely lineup:
 
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Matt CookeJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan – Cal O’Reilly – Dustin Jeffrey
Craig AdamsJoe VitaleRichard Park
 
Brooks OrpikKris Letang
Paul MartinZbynek Michalek
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland
 
Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury
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Posted On Saturday, 02.11.2012 / 1:24 PM

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

Crosby skates before Pens' matinee in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH— The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t have a morning skate in advance of their afternoon game against the Winnipeg Jets, but Sidney Crosby did.
 
Crosby and forward Arron Asham (concussion) worked out at Consol Energy Center before the Penguins played the first of back-to-back weekend home games. They take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night.
 
This is becoming a familiar routine for Crosby, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5. He skates with conditioning coach Mike Kadar in advance of a Penguins practice or game as he tries to remain in shape while awaiting his return to playing status.
 
Crosby and Penguins general manager Ray Shero announced on Jan. 31, before the Penguins’ most recent home game before this weekend, that the sidelined star has a soft tissue injury in the top two vertebrae that could be contributing to his concussion-like symptoms.
 
Crosby is continuing to experience those symptoms but, as he receives treatment, both he and the Penguins are hopeful he can return later this season. There is no timetable for that return, and it depends on Crosby being symptom-free.
 
“I feel like I’m getting there,” Crosby said earlier this week. “I don’t know the timeframe. I wish I did.”
 
Crosby sat out the first six weeks of the regular season, and then had a pair of goals – both in his Nov. 21 comeback game against the Islanders – and 10 assists in eight games before the concussion-like symptoms returned following a Dec. 5 game against Boston. Crosby last went through a full practice two days later.
 
He skated with the Penguins in Montreal during a road trip that concluded Tuesday, but that was so he didn’t have to work out that day by himself. He has not yet been cleared for contact during practice.
 
The Penguins have played 87 games without Crosby the last two seasons – the same as Crosby’s number. They are 48-30-9 in those games, including a 25-17-4 record this season.
 
Pittsburgh did welcome back its other injured center, Jordan Staal, on Saturday. Staal played for the first time since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a knee-to-knee hit with Mike Rupp of the Rangers on Jan. 6. The Penguins were 9-5-1 without Staal, who had 15 goals in 34 games before he left the lineup.
 
Asham, out since Jan. 15, appears to be getting close to returning as well.
 


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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 3:42 PM

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

Staal close, but Pens lose Kennedy for 4-6 weeks

PITTSBURGH -- Just when the Pittsburgh Penguins are getting one of their key players back from an extended layoff, they must deal with yet another injury to a frontline forward.
 
With center Jordan Staal expected back as early as Saturday following a five-week layoff with a left knee injury, forward Tyler Kennedy is going on the shelf for the second time this season. Kennedy has a high ankle sprain that is expected to sideline him for 4-to-6 weeks, coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday.
 
"After a week we'll have a better idea of what the time frame looks like exactly, as it calms down and as he rehabs," Bylsma said following an off-day practice at Consol Energy Center.
 
Kennedy was hurt late in a 5-2 loss at New Jersey on Sunday and was held out of a 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal on Tuesday. He has 6 goals and 22 points in 42 games following his breakout 2010-11 season in which he had 21 goals and 45 points in 80 games.
 
Kennedy also had a concussion that kept him out for 11 games from Oct. 15-Nov. 11.
 
Another injury? It's a familiar scenario for a high-profile team that still has no idea when superstar center Sidney Crosby will play again as he mends from a second lengthy layoff with concussion-like symptoms.
 
Fourteen Penguins players have missed at least seven games each with injuries, including their top three centers (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Staal) and their top four defensemen (Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek).
 
The injuries, especially Crosby's, appear to be exacting a toll on a team that spent much of the first two-plus months of the season in the overall Eastern Conference lead.
 
They recently ran off an eight-game winning streak, but the Penguins (30-19-5) have dropped into sixth place in the conference standings while going 14-12-1 since Crosby last played on Dec. 5. They began the season 10-3-3. Crosby has missed all but eight of the Penguins' 54 games as he deals with a concussion-like symptoms that also kept him out of their final 41 games and the playoffs last season.
 
Crosby skated Thursday before practice with injured teammate Arron Asham (concussion), but his return is not imminent. He practiced one day in Montreal earlier this week, but has not yet been cleared for full-contact practice.
 
With the Penguins about to play their next three and six of their next eight at home, where they are 15-7-2, they are eager to welcome back Staal. A proven shutdown defender who is frequently matched against an opponent's top line, Staal scored a goal in three consecutive games just before he was hurt last month.
 
Staal was on pace for his best career season, with 15 goals and 6 assists in 34 games, before spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a knee-to-knee hit with former teammate Mike Rupp of the Rangers on Jan. 6.
 
The Penguins received yet another scare when Staal required stitches after being struck in the face by an errant stick during practice Thursday, but Bylsma said, "He'll be fine."
 
Last season, Staal was ready to return after missing the first month of the season with a lacerated foot only to break a hand during practice, forcing him to miss another two months.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 1:42 PM

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

Leafs' Armstrong, Liles close, but not ready yet

PITTSBURGH -- Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson must make some lineup decisions very soon, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
 
But neither defenseman John-Michael Liles nor forward Colby Armstrong, both of whom are close to returning from injuries that have kept them out for more than a month, will play Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
 
Armstrong has been out since Dec. 19 with a concussion that he initially tried to hide from the team. He had played in only four games since returning from a 23-game layoff with a high ankle sprain. Liles, an excellent puck-moving defenseman, has been out since Dec. 22 with a neck injury and concussion-like symptoms.
 
The Maple Leafs emerge from the All-Star break ninth in the Eastern Conference with 55 points, but with plenty of opportunities to pick up ground in a hurry -- starting with the home-and-home series against Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday. Only 13 of their remaining 33 games are against teams currently below them in the standings.
 
The Penguins, winners of seven in a row, have 60 points.
 
"All the games are going to be important. It's really tight in the standings, every point is going to be huge for us, but I see every game as another game," goaltender Jonas Gustavsson said. "I don't put more focus on a game like this (Tuesday's). I always try to prepare myself 100 percent to win; you know every game is important."
 
Toronto won its final two games and three of its final four before the break, but Gustavsson said the week-long break from games arrived at a good time. Gustavsson has won seven of 10 starts while playing in all but one game since Jan. 3.
 
"I think it was good for me, as for everybody else, to get time to rest and get ready again," Gustavsson said. "I tried to think not so much about hockey -- I had some light workouts to stay in shape -- but other than that, I tried to keep my mind on other things."
 
Toronto won its only previous game against Pittsburgh, 4-3 on Oct. 29. The teams also play again in Pittsburgh on March 7.
 
The Maple Leafs' probable lineup:
 
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Joey Crabb
 
Dion Phaneuf - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
 
Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 12:10 PM

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

Penguins resume play looking to extend streak

PITTSBURGH -- NHL players enthusiastically await the All-Star break, a much-welcomed respite from the grind and travel of a long season and a chance to enjoy some midwinter time with family and friends, often in warm weather.
 
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, their week-long break between games came during a seven-game winning streak they will take into the front end of a home-and-home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
 
Players generally prefer to keep playing when they're on a roll. The streak is the Penguins' longest since they won 12 in a row last season.
 
Get away from it all during a week-long break, or keep the momentum going by continuing to play? It's a tough choice.
 
"It's yet to be seen. We'll see how it goes tonight," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "I think the break helps everyone in the long run. It's a tough season and we played a lot of games (four in six days) before the break and everyone was feeling a little tired, not just physically but mentally. To get some time off for a few days, just forget about hockey, I think it helps you."
 
Welcoming the break was goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (26-12-2), who will start Tuesday during his 23rd consecutive appearance -- 21 of them starts. Coach Dan Bylsma said backup Brent Johnson, who has won only once since Oct. 18, will play at least 20 percent of the time in the 32 games that remain after Tuesday.
 
"It was nice to relax, get some sleep and get re-energized," Fleury said. "Ready to go."
 
The Penguins and Maple Leafs play again Wednesday night in Toronto, the first of four sets of back-to-back games for Pittsburgh in three weeks, a scenario that should give Johnson more playing time. The Penguins have another set this weekend, meeting Boston on Saturday and New Jersey on Sunday.
 
"It's two big games for us coming out of the break," Bylsma said.
 
Fleury already has played in 42 games, with 33 remaining in the regular season. His career high is 67 games, a figure he has reached twice previously. Fleury said there is no set number of games that he prefers to play.
 
Bylsma said the coaching staff sketches out a goaltender schedule at the start of each month and rarely alters it. However, Fleury got some extra time recently because of the way the Penguins were playing and because the break was upcoming.
 
With Arron Asham (concussion) still out, the Penguins recalled forward Colin McDonald from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. McDonald played in the AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City on Monday night and did not make it to Consol Energy Center in time for the morning skate.
 
McDonald has 12 goals and a career-high 26 assists in 41 games at Wilkes-Barre. He was a plus-1 in two games for Pittsburgh earlier this season.
 
McDonald's addition is the only change in the Penguins' line combinations since they last played a week ago, beating St. Louis 3-2 in a shootout on Jan. 24.
 
The Penguins' probable lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Colin McDonald - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Kris Letang - Brooks Orpik
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 6:23 PM

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

Fleury gets start vs. Canadiens

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the second straight night when Pittsburgh plays the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center on Friday.

With the Penguins playing three games in four days and four in six, Brent Johnson was expected to make only his second start since Dec. 16. Fleury made 30 saves in helping lead Pittsburgh to a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

But coach Dan Bylsma said Fleury will be in net against his hometown Canadiens. Johnson has won only once since mid-October and has just two wins this season.

The Penguins did not hold a morning skate, so Bylsma announced his decision shortly before game time.

"Marc has been playing the lion's share, but we're looking at playing against Montreal as a game that Marc is always probably looking to play," Bylsma said.

Fleury will be appearing in his 20th consecutive game. Johnson did not finish either of his last two starts.

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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:40 PM

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

Injured forward White skates for Canadiens

PITTSBURGH -- Montreal Canadiens forward Ryan White, out all season with a sports hernia that occurred during training camp, took part in an optional morning skate Friday.
 
It was the first time in four months that White has skated with his teammates. Earlier this week, White did conditioning work -- wind sprints and endurance drills -- with team strength coach Pierre Allard.

"It's a step in the right direction," Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "We've been leaning on him physically and working hard to get his conditioning up, and it's all about that at this point."

After getting hurt during camp, White underwent surgery in October. The Canadiens haven't set a return date for White, who had 2 goals and 3 assists in 27 games last season. He also had a pair of assists in 16 games in 2009-10.
 
"He's going to continue to get sharper, getting conditioned, and we want to see that great conditioning when he comes back," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:30 PM

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

Gill knows how quick things can turn

PITTSBURGH -- Hal Gill knows it’s too early to give up on a season.
 
Amid rumblings in Montreal that the Canadiens should start weighing which players to shed at the trading deadline as they rebuild for the future,  Gill offered a history lesson -- one from not so long ago -- upon returning to Pittsburgh on Friday.
 
The Canadiens are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games heading into an important weekend in which they play at Pittsburgh tonight and at Toronto on Saturday. But, as Gill reminded, a season that looks to be lost can be salvaged -- even if it can’t happen in the span of a few games.
 
The Penguins, as Gill reminded, were 27-25-5 in mid-February 2009 before Dan Bylsma took over as coach. At the time, there was trepidation in Pittsburgh that a team led by stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might miss the playoffs.
 
Instead, the Penguins finished with an 18-3-4 surge that not only got them into the playoffs, but earned them home-ice advantage in the first round, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
 
”I’ve been in that situation before where time isn’t on your side, and somehow you win a game, win a game and the next thing you know you’re back in the playoffs,” Gill said.
 
The Canadiens have been without the injured Scott Gomez (groin), Brian Gionta (biceps), Andrei Markov (knee) and Ryan White (hernia) for all or part of the season, but Gill insisted there’s still time to get Montreal’s fans excited.
 
Start looking ahead to next season? No, Gill said, the Canadiens simply must look ahead only to their next game.
 
“You go out and play one game tonight and try to do everything you can to get that win and go on to the next game,” he said. “I don’t think you can look long term. It’s an uphill battle, but you’ve got to take one step at a time.”
 
Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Gill said it takes chemistry and a team that believes in what its coach is telling it to do.
 
“We found a way to click (in ’09), did some different things,” Gill said. “It wasn’t like, 'Hey, we’ve got to get this many points (to make the playoffs),’ it was, 'We’ve got to win tonight.’"
 
Like those 2008-09 Penguins, the Canadiens made a coaching change by firing Jacques Martin on Dec. 17 and elevating former assistant Randy Cunneyworth to interim coach for the rest of the season. Since the move, the Canadiens are 4-9-1.
 
With the idea of getting an energized team off to a fast start, Cunneyworth held an optional morning skate Friday at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins are coming off a 4-1 road victory against the New York Rangers on Thursday, during a week in which they play four games in six days.
 
“We know Pittsburgh is a good team," said Cunneyworth. "They played last night, so we want to come at full force and get off to that good start."
 
Finding a way to slow down NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin – he has seven goals in four games –greatly would boost Montreal’s chances of winning. Gill knows from experience how difficult that can be.
 
“They’ve got a pretty good system that they play and they all buy into it and when they’re going, they roll four lines and things happen for them,” Gill said. “They play responsible and let their skill go when they get in the offensive end. … You have to be aggressive when you can (with Malkin), but if you’re lunging or cheating, he’ll take advantage of it. He’s a guy we obviously have to watch for and play hard on him.”
 
Peter Budaj, who stopped 29 of 30 shots while beating the Rangers 4-1 on Sunday, will be in goal for the second time in 12 games as Carey Price sits out. Price is 0-3-1 in his last four starts, 15-17-8 overall and 7-6-1 in his career against Pittsburgh.
 
Cunneyworth doesn’t expect any carryover from the Max Pacioretty hit Nov. 26 that left Penguins defenseman Kris Letang with a broken nose and a concussion. Letang didn’t return until Thursday night in New York.
 
Pacioretty was suspended three games for his hit to Letang’s head. This will be the first time the teams have met since then.
 
“I think they’ve discussed it; it’s a hockey play that occurred, the League dealt with it,” Cunneyworth said. “I don’t think anybody is interested in that kind of thing, but obviously if someone wants to press the issue, we’ll take care of it.”
 
Here's what the Canadiens’ lineup likely will be when they face the Pens for the third time this season:
 
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Mike Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez
 
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Yannick Weber
Alexei Emelin
 
Peter Budaj will start in goal, with Carey Price the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 2:25 PM

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

Pittsburgh always feels like home to Cunneyworth

PITTSBURGH -- No matter how well or poorly his team is playing, Randy Cunneyworth enjoys coming to Pittsburgh.
 
Even if the Penguins' almost-new-home wasn't his home.
 
Cunneyworth, now the Montreal Canadiens' coach, enjoyed the four best offensive seasons of his NHL career while playing with Pittsburgh from 1985-89 -- the period in which the Penguins transformed themselves from the League's worst team into a contender.
 
It wasn't a coincidence that he had point totals of 45, 53, 74 and 44 while playing on a team led by Mario Lemieux, then a rising star in his early 20s. Cunneyworth never had more than 36 points in a season while playing elsewhere.
 
"Just being amongst a great group of guys," Cunneyworth said Friday, referring to his best memory of playing in Pittsburgh. "Mario Lemieux was one of the best players in hockey. It was great to play alongside him. He allowed me to get some pretty good numbers."
 
Cunneyworth, whose team played the Penguins on Friday night, wasn't the only player whose standout seasons came with No. 66 as a teammate.
 
"I always tell the story that when two guys jumped on his back, I always followed him and put in a couple of the rebounds he couldn't score," Cunneyworth said.
 
Of the 189 goals that Cunneyworth scored in an NHL career that stretched from 1981-99, 101 came during those four seasons playing in the Penguins' former home, the Civic Arena.
 
That arena, which sits across the street from Consol Energy Center, is currently being demolished to make way for an urban redevelopment project.
 
"That silver building across the street, there's a lot of fond memories there," Cunneyworth said.
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 12:45 PM

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

Letang steps right back in, performs for Pens

PITTSBURGH -- So much for easing Kris Letang back into the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup.
 
Letang, appearing in his first game in nearly two months, played a team-high 24 minutes, 17 seconds in arguably the Penguins' most impressive victory of the season, a 4-1 decision at the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers on Thursday night.
 
Before ending a four-game losing streak against the Rangers, the Penguins had been 0-5 against three of the conference's upper echelon teams, the Rangers, Flyers and Bruins.
 
Letang's return couldn't have gone much better -- he was a plus-2 and assisted on one of Evgeni Malkin's two goals in Pittsburgh's fourth consecutive victory. The Penguins have had an unconventional 14-game run, winning four straight, then losing six in a row before mounting their current four-game streak.
 
They'll try to match their season-longest winning streak of five, which occurred from Oct. 18-27, when they take on the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center on Friday night during a stretch of three games in four days.
 
Not only are the Penguins playing back-to-back games against conference opponents, they'll have a quick turnaround before taking on the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.
 
Not surprisingly, coach Dan Bylsma called off the scheduled morning skate Friday to give his players a chance to sleep in following the late-night flight home from New York.
 
Letang, though, probably wouldn't have minded going back on the ice given how effective he was in his comeback game. The defenseman had only two morning skates and one off-day practice before playing for the first time since a hard hit from the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty on Nov. 26 in Montreal sidelined him.
 
As Letang cut across the middle, Pacioretty's hard hit broke Letang's nose and caused a concussion that didn't show up for a couple of days. Despite being hurt, Letang returned after being cleared by a doctor and scored the game-winning goal in overtime as Pittsburgh won 4-3, its second victory in as many games against Montreal this season.
 
"You can ask our trainer, Chris Stewart, I'm somebody who's kind of rough with injuries. I don't really pay attention," Letang said. "The first thing I noticed was my nose was not in place, so we took care of that. After that, it was just a question of being able to function. I was pretty pumped to get back out there. I was excited. The adrenaline was still pumping in my veins. I didn't feel anything that night."
 
Pacioretty drew a three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head.
 
Malkin, now the NHL's leading scorer with 54 points, hopes to build on a streak in which he has scored goals in four consecutive games and six of seven. He has 6 goals in his last three, including a hat trick Sunday at Tampa Bay and the 2 goals against the Rangers.
 
"It's not about my 2 points," Malkin said. "It's the two points for the team that were important."
 
Malkin has 10 goals and 15 assists in 20 career games against Montreal, which is 4-10-1 in its last 15 games. The Canadiens have dropped six of their last seven on the road.
 
Brent Johnson has played in only one of the Penguins' last 15 games, but is expected to be in goal. He has won only once since Oct. 18, beating Carolina 3-2 on Dec. 3. Each of his last two starts came against the Hurricanes. Marc-Andre Fleury has played in 19 consecutive games since that Dec. 3 game, including two in which he took over for Johnson.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Brent Johnson
Marc-Andre Fleury
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 3:12 PM

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

Malkin, Neal among leaders as Pens' top line thrives

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' top line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal has produced more than 40 percent of their goals this season, yet Neal says they can still play better together.
 
Really.
 
Leading the Penguins out of the worst slump of coach Dan Bylsma's nearly three-year tenure, Malkin and Neal combined for seven goals -- four from Malkin -- during a two-game Florida swing last weekend. Pittsburgh beat Florida 4-1 on Friday to end a six-game slide, then added a 6-3 win at Tampa Bay on Sunday as Malkin scored three times and Neal added two goals.
 
Abandoning chilly Pittsburgh for sunny Florida in January is almost always a pleasant experience, but perhaps never before have the Penguins enjoyed such a mid-winter getaway. It was exactly what they needed to regain some of the confidence and momentum they had while winning four in a row immediately before the streak began.
 
The two wins also helped them shake off their four consecutive losses at Consol Energy Center, where they returned to play Carolina on Tuesday night.
 
As Neal said of going on the road, "Sometimes maybe that's the best thing for you."
 
"Those two wins were definitely nice," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It's good to relax a little bit. That was a tough stretch and it's good to finally be out of it. We're looking forward to keeping it going."
 
It will be much easier for the Penguins to do so if they continue getting Malkin and Neal on the score sheet. Of the Penguins' 134 goals, Neal (24), Malkin (21) and Kunitz (13) have 58 -- or 42 percent of the scoring load. Steve Sullivan, who's also played on the line at times, has 8 goals.
 
Malkin is only 25, but he's already tied for fourth in Penguins' history (with Rick Kehoe and Alex Kovalev) with eight career hat tricks, or one more than injured teammate Sidney Crosby. Mario Lemieux is the Penguins' leader with 40.
 
Malkin enjoyed his second five-point game of the season Sunday, scoring all three of his goals in the third period. And the Kunitz-Malkin-Neal line combined for five goals and seven points.
 
The more that Neal plays alongside Malkin, the better they seem to play together. They were first paired when the Dallas Stars traded Neal to Pittsburgh 11 months ago, and they've been together much of the time since.
 
"Even when I've got my back to him, I kind of know where he's going," Neal said. "You just try to read what he's going to do. He always likes coming through the middle with speed, so as long as you put it in his area, he's going to pick up the puck. Just little things like that. … And I'll get in position to shoot, and he'll give it right back to me."
 
Despite recently going six games without a goal, Malkin has scored in four of his last five. With 51 points, Malkin went into Tuesday's NHL schedule only one point behind NHL leader Henrik Sedin of Vancouver -- despite playing in nine fewer games than Sedin.
 
Neal is tied with Jonathan Toews of Chicago and Phil Kessel of Toronto with 24 goals, six behind NHL leader Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay.
 
"I think we're trying to find our stride here and become a good line," Neal said. "He (Malkin) obviously likes having the puck. Hopefully I draw a few guys off him and then he gets some more space. He's so skilled with the puck, so strong, he's a fun guy to play with."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 1:16 PM

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

Only one Staal present for Canes-Pens matchup

PITTSBURGH -- Hockey players often say the best way to deal with an unsatisfactory performance is to move on quickly and simply forget it.
 
That's not quite as easy to do when a key player gets upstaged by his little brother.
 
When the Carolina Hurricanes last played in Pittsburgh -- they make their second and final visit there this season on Tuesday night -- captain Eric Staal's line was regularly matched against that of Penguins center Jordan Staal.
 
The Staal vs. Staal result? The Penguins outshot the Hurricanes 52-18 while winning 4-2 on Dec. 27, with Jordan Staal getting a goal and being chosen as the No. 1 star. Eric Staal's line was a minus-2.
 
So while Eric Staal obviously doesn't want to see his brother injured and out -- he's currently sidelined for a month to six weeks with a torn MCL in his left knee -- he said the Hurricanes need to capitalize on the absence of one of the NHL's best two-way forwards.
 
The Penguins also will be without their captain, Sidney Crosby, who remains out with a concussion, and defenseman Kris Letang, who is close to returning from a seven-week layoff with a concussion but will not play Tuesday.
 
"It's always a battle whenever you play him," Eric Staal said of his brother, who was having his best season statistically before he was hurt Jan. 6 against the Rangers. "Obviously he's a big part of their team, along with a couple of other players who are out, and we need to take advantage of that. Any time you play against him, it's competitive and a lot of fun and, unfortunately for Jordy, he's out a little bit."
 
The Penguins have slumped since that Dec. 27 game, going 7-10 and losing six in a row before rebounding with weekend wins against Florida and Tampa Bay. Carolina is 4-4-1 since then and is third from the bottom in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
"They're a little lower in the standings, but they're a team we've got to be aware of," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It seems like every time we play them, it's a close game, overtime or shootout, so it's something we have to expect."
 
What Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller doesn't expect again is the Penguins getting off so many shots. By comparison, the Hurricanes gave up 24 shots while losing to Washington 2-1 on Sunday.
 
"It's the scoring chances, the effective ones, we've got to take away. They're a team that throws everything at the net," Muller said of the Penguins, who have averaged 37 shots since that Dec. 27 matchup. "It's not allowing them to get to the second and third rebounds."
 
Here are the probable lineups for the fourth and final game between the Eastern Conference teams this season. Pittsburgh won two of the first three.
 
HURRICANES
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Jussi Jokinen - Jeff Skinner - Alexei Ponikarovsky
Andreas Nodl - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Brett Sutter - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
 
Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Derek Joslin - Jamie McBain
 
Cam Ward will make his fifth consecutive start in goal, with Justin Peters as the backup. Ward is 11-5-2 with a 2.41 goals-against average against Pittsburgh during his career.
 
PENGUINS
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, who hasn't had a full game off since a 3-2 win at Carolina on Dec. 3, will be in net. Backup Brent Johnson, who hasn't won since that Dec. 3 start, was pulled against Ottawa during each of his last two starts, on Dec. 16 and Jan. 10.
 
Penguins forward Arron Asham has an undisclosed illness and is not expected to play.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 7:33 PM

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

Surging Sens blueliner Karlsson an unexpected scratch

PITTSBURGH — Erik Karlsson, the leading scorer among NHL defensemen, was unexpectedly scratched for the Ottawa Senators' game against the Penguins on Tuesday night because of an upper-body injury.
 
Karlsson went through the morning skate without incident, and also took part in the pregame warm-ups, only to be scratched just before game time. He was replaced by Matt Carkner, who was scheduled to be scratched.
 
The 21-year-old Karlsson has 6 goals and 35 assists for 41 points in 43 games and is on pace to become only the fifth defenseman to produced 70 points in a season since the 2004-05 lockout. He also has 86 points since the start of the 2010-11 season, one more than Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom.
 
Karlsson is coming off one of his best games of the season. He had a goal and an assist and was a plus-5 as the Senators rallied from two goals down in the third period to beat Philadelphia 6-4 on Sunday.
 
Karlsson went into Tuesday's games with an 8-point lead over Brian Campbell of Florida in the scoring race for defensemen.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:02 PM

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

No change in Crosby's status

PITTSBURGH -- No change in Sidney Crosby's condition. No return to the ice for him just yet, either.
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said there has been no change in Crosby's status as he sits out with concussion-related issues for the second time this season. The Penguins' marquee star missed the first 20 games with an injury that carried over from last season, then played in eight games before being sidelined again.
 
Crosby hasn't skated since he absorbed several hits Dec. 5 against Boston, apparently triggering a reoccurrence of his concussion problems. He has been limited to light exercising since then.
 
Bylsma was asked Tuesday what Crosby is doing during his layoff.
 
"I don't have an update for you on that," Bylsma said. "He is in light exercise. He is exercising. What that is, in terms of heart rate and activity, is different on different days. That's where Sid is in his rehab right now."
 
The Penguins play their 13th consecutive game without Crosby against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
 
The 24-year-old Crosby is effectively in the same condition he was in late August, before training camp began. He has yet to be cleared to practice and, once he does, he must show that he can absorb contact without issues before he can play again.
 
Crosby spent the last two games watching from the management suite at Consol Energy Center.
 
Since Jan. 5, 2011, concussion issues have caused the Stanley Cup-winning captain and Olympic gold medalist from playing in all but eight of the Penguins' 81 games. Pittsburgh is 39-26-8 without him, with a 16-13-3 record this season.
 
Since Crosby last played, the Penguins have dropped seven of 12, endangering their chances of reaching the playoffs.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 1:48 PM

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

Streaking Senators have passed Pens in standings

PITTSBURGH -- There will be a desperate team on the ice when the Ottawa Senators take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night. And it won't be the streaking Senators.
 
The Penguins, on top of the Eastern Conference standings only a month ago, have tumbled to eighth place while losing their last four, six of 10 and seven of 12. The Senators, by contrast, are 5-0-1 in their last six and 8-1-2 in their last 11, vaulting them into fifth place in the conference.
 
After rallying from two goals down to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-4 on Sunday, the Senators (22-15-6) should have plenty of momentum heading into their second trip to Pittsburgh this season. They'll need it, as they play 10 of their next 11 on the road, a stretch that includes only one home game before their arena plays host to the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 29.
 
"We've got to worry about what we can control, and that's how we prepare for our game," goaltender Craig Anderson said Tuesday. "Make them adjust to how we're playing, and obviously we're playing very good hockey right now and finding ways to win. We've got to continue with the same mentality we've been going on the last few games, and try to continue with that success."
 
That's what the Penguins (21-15-4) don't want to do -- continue with the same mentality they've had the last few games. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, upset with what he felt were unnecessary penalties, said there must be more accountability on the ice. Coach Dan Bylsma wants to avoid letdowns that he believes are occurring far too frequently.
 
The Penguins should get a boost from the surprise return of right wing James Neal, who was expected to be out weeks with what was initially diagnosed as a broken foot that occurred Saturday against the Devils. An MRI exam revealed he has only a badly bruised foot.
 
"We've got to get back on track and it starts tonight," Neal said. "I'm just happy I'm OK to play."
 
Forward Eric Tangradi, called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) for the third time this season, slides onto a line with Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy as Pittsburgh tries to avoid its first five-game losing streak since Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010.
 
Ottawa will have one lineup change, with defenseman Brian Lee replacing Matt Carkner as Chris Phillips' partner. Lee, who adds a speed element, sat out the last two games. Carkner had played five straight.
 
"We want to make sure we keep Brian Lee playing as well," coach Paul MacLean said. "The two are going to have to rotate depending on how we play."
 
Here are the likely lineups for the third of four games between the teams this season; they split the first two. Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist in both games for Pittsburgh.
 
SENATORS
Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Erik Condra - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Bobby Butler
 
Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Brian Lee
 
Alex Auld will be the backup goalie.
 
PENGUINS
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Eric Tangradi - Pascal Dupuis - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
 
Brent Johnson, 8-2-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average against the Senators, will make his first start since he allowed five goals on 10 shots during the second period of a 6-4 loss in Ottawa on Dec. 16. Marc-Andre Fleury, who started the previous eight games, will go Wednesday night in Washington as the Penguins play back-to-back games for the second time in a week. They lost at home by identical 3-1 scores to the Rangers on Friday and the Devils on Saturday.
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 11:52 AM

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

Quick turnaround for Neal

PITTSBURGH -- James Neal was supposed to be out of the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup for weeks with a broken foot. Turns out his absence lasted mere hours.
 
Neal, fifth in the NHL with 21 goals, unexpectedly took part in the Penguins' morning skate before their Tuesday night game against the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center, then said he's "good to go."
 
Coach Dan Bylsma said X-rays taken after Neal blocked a shot by the Devils' Henrik Tallinder during a 3-1 loss on Saturday night showed a fracture, but later tests determined he has a bone bruise. With such an injury, a player can continue playing if his pain tolerance permits it, and without delaying the healing process.
 
Only a day after teammates reported him walking with considerable discomfort, Neal skated without visible pain and will take his usual spot at right wing on the top line with left wing Chris Kunitz and center Evgeni Malkin.
 
"The first preliminary tests done after the game (Saturday) indicated a fracture in a tough bone in a tough place," Bylsma said. "The MRI showed what he had was a preexisting condition that showed up as a crack on X-rays. He may have done it as kid. … He was pretty relieved to hear the news."
 
After weeks of nothing but bad injury news -- Jordan Staal tore the MCL in his left knee Friday against the Rangers and will be out at least a month -- the Penguins finally got some positive news.
 
"It's all right to go. The MRI showed it can't get any worse," Neal said. "I want to play and help the team, and if it can't get any worse then there isn't any reason why I shouldn't play. It felt good in the skate and I'll be ready to go."
 
Forward Craig Adams, who appeared to sustain a serious right knee injury during practice on Sunday, also skated and plans to be in the lineup.
 
Star center Sidney Crosby (concussion) and defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) still remain out indefinitely, but Neal's surprise return clearly provided the slumping Penguins with a much-needed boost.
 
On Sunday, only 12 hours after the Penguins dropped their fourth in a row and second in as many nights at home, coach Dan Bylsma said Neal would miss "weeks, not days" and that Staal would be out four-to-six weeks. His prognosis has not changed.
 
"A few days ago things were turning from bad to worse," Kunitz said. "But if he (Neal) is able to go, he's a big part of our team. He's a guy who can score goals from any area on the ice and is a great power-play guy. He's also a great penalty killer for our team."
 
Neal doesn't expect the injury to affect any part of his game.
 
"Obviously it's going to hurt when you take a shot to the foot, but I'll be all right to go," said Neal, who is second on the team with 36 points. "Everybody plays with bumps and bruises, and it's just one of those things."
 
Defenseman Paul Martin's status for the Senators' game is uncertain. He has an undisclosed illness that caused him to miss practice Monday and the morning skate.
 
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 2:43 PM

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

Fleury to face idol Brodeur in milestone contest

PITTSBURGH— Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is only 27, yet he will play in his 400th career game when he opposes the New Jersey Devils and longtime idol Martin Brodeur at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.
 
Brodeur, who respects what Fleury has done in a career that already is a lengthy one yet doesn’t appear to be close to being over, believes Fleury is reaching a major milestone.
 
“Won’t he get a leather jacket from the NHLPA?” Brodeur said following Saturday’s morning skate.
 
Fleury, who was in net for the Penguins’ third consecutive loss Friday, a 3-1 defeat to the first-place New York Rangers, probably would take a victory over Brodeur rather than a commemorative piece of clothing.
 
“I think he definitely is aware of who the other goaltender is when it’s Martin Brodeur,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He definitely gets a little charged up about playing against him.”
 
There are additional reasons, of course, for Fleury to want to play well.  The Penguins haven’t lost four consecutive games since they were 0-2-2 from Feb. 20-26, and they haven’t dropped four straight in regulation since a five-game slide from Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010.
 
There’s also this: If the Devils (22-16-2) beat the Penguins (21-1-4-4) for the second Saturday in a row – they won 3-1 at Prudential Center on New Year’s Eve – they will move past Pittsburgh and into third place in the Atlantic Division standings.
 
Only a month ago, on Dec. 8, the Penguins led the overall Eastern Conference standings, while the Devils weren’t n the top eight. Since then, New Jersey is 9-4-1 while Pittsburgh is 5-6.
 
The Devils are 0-3-1 in their last four trips to Pittsburgh and haven’t won there since Dec. 21, 2009. Pittsburgh took all three home games in the season series a year ago.
 
New Jersey forward Travis Zajac (Achilles’ tendon) and defenseman Anton Volchenkov (lower-body injury) did not make the trip to Pittsburgh. Volchenkov was placed on the injured reserve list to open up a roster spot for forward Nick Palmieri, who had 4 goals and 3 assists in 23 games earlier this season.
 
Brodeur, 3-1-1 in his last five starts, will be back in net after Johan Hedberg made 22 saves in beating Florida 5-2 on Friday night. Ilya Kovalchuk, who had two goals against the Panthers, scored on a penalty shot against Pittsburgh last weekend.
 
This will be the sixth set of back-to-back games for the Penguins and the ninth for the Devils. Pittsburgh is 6-4-1 overall in back-to-back games and 3-1-1 in the second half. New Jersey is 9-7-1 in back-to-back games and 5-3 in second games.
 
Both teams held optional practices at Consol Energy Center on Saturday, and here’s how they could line up Saturday night will feature the third of six meetings this season. They split the first two games. Pittsburgh will be without center Jordan Staal, who sustained an apparent left knee injury during a 3-1 loss to the Rangers on Friday night. Forward Arron Asham is expected to sit out again with a knee injury that occurred in New Jersey.
 
DEVILS

Zach PariseAdam HenriqueIlya Kovalchuk
Petr SykoraPatrik EliasDainius Zubrus
Tim SestitoSteven ZalewskiDavid Clarkson
Eric BoultonRyan CarterCam Janssen
 
Bryce SalvadorAdam Larsson
Mark FayneHenrik Tallinder
Kurtis FosterMatt Taormina
 
Brodeur is 43-25-5 with nine career shutouts against the Penguins. Hedberg will be the backup.
 
PENGUINS

Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Steve SullivanRichard ParkTyler Kennedy
Matt CookePascal DupuisCraig Adams
Steve MacIntyreJoe Vitale – Craig McDonald
 
Brooks OrpikMatt Niskanen
Paul MartinZbynek Michalek
Ben LovejoyDeryk Engelland
 
Fleury remains tied for second in the League with 19 wins. Backup Brent Johnson is expected to play next in one of the back-to-back games against Ottawa on Tuesday and at Washington on Wednesday.
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 1:54 PM

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

Bylsma: Injuries not derailing Penguins

PITTSBURGH— Jordan Staal was limping only slightly as he left Consol Energy Center following the morning skate Saturday, and that might have been the best news possible for the injury-hobbled Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
While coach Dan Bylsma said it’s still too early to tell how long Staal will be out with a left knee injury, the fact that he isn’t on crutches and is walking on his own likely is a positive sign.
 
Normally, a player who sustains a serious knee injury – a torn anterior cruciate ligament – isn’t as able to maneuver as well as Staal did only 12 hours or so after being hurt. If the injury is to the medial collateral ligament, Staal’s absence could be a relatively short one.
 
However, if there is swelling involved, as there often is with such an injury, doctors may wait a day or two before ordering an MRI exam that will determine exactly what is wrong.
 
“You saw him leave the game with an apparent knee injury,” Bylsma said Saturday. “At this point in time, it’s too early to tell the significance of the injury. Maybe in the next few days we’ll have an update on what the timetable will be for that.”
 
Staal, a skilled two-way center enjoying one of the best offensive seasons of his career, appeared to be in significant pain after absorbing a knee-to-knee hit from friend and former teammate Mike Rupp late in the New York Rangers’ 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night. Rupp drew a kneeing penalty.
 
For a team already reeling with injuries – the Penguins are currently without superstar center Sidney Crosby and ace defenseman Kris Letang – Staal’s injury initially looked to be another major setback. It also looked to be a major setback as the Penguins scramble to maintain their Eastern Conference playoff positioning.
 
The Penguins (21-14-4), who were atop the Eastern Conference standings as late as Dec. 8, went into Saturday night’s home game against the New Jersey Devils (22-16-2) in sixth place in the conference – and only two points removed from being out of a playoff spot.
 
While forward Dustin Jeffrey appears to be close to returning after missing all but six games this season with a knee injury, the Penguins aren’t close to being healthy.
 
 Letang, who last played on Nov. 26, resumed skating only Friday and is not yet ready to practice.
 
 Crosby, the player who makes everything go in Pittsburgh, is sidelined for the second time this season with concussion-related injuries and there is no speculation when he might return. The Penguins remain hopeful he can play again this season but, since he left the lineup Dec. 5 after playing in eight games, Crosby has been restricted to light exercise.
 
Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Zbynek Michalek, Paul Martin, Ben Lovejoy, Richard Park and Tyler Kennedy also have missed more than a few games this season for a team that is 11-11-1 since it began the season with a 10-3-3 record.

A year ago, the Penguins preserved to put together a 106-point season even while being without Crosby (Concussion) and Staal (foot injury, broken hand) for half a season and Malkin for the final two months and the playoffs. This time, they are below .500 (5-6) since Crosby left the lineup -- a possible sign that the recurring injuries might make it difficult for them to repeat last season's success.
 
“I don’t sense the team being down or there being dips in our team because of the injuries,” Bylsma said, pointing to the effort expended as the Penguins outshot the Rangers 38-21 on Friday yet still lost. “I think we’ll keep playing games exactly like that for another 42, 43 games and we’ll take our record.”
 
While Staal missed five games earlier, he has 15 goals and 6 assists in 34 games and is on pace to top the 29 goals he had as a rookie in 2006-07. The Penguins also will miss his scoring touch against the Devils; Staal has nine career goals against them, two of them during a 4-1 win on Oct. 22.
 
“You’re talking about a guy who does a lot of different things in a lot of different areas,” offensively, defensively, penalty kill-wise especially, faceoffs, going against other teams’ top lines,” Bylsma said. “In addition to that, he has scored a nice clip of goals and (is) adding punch to our team in that regard. It’s a big part of our team right now that’s not going to be in the lineup.”
 
Pascal Dupuis, who had never played center before being temporarily shifted there from right wing earlier this season, will fill in for Staal against the Devils and perhaps the stretch of games that follow. The Penguins play another set of back-to-back games Tuesday (Ottawa) and Wednesday (at Washington) before playing at Florida on Friday and Tampa Bay on Jan. 15.
 
Park missed nine games with a broken foot, then returned Friday only to get cut under the right eye.  The injury will not keep him out against New Jersey.
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 3:00 PM

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

Letang skates for first time since late November

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang skated Friday for the first time since sustaining a concussion and breaking his nose Nov. 26 in Montreal.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma called it a sign of progress for Letang, but it is uncertain when Letang will return to practice -- the next step he must take before he can return to game action.
 
Letang was injured while absorbing a hard hit from the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, who subsequently drew a three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head. Letang was checked over by a doctor and was allowed to return to play, and he scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
 
After initially passing a concussion test, Letang was diagnosed with a concussion and he has not played since. Like teammate Sidney Crosby, who last played on Dec. 5, Letang has been limited to light conditioning work off the ice.
 
"He is doing pretty well right now," Bylsma said. "He's had light exercises and is on the road to rehab and recovery. In terms of concussions and treating them, everyone is different. Players' symptoms are different. We've treated each player with uniqueness. Kris has had some good days."
 
Before he was hurt, Letang was off to a strong start with 3 goals and 16 assists in 22 games. His ability to generate offense despite not being on the power-play unit with Crosby was a contrast to last season when, after an equally effective start, Letang's scoring dropped off significantly after Crosby sustained a concussion at midseason.
 
Crosby, who has been limited to eight games in the last year, still has not resumed skating. The Penguins haven't updated his condition since 10 days ago, when Bylsma confirmed he was having concussion-related symptoms.
 
Crosby missed the second half of last season and the first 20 games of this season before returning with a two-goal, two-assist performance against the New York Islanders on Nov. 21. Crosby had 2 goals and 10 assists while playing in eight consecutive games, but the concussion symptoms returned following a 3-1 loss to Boston on Dec. 5. Crosby has not been on the ice since then.
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:49 PM

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

Winter Classic hero Rupp set for return to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH— The Return of Rupp isn’t igniting Pittsburgh Penguins fans the way that the visits of Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot of the Flyers did a week ago.
 
There hasn’t been any talk that Mike Rupp’s first appearance in Consol Energy Center since signing with the New York Rangers will generate loud booing. Or that he will receive anything but a polite reception – at least until the game starts, when all players wearing Rangers blue are prospective targets for jeering.
 
Rupp didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh after playing for two seasons there, and the Penguins didn’t want him to go, but salary cap constraints effectively forced him to sign elsewhere.
 
The Penguins sought to bring back a player who is an asset on and off the ice because of his toughness and leadership qualities but, after paying Rupp $850,000 a season ago, they couldn’t match the $4.5 million, three-year deal he received from the Rangers.
 
Despite winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003, Rupp called his two seasons in Pittsburgh “the best of my career.” While playing mostly on the fourth line, Rupp had 13 goals and six assists in 2009-10 and nine goals and eight assists a season ago.
 
Rupp enjoyed Pittsburgh so much that he and his family plan to continue living in the area during the offseason.
 
“I think that goes with just overall being happy in a hockey environment and playing and having a great group of guys. The coaches were great to me. The organization was awesome. The fans were fantastic,” Rupp said Friday. “It’s a place that was really welcoming for me and my family, so it was good. We’ve kind of lived in this area for a while and plan on continuing to do that, so it’s home for us. It’s a special place for us, that’s for sure.”
 
Doesn’t sound like a player who expects to hear a lot of booing.  Jagr, by contrast, drew plenty of jeers while he and Talbot were scoring goals during the Flyers’ 4-2 win at Consol on Dec. 29.
 
Rupp was out from late October until mid-December with a knee injury, but returned to play in the last nine games. He had two goals Monday as the Rangers beat the Flyers 3-2 in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, gaining him the kind of media attention and notoriety that’s uncommon for a fourth-line player.
 
And that Jagr-like salute he gave after scoring his first goal? That just might earn him some cheers Friday night.
 
“I think it’s about just trying to find my game after an injury, trying to manage the injury and get the good feeling back,” Rupp said. “I started feeling that way probably the last week or two. We’ve got a good team here and I’m just trying to contribute in some way each night. Things are going well and we’re going to keep working.”
 
It was his second successive Winter Classic; Rupp also played in the Penguins’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 1, 2011 at Heinz Field.
 
Rupp took time to seek out his former teammates before the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-3 in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 29. He peeked in on them during their morning skate Friday, but only for a moment.
 
“They’re doing the drill that we always did on game day skates at the end of practice,” Rupp said. “It was good to get the first one out of the way. I saw the guys when they were in New York, so those feelings have been settled already. I don’t need to shake all their hands tonight. We’ve got a hockey game to win tonight, so that’s our main objective.”

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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 2:14 PM

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

Much-improved Rangers in Pittsburgh for Atlantic showdown

PITTSBURGH – Everything about the New York Rangers is better this season than it was a year ago.
 
They are 25-9-4 for a NHL-best 54 points after 38 games, or eight more points than they had at this stage a season ago, when they were 22-14-2. They are leading the Atlantic Division, and they have one more point than Boston in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
Their goaltending tandem of Henrik Lundqvist (17-7-4, 1.92 goals-against average) and Martin Biron (8-2, 2.06 goals-against average) is one of the League’s best. They’re getting scoring up and down their lineup; right wing Marian Gaborik already has more goals (23) than the 22 he had last season.
 
Center Brad Richards has been a great pickup, getting 14 goals and 30 points in 38 games.  Derek Stepan, who centers the No. 2 line, has 8 goals and 18 assists and is a plus-12. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto is a plus-25.
 
But to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, whose team plays the Rangers on Friday night at Consol Energy Center, the most striking difference in the Rangers from the team that finished eighth in the Eastern Conference a year ago is their upgraded speed.
 
“I think that’s a significant difference this year with their team from the past. If you’re looking at the Rangers, they’re playing much quicker this year. It was a factor in our first game against them,” Bylsma said, referring to a 4-3 Rangers victory on Nov. 29. “When you scout them, you see the quickness with which they are attacking and generating speed, counter attacking. It puts teams in trouble. In addition to that, they’ve been a tough team to handle on the forecheck in the offensive zone. Now with that speed and counter attack, they’re a factor with their skilled players and others. They’re a handful.”
 
New York hopes to rely on that speed during the first of its three games at Consol this season. While they’re playing for the second time in as many nights – they beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in overtime at Madison Square Garden on Thursday – the Penguins are playing for the first time in six days. They’ve been off since losing at New Jersey 3-1 on New Year’s Eve.
 
The Rangers held at optional skate Friday morning.  Their probable lineup:
 
Artem AnisimovDerek StepanMarian Gaborik
Brandon DubinskyBrad RichardsRyan Callahan
Carl HagelinBrian BoyleRuslan Fedotenko
John MitchellMike RuppBrandon Prust
 
Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi
Michael Del ZottoAnton Stralman
Marc StaalStu Bickel
 
Lundqvist is expected to be in goal as he rides a five-game winning streak, and he has allowed only six goals during the streak. Biron would be the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 01.06.2012 / 1:20 PM

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

Pens bring up McDonald; Michalek a game-time call

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek was injured while blocking a shot in practice Thursday and his status for Friday night's game against the first-place New York Rangers will be decided at game time.
 
Michalek did not take part in the morning skate Friday. The Penguins have not disclosed the nature of his injury.
 
There was one new face on the Consol Energy Center ice -- forward Colin McDonald, who was called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL). McDonald played his only two previous NHL games for Edmonton in 2009-10, scoring one goal. He was chosen earlier this week for the AHL All-Star Classic in Atlantic City.
 
McDonald was leading the AHL Penguins in assists (20), points (28) and plus-minus rating (plus-15).
 
McDonald had 42 goals at Oklahoma City last season, which Bylsma said is a testament to his versatility and his ability to generate offense despite not being a gifted scorer.
 
"He's a gritty guy that plays a good up-and-down wing game. He's good in the tough areas around the net," Bylsma said. "He's a really solid player. He played in defensive situations, (has been) a reliable winger in the past in his career. We'll see him in a third-, fourth-line role, but also as a net-front on the power play."
 
The Rangers are first overall in the NHL with 54 points after beating the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Thursday night, and they're streaking with three consecutive victories and eight in their last nine games. As a result, the Penguins are facing a potentially pivotal game, especially for the first week of January.
 
Pittsburgh, which has dropped two in a row after winning four straight, will fall behind the Rangers by 10 points in the Atlantic Division race should they lose in regulation. While that's hardly an insurmountable deficit, the Penguins understand they can't fall too far behind, especially with no assurance that star Sidney Crosby (concussion) will return any time soon.
 
Crosby, who last played a month ago Friday, remains sidelined with concussion-related problems. He is working out lightly, but is apparently not staking.
 
Pittsburgh is having the same problem against the Rangers that they are with the Philadelphia Flyers -- beating them on home ice. While the Flyers are 4-0 in Pittsburgh since Consol Energy Center opened last season, the Rangers are 3-0 going into the first of their three games there this season. The Rangers also return on Feb. 21 and April 5.
 
The Penguins went into the game with only a three-point advantage over Winnipeg, which began the weekend in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
 
The Penguins' likely lineup for the first of their three consecutive home games; they also play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday and the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Colin McDonald
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, whose 2.26 goals-against average is lower than that of his career-best 2.32 of last season, will be in net. Fleury is 18-11-7 with two shutouts and a 2.83 goals-against average against the Rangers during his career. Brent Johnson will be the backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:44 PM

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

Bylsma says Sid still important part of Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby isn't wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey these days as he sits out again with concussion issues. That doesn't mean he's not wearing the captain's "C".
 
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby remains an important part of the team despite being out of the lineup because of concussion-related problems for the second time this year.
 
After sitting out for nearly 11 months, Crosby played eight games from Nov. 21-Dec. 5 before the concussion-related symptoms returned. He hasn’t practiced since Dec. 7.
 
"Sid is around. He is light exercising and doing that with the team. He's a part of our meetings. On non-game days he's around and a part of our team, just like Paul Martin and Kris Letang," Bylsma said Thursday. "It's unfortunate for guys that are out for long periods of time, but they're in and around our team. Sid's in and around our team. He's got a good demeanor about being around the guys."
 
Martin, a defenseman sidelined with a lower-body injury, is expected to return soon. But the Penguins have offered no hints when Crosby or Letang will be back. Letang, one of the NHL's top offensive-minded defensemen, hasn't played since breaking his nose and receiving a concussion against the Canadiens on Nov. 26.
 
Neither Crosby nor Letang are skating, which would be the first step in their return.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 12:44 PM

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

Bobrovsky looks to keep up mastery over Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- For the fourth time this season, the Philadelphia Flyers are dealing with a two-game losing streak. What they haven't had yet is a three-game losing streak.
 
To avoid experiencing their first such streak this season, they must extend their recent success against their cross-state rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
The Flyers won all three games in the then-new Consol Energy Center last season and have gained a point in each of their last five games against the Penguins. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who will start, is 3-0 in Consol and 3-1-1 with a .926 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average against Pittsburgh.
 
Philadelphia won the first of this season's six matchups against Pittsburgh 3-2 on Dec. 8, when Ilya Bryzgalov was in net. After losing his last four starts, Bryzgalov will be the backup. Bryzgalov allowed five goals on 16 shots during a 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
 
The projected lineup for the first game that former Penguins Stanley Cup champions Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot will play in a Flyers uniform in Pittsburgh:
 
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Matt Read - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
James van Riemsdyk - Maxime Talbot - Jakub Voracek
Harry Zolnierczyk - Brayden Schenn - Zac Rinaldo
 
Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Andreas Lilja - Andrej Meszaros
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 12:30 PM

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

Pens seek elusive first win over Flyers at Consol

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made their Consol Energy Center debut 15 months ago, but there's still something missing in their new building.
 
A victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
 
The Penguins went 0-3 on home ice against the Flyers last season, including a 3-2 decision on Oct. 7, 2010, in the first game they ever played in Pittsburgh that wasn't in the Civic Arena. Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was in net for all three decisions, also beating the Penguins 3-2 on Oct. 29, 2010, and 5-2 on March 29, 2011.
 
The Pennsylvania rivals did not meet in the playoffs last season, so the Penguins were not able to end their streak there.
 
Even though the Flyers are paying Ilya Bryzgalov $51 million over nine seasons to be the big-game goaltender they have long lacked, Bobrovsky will be in net Thursday night when the teams meet in Pittsburgh for the first time this season.
 
"I don't have a good answer for you," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday when asked why Bobrovsky was so successful against his team last season. "We'll have to see where the possible cracks are (in him). He did have a lot of success against us, but we are preparing for both goalies."
 
While the Penguins were talking after their morning skate as if it were just another game, they know it's not. Games against the Flyers, Rangers and Capitals have a slightly different feel, perhaps because both teams understand the regular season may be setting the stage for a matchup deep into the playoffs.

"Every game you're up for, but sometimes throughout a game when you have that rivalry, you see each other so often, things can get heated a little faster," forward Jordan Staal said. "I think the guys will be ready for a good battle tonight."
 
The Penguins held an optional skate in advance of the second of their six games against the Flyers, but their projected lineup is:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Matt Cooke
Jason Williams - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
 
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Simon Despres - Matt Niskanen
Ben Lovejoy - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 20-11-0 with two shutouts in his career against the Flyers, will be in net. He has a 2.73 goals-against average against Philadelphia.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:34 PM

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

Ward earns new nickname after recording goal

PITTSBURGH -- Cam Ward wasn't even done pulling off his gear following the Carolina Hurricanes' game-day skate Tuesday before his teammates began peppering him with his new nickname.
 
Just call him Snipes, as in sniper -- the description often given to a skilled forward who regularly finds the net.
 
See what scoring a goal in an NHL game will do for one's reputation?
 
Ward became the first Carolina goalie and only the 10th in NHL history to be credited with a goal when Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk accidentally sailed an intended pass from beyond the end line and into his own empty net during Carolina's 4-2 victory on Monday night. Ward was the last Carolina player to touch the puck on the play.
 
"I guess they don't ask how -- a goal is a goal," Ward said Tuesday. "It would have been a lot cooler if I actually shot the puck but, hey, but when you look at down the road, it will be kind of cool that you got yourself in the record book as scoring an NHL goal as a goaltender. It definitely was a fluky play that you don't see very often, but pretty neat also."
 
Regardless, Ward remains a bit stunned that he ended up with a goal in his 378th career game. No NHL goalie had been credited with a goal since Chris Mason of Nashville scored against the Phoenix Coyotes on April 15, 2006.
 
"My teammates joke with me that they don't even think I can shoot it down the length of the ice," said Ward, whose cell phone is buzzing from text messages sent by friends from around the League.
 
Ward's feat certainly attracted the Penguins' attention. Coach Dan Bylsma said -- and he was only joking -- that he would assign a defender to Ward, if he played, so that he didn't extend his scoring streak.
 
And Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said, in sizing up the Hurricanes' offensive talent, "I heard he's hot."
 
The Penguins need not be worried; Ward is scheduled to get the night off, with Justin Peters starting in net.
 
Ward admittedly is a bit embarrassed by all the fuss being made about his historic goal, fearing it might eclipse what he felt was a strong defensive effort by his teammates as they improved to 3-1-1 in their last five games.
 
"The guys have played really well and, for me, I didn't want all the focus to be on that play because we did play a very strong game and we were well-deserving of the win," Ward said. "It's important we keep it going."
 
If the 27-year-old Ward needs any advice on how to further upgrade his offensive skills, he need not look far. Hurricanes assistant coach Tom Barrasso's 48 career assists are the most by any NHL goalie. But Barrasso never found the net.
 
Ward had 9 assists coming into this season, but the goal represents his first point in 2011-12. Craig Anderson of Ottawa currently leads all NHL goalies in scoring with 3 assists. Martin Brodeur of the Devils, who has scored a goal in both the regular season and the playoffs, has 39 career regular-season points, including 38 assists.
 
The trapezoid rule implemented for the 2005-06 season reduced a goaltender's ability to score because it effectively forces him to remain close to the net in playing the puck. Brodeur lamented that the rule severely restricted his ability to jump into a play offensively.
 
While some NHL goalies still try to score -- Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury among them -- Ward has never intentionally tried to put the puck into the other net. For good reason -- he's never been that brave.
 
"I have that fear of turning it over right in the slot into my empty net," Ward said. "But maybe in a two-goal lead situation it would be fun to try it out. It would be pretty cool to get one that way, too. I'll go for No. 2."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:03 PM

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

Backup Peters in net for 'Canes

PITTSBURGH -- Cam Ward got a win and his first NHL goal last night, but that wasn't enough to earn him the start in the back-half of the Carolina Hurricanes' back-to-back set today against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Instead, it will be backup Justin Peters facing  a Penguins team that has scored 26 goals in its last six games.

Peters, who has spent most of the season with Charlotte (AHL), is 2-0-1 in three career games against Pittsburgh, with a 3.33 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
 
The rest of the Hurricanes’ projected lineup:
 
Drayson Bowman - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Jiri Tlusty - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Andreas Nodl - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
 
Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Bryan Allen - Jay Harrison
Justin Faulk - Jaroslav Spacek

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 1:56 PM

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

Muller believes things are coming together for 'Canes

PITTSBURGH -- The Carolina Hurricanes are 4-6-2 under coach Kirk Muller, but have won two straight and are 3-1-1 record in their last five heading into tonight's game with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
So has Muller had time to implement all his systems yet? No.
 
Is Muller beginning to see measurable improvements up and down his lineup? Yes.
 
Muller wants the Hurricanes to be a fast-paced, read-and-react team, rather than a sit-back-and-react unit. He likes how his forwards are embracing the up-tempo system, and the energy level they are bringing nightly. That is important to a former player who accumulated 357 goals in 1,349 NHL with the Devils, Canadiens, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Stars from 1984-2003.
 
Muller also likes that he is beginning to see some results that show up in the standings.
 
"The game today, you've got to skate. We've told the forwards from Day 1 that they're going to have to skate and work hard to play in the system," Muller said. "So we've been skating a little harder in practices. It's no secret. We've been here a little while now, that we're an up-ice team.
We want to challenge and play in your face and hopefully play the game from the red line up rather than sit back."
 
Muller added, "I just think with the way the game is today, with the speed and skill of everybody, that you've got to play that tempo. That's kind of been the philosophy so far."
 
Muller believes there is plenty of time for Carolina to move back into playoff contention, especially with the season's midpoint still four games away.
 
While he never had been a head coach before this season -- he had a 10-6 record with Milwaukee (AHL) before taking over the Hurricanes -- Muller said it hasn't been a problem getting his players to play his way.
 
Especially when they're a man down; Brandon Sutter's third short-handed goal of the season Monday was the Hurricanes' seventh in 37 games, or one fewer than they scored all last season.
 
"I think it was easier for the forwards because it took away them thinking … it's just, 'Let's go,'" Muller said. "Get skating, get up ice. I think it was just a matter of retraining them to get their feet moving sometimes. I think it was a little tougher on defense because you got to get the trust factor between the forwards and the (defensemen). You've got forwards pressing hard and the 'D' is trying to stand up wondering who's got the third guy. I think it costs us a few points the first few games, but I can live with that if we learn from it. I think now we're in sync."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 12:52 PM

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

Only 23, Jordan Staal set for 400th NHL game

PITTSBURGH -- He is only 23, hardly an age at which most NHL players are considered to be grizzled veterans. Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins is an exception.
 
When the Penguins try to extend their winning streak to four games while taking on the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Staal will be playing in his 400th career game. At 23 years and 108 days, Staal will become the seventh youngest player since the NHL expansion in 1967 to reach that mark.
 
"It's a pretty rare feat and when you consider how many playoff games  (67) he's played in addition to that, it's pretty amazing for a young player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's still a very young man but he's also a guy who, right now, has found a different level in how he plays the game more physically and what he does on the ice."
 
Interestingly, Staal didn't know of the feat until he arrived at Consol Energy Center. It's an added bonus for the Staal family of Thunder Bay, Ontario, that Eric Staal of the Hurricanes will be on the ice for his younger brother's 400th.
 
"It's nice, obviously. It's a lot of games and any player that plays that many, it's a great accomplishment," Jordan said. "Hopefully I can play many more."
 
Especially if he can play at his current level. Considered one of the League's best two-way forwards since his rookie season in 2006-07, Staal is on pace for one of his best seasons offensively with 13 goals and 6 assists in 30 games. His career high is 29 goals as a rookie.
 
While Staal has been a finalist for the Selke Trophy given for outstanding defensive play by a forward, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he isn't close to peaking.
 
"If you're looking for a guy to vault into the top 10 in scoring, I'm not sure that's what his upside is. But this year, the way he can dominate a game on both sides of the puck, is where his game can go," Bylsma said. "I hate even talking about him being a third-line center, because what he can do on the ice is more like a top guy on your team."
 
Staal is frequently called the best No. 3 center in hockey because Sidney Crosby, when healthy, and Evgeni Malkin man the Penguins' top two lines. Bylsma said Staal is much more than that to Pittsburgh.
 
"He can dominate the puck at both ends of the rink, defensively and offensively," Bylsma said. "Faceoffs have gone to a different level. He's a guy you can count on to win faceoffs, not to mention that his penalty kill has always been exceptional."
 
Staal will center the Penguins' No. 2 line against Carolina, which is coming off a 4-2 victory over New Jersey. Carolina is trying for its first three-game winning streak since Oct. 12-18; the Penguins last won four in a row during a five-game winning streak that lasted from Oct. 18 through Oct. 27.
 
The Penguins’ projected lineup:
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Craig Adams - Jason Williams
 
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Zbynek Michalek - Simon Despres
Ben Lovejoy - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, second in the League with 18 wins, will be in net. He is 4-1 in his last five starts and 15-5-2 over his last 22. Brent Johnson will be the backup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 3:24 PM

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

Mario Lemieux skates again -- but only for fun

PITTSBURGH -- Yes, that really was Mario Lemieux showing off his fast hands and deft shooting touch on the Consol Energy Center ice on Tuesday.
 
No, it had nothing to do with his Pittsburgh Penguins' extended run of injuries. No. 66 isn't planning yet another comeback.
 
Lemieux was among a half-dozen former NHL players who took part in an informal afternoon game with Penguins staff members, including coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Reirden. The contests are part of the game-day routine whenever the Penguins are in Pittsburgh.
 
Having Lemieux and players such as Mark Recchi, Bryan Trottier, Phil Bourque, Jay Caufield and Marc Bergevin participate was an added attraction. Lemieux, Recchi and Trottier have a combined 1,791 NHL goals -- each scored more than 500 -- and 4,681 points.

Bourque, one of the team's radio announcers, played with Lemieux on the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992. Regardless, he still gets a thrill from playing alongside the 46-year-old Lemieux, even in an informal setting.
 
"Every once in a while he does something that makes you remember it wasn't long ago that he was doing it for the Penguins," Bourque told the team's website. "Everybody takes it up a notch and pays attention because if you blink, you might miss something special that he does out there. It's just good to see him out there."
 
Lemieux, the Penguins' co-owner, retired for the second and final time at age 40 in 2006 -- seven years after acquiring the team.
 
Earlier this week, the alumni players took part in a "Skate With the Greats" event at the Penguins' temporary outdoor rink, Penguins Pond, on Pittsburgh's South Side.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 1:44 PM

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

Inclement weather cancels Pens' outdoor practice

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins won't be venturing into the great outdoors for the second time this year after all.
 
With the one-year anniversary of their 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic game against the Washington Capitals approaching, the Penguins planned to practice outdoors Wednesday at the temporary rink they constructed on Pittsburgh's South Side.
 
However, a steady rain Tuesday is expected to be followed by more rain Wednesday, with temperatures in the mid 50s. The combination of wet weather and spring-like temperatures caused coach Dan Bylsma to shift the practice back to Consol Energy Center.
 
Known as Penguins Pond, the rink will be open daily for skating through Jan. 8, but the team has not said if it might reschedule the outdoor practice.
 
The rink was installed in part because of the popularity of the open-to-the-public outdoor rink that was built next to Heinz Field last winter in advance of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic. That rink was greeted more enthusiastically than even the Penguins anticipated, because it allowed thousands of fans to share in the experience of the outdoor game.
 
The boards and glass at Penguins Pond are from the Civic Arena, the Penguins' home from 1967-2010. That arena is being demolished to make way for commercial development.
 
The rink is located, fittingly enough, at the intersection of 26th Street and Sidney Street.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 1:30 PM

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

No concussion, Seabrook in Blackhawks' lineup

PITTSBURGH -- Exactly the news the Chicago Blackhawks wanted to hear: Defenseman Brent Seabrook doesn't have a concussion and will be in the lineup Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
The sighs of relief probably could be heard all the way back to the United Center.
 
The Blackhawks (21-8-4) received a major scare Sunday when the Flames' Rene Bourque drove Seabrook in the boards head-first during the first period of Chicago's 4-2 victory. Seabrook appeared to be unconscious for a few moments, but he insisted on Tuesday that he was aware throughout of what was occurring.
 
"I remember the whole thing," Seabrook said. "I got hit and I heard Bourque say right away he was sorry. I couldn't get up, so I put my head down and everybody seemed to think I was knocked out. I'm good to go."
 
Coach Joel Quenneville said Seabrook checked out fine and will not be held out of game action, saying it was "an easy call" -- even though Seabrook has had multiple concussions in the past.
 
Seabrook did not return to the Calgary game because the doctor checking him for concussion-like symptoms could not tell from the game video whether he was unconscious.
 
"Obviously, it feels good that all it was a scare," Seabrook said. "I felt good yesterday, felt good the day before, I feel fine."
 
Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo (upper-body injury) did not make the trip to Pittsburgh, but Quenneville is optimistic he will be ready to play Wednesday at home against Montreal -- the team's final game before Christmas.
 
Forward Patrick Kane likes going against teams such as the Penguins that the Blackhawks see only occasionally.
 
"It's always fun to play Eastern Conference teams, usually they (play) up and down, fast, and we like playing in that kind of game," Kane said.
 
The teams possess some of the NHL's top star power, except that the biggest headliner -- Sidney Crosby -- will miss a fifth consecutive game with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby has played only two games against Chicago during his career.
 
"I've been here five years and I've never played him in the NHL, only in the Olympics," Kane said. "We haven't seen him, but hopefully he's doing better."
 
Here is the Blackhawks' projected lineup for their only matchup against the Penguins (18-11-4) this season. Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, while Chicago won it the following season.
 
Viktor Stalberg - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Michael Frolik
John Scott - Jamal Mayers - Andrew Brunette
 
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador
 
Ray Emery (9-1-2) will make his seventh consecutive start in net -- he has won his last five -- but Quenneville said Corey Crawford (12-7-2) is expected to start Wednesday.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 1:04 PM

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

Staal, others could be back for Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins held an optional morning practice – coach Dan Bylsma called it a “get what you need skate” – before they matched up against the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
 
This was the fourth time this season that the Penguins did not hold a full team skate on a game day that followed an off day, but the players met to review video and the scouting report.
 
The Penguins often are held up as the standard by which opposing clubs measure themselves – several coaches have mentioned that during visits to Pittsburgh – but this time they will be looking up, at least in the overall standings.
 
Chicago goes into the game with an NHL-leading 46 points, while the Penguins – winners of only two of their last six – have dropped into fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 40 points.
 
“They’ve got a lot of skill up front, world-class skill,” forward Craig Adams said of the Blackhawks, who have won five straight and seven of eight, collecting points in all eight. “They’ve got a couple of the best defensemen in the League back there and they’ve been getting good goaltending lately (from Ray Emery). Their power play is very good. Offensively, they present problems for sure.”
 
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was at Consol, but was not one of the 16 players who skated. The Penguins have not updated his status since he last practiced Dec. 7; he remains out and day-to-day with concussion-like symptoms. Crosby will miss his 26th game this season and his 67th over the last two seasons.
 
The players skating were goalies Marc-Andre Fleury, who will start, and Brent Johnson; forwards Tyler Kennedy, Jason Williams, Steve MacIntyre, Jordan Staal, Eric Tangradi, Craig Adams and Joe Vitale; and defensemen Deryk Engelland, Brooks Orpik, Alexandre Picard, Ben Lovejoy, Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres and Zbynek Michalek.
 
The Penguins are expected to welcome back Staal, who has been held out of three of their last four games with a lower-body injury. Among the players who are game-time decisions are defensemen Zbynek Michalek (concussion) and Ben Lovejoy, who has been out with a broken wrist since Nov. 3 but is lobbying to play. Defenseman Paul Martin (lower-body injury) is not expected to play and could be out for a while.
 
“Today was a really good day. Everything felt really good. I should be in tonight if coach wants it,” Stall said before pausing for a smile. “We’ll see if I get in.”
 
Here’s how the Penguins might line up in their only meeting against Chicago this season, but the lineup could change depending on how many of the injured players return:
 
Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Matt CookeJordan StaalTyler Kennedy
Steve SullivanJoe VitaleArron Asham
Jason WilliamsEric TangradiCraig Adams
 
Brooks OrpikMatt Niskanen
Zbynek MichalekDeryk Engelland
Simon DespresBen Lovejoy
 
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 4:16 PM

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

Penguins struggling without Crosby, others

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins may be feeling the Crosby Effect.
 
For the first time all season, the Penguins aren't looking like the team that has been remarkably resilient and successful without Sidney Crosby in their lineup during most of calendar year 2011. With injuries also recently to players such as defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek and center Jordan Staal, the Penguins were 1-4-0 in their last five games going into a Saturday night game against Buffalo.
 
The Penguins haven't dropped as many as five games in a six-game span without any overtime or shootout defeats since they lost six of seven from Dec. 21, 2009 through Jan. 3, 2010.
 
The injury situation didn’t improve against the Sabres. Defenseman Paul Martin was ruled out because of an unspecified lower body injury that occurred during a 6-4 loss in Ottawa on Friday.
 
The Martin injury meant the Penguins were likely to be without three of their top four defensemen -- Letang, Michalek and Martin -- against Buffalo, which won in Pittsburgh 3-2 on Oct. 15. Only Brooks Orpik was certain to be in the lineup. This will be the first game Martin has missed this season.
 
“It’s day to day (for Martin) at this point in time,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
 
Due to the injuries, the Penguins recalled forward Jason Williams and defenseman Carl Sneep to oppose Buffalo. Williams was recalled several times previously this season, but the 24-year-oid Sneep will be making his NHL debut. A second-round pick in 2006, he had nine assists and a plus-6 rating in 27 games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (NHL), which plays the same system as the parent Penguins.
 
“Carl, making his first NHL appearance, his first NHL game, there’s a certain amount of anxiety and nerves that go along with that,” Bylsma said. “But I do think he has gained some confidence knowing exactly what is expected of (him) and exactly what to do on the ice. Everything he hears today won’t be new for Carl.”
 
Pittsburgh has recalled four players from Wilkes-Barre in the last two days; Williams, Sneep, forward Eric Tangradi and defenseman Alexandre Picard.
 
What is complicating the Penguins' injury situation is that Crosby, Letang and Michalek all have a concussion or concussion-related symptoms, which means it is uncertain when they can return.
 
Michalek, for example, looked to be ready to play against Ottawa on Friday night, only to report that he was still being bothered by headaches.
 
"You don't know if a guy is going to be one week, two weeks or out longer," Bylsma said. "That uncertainty makes it tough to plan in terms of down the road. You have an injury that typically takes two or three weeks and a timeframe that you know, and you can plan for the month of December to be without a guy with a broken foot. You know that. The uncertainty is difficult."
 
Crosby, for example, initially skipped games against the Flyers and Islanders last week for precautionary reasons -- he was experiencing headaches -- but he has not practiced or played since. The Penguins are dropping no hints when he might return.
 
Bylsma said Saturday that neither Crosby nor Letang (out since Nov. 26) has resumed skating.
 
Crosby has played in only eight games of 73 games over the last 50 weeks. The Penguins are 35-22-8 without him over the last two seasons, but are a not-as-good 12-9-3 this season. And they are 7-8-1 since they beat Dallas 3-1 on Nov. 11, a period that includes their 5-2-1 record with Crosby in the lineup; they have lost six of their last eight without him.
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Posted On Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 3:24 PM

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

Reeling Penguins hope to rebound against Sabres

PITTSBURGH-- This is becoming uncomfortably familiar for the Pittsburgh Penguins – another game, another loss, another injury.
 
Neither the Penguins nor the Sabres held a formal morning skate in advance of their Saturday night game after each played Friday. But while the Sabres were beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 thanks to Thomas Vanek's two goals, the Penguins were giving up five goals in the second period of a 6-4 loss at Ottawa.
 
The defeat was Pittsburgh's fourth in five games and dropped them to 1-3 during Sidney Crosby's second concussion-related layoff of the season. And it's not just Crosby's injury that is affecting the Penguins, who have dropped from first place to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings during the last two weeks.
 
They also played Friday without defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek (concussions), two-way forward Jordan Staal (lower-body injury), center Richard Park (broken foot). And it got worse -- defenseman Paul Martin, who has upgraded his play in recent weeks following a slow start, left in the third period with an unspecified lower-body injury.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma planned to announce shortly before game time if any of the injured players could return against the Sabres, who won in Pittsburgh 3-2 on Oct. 15 after being swept in the four-game series last season.  Michalek appears to be the closest to returning, but he has been bothered this week by headaches related to his concussion.
 
Evgeni Malkin has three goals and four assists in his last four games, including a goal and an assist on Friday.
 
If Martin can play, and the Penguins did not recall anyone to replace him, here's how Pittsburgh's lineup could look in the first of consecutive home games. They remain home to play the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Pittsburgh has dropped its last two at home to Boston (3-1) and Detroit 4-1).
 
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Matt Cooke - Pascal Dupuis - Tyler Kennedy
Steve MacIntyre - Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Matt Niskanen
Paul Martin - Deryk Engelland
Simon Despres - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net after his scheduled day off Friday was shortened by Bylsma's decision to play him in the third period, when he allowed a goal. Brent Johnson gave up all five Senators goals in the second period. Fleury is 4-1-0 in his last five starts against the Sabres.
 
The Sabres, also troubled by injuries during a recent stretch in which they have gone 6-7-3, held a team meeting at their hotel Saturday morning in lieu of a full-team morning skate. There is a chance that right wing Patrick Kaleta could return from a groin injury that has kept him out of 10 of the last 11 games. Their likely lineup:
 
Thomas Vanek - Paul Szczechura - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
Matt Ellis - Luke Adam - Zack Kassian
Marc-Andre Gragnini - Paul Gaustad - Cody McCormick
 
Christian Ehrhoff - Jordan Leopold
Robyn Regehr - Andrej Sekera
Brayden McNabb - Mike Weber
 
Ryan Miller is expected to be in goal after stopping 29 shots against Toronto; Miller is 3-0-2 with a 2.95 goals-against average since he was out for eight games with a concussion. Miller is 0-4-1 in his last six starts against Pittsburgh.  Jhonas Enroth won in Pittsburgh two months ago but is 1-5-1 in his last seven starts.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.13.2011 / 1:34 PM

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

Babcock's influence evident in Bylsma's coaching

PITTSBURGH -- Dan Bylsma, last season's winner of the Jack Adams Award -- presented annually to the NHL's coach of the year -- is more than a distant admirer of Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
 
The Pittsburgh Penguins coach, a former NHL forward, played for Babcock when the Anaheim Ducks lost to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final.
 
Bylsma was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., and he has watched the Red Wings since he was a youngster. Not surprisingly, Bylsma tries to incorporate a great deal of what the Red Wings do well -- see Puck Management 101 -- into the Penguins' system.
 
Call it the Red Wings influence.
 
"They're a team, whether because I grew up in Michigan and being a Red Wings fan, or because they're an elite team, a better team -- they certainly have been playing that way -- we've watched a lot," Bylsma said. "I try to learn something from everybody and I learned a lot from Mike Babcock as a coach."
 
Bylsma added, "(I'm) still watching their team, watching what they do to see if there's not something there. You can hear Mike's voice through a lot of that."
 
And see a lot of that in the Penguins, who beat the Red Wings in a memorable seven-game Stanley Cup Final in 2009, only a few months after Bylsma was hired at midseason to replace Michel Therrien.
 
The Penguins accumulated 106 points last season despite being without stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal for about a half a season each due to injuries. This season, Crosby has played in only eight games, yet the Penguins went into their game against Detroit on Tuesday night with a 17-9-4 record and 38 points.
 
Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall credits that to Bylsma's organizational and improvisational skills and his ability to get the maximum effort and production from all players in the lineup.
 
As Kronwall said, the Penguins don't "live or die with one guy. It's pretty remarkable."
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.13.2011 / 1:17 PM

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

No changes for surging Red Wings

PITTSBURGH — The Detroit Red Wings don’t plan any lineup changes for their game Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center, and who can blame them for not messing with success?
 
The Red Wings go into their only meeting of the season against Pittsburgh with nine victories in 11 games and 13 in 17. They have outscored their opponents 65-33 in the past 17 contests. Detroit was 5-5-1 going into its 5-0 win against Anaheim on Nov. 5, but now is 18-9-1.
 
The Red Wings – 6-7 away from Joe Louis Arena – would appear to be catching the Penguins at an opportune time. Pittsburgh will be missing star Sidney Crosby (concussion-related symptoms) for a third consecutive game, and centers Jordan Staal (lower body injury) and Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed problem) will be game-time decisions.
 
The Penguins already were without defensemen Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek  and Robert Bortuzzo (concussions) and Ben Lovejoy (wrist), plus forward Richard Park (broken foot).
 
Only 10 days ago, the Penguins were putting a close-to-healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season – even if it was missing Letang, one of the NHL’s premier offensive defensemen. Now, they are as depleted as they have been since coach Dan Bylsma was hired nearly three years ago.
 
“Obviously, we’d like Sid to be playing,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “As a League, you want him to be playing. When you’re playing another team, you want their best goalie, you want their best players. You want to find out if you’re any good or not.  But, in saying that, you also want points.”
 
Pittsburgh has won its last two at home against the Red Wings and swept a two-game season series against them in 2010-11. This is the first season since 2007-08 the teams won’t play each other at least twice; they met in the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and 2009, with each franchise winning once.
 
“it’s one of those teams that you love to play against,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s a great matchup. The games are high intensity.”
 
Here is the Red Wings’ likely lineup:
 
Johan FranzenPavel DatsyukTodd Bertuzzi
Valtteri FilppulaHenrik ZetterbergJiri Hudler
Darren HelmDanny ClearyChris Conner
Drew MillerJustin AbdelkaderTomas Holmstrom
 
Nicklas LidstromIan White
Niklas KronwallJonathan Ericsson
Brad StuartJakub Kindl
 
Jimmy Howard (17-6-1) will oppose Marc-Andre Fleury (15-6-2) in net. Former Penguins goalie Ty Conklin will be the backup.
 
Howard is 1-0-1 with a 2.28 goals-against average in three career starts against Pittsburgh. Fleury is 4-4 with a 2.72 goals-against average in regular-season matchups against the Red Wings.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.13.2011 / 12:14 PM

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

Malkin, Staal uncertain for depleted Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin has become an unexpected addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins' ever-growing injury list that, once again, is headed by star Sidney Crosby.
 
Malkin, who missed seven games earlier this season following right knee surgery, missed the morning skate in advance of Tuesday night's interconference game against the Detroit Red Wings. Coach Dan Bylsma didn't offer an explanation, and said Malkin would be a game-time decision.
 
Malkin practiced Monday with no apparent problems. Jordan Staal, the Penguins' all-important No. 3 center, missed that practice with an unspecified lower-body injury but took part in the morning skate.
 
Staal, who did not play in a 6-3 win over the Islanders on Saturday, will be a game-time decision. He wants to see how his undisclosed injury reacts the rest of the day.
 
"It felt good but, again, I want to see how it feels once I'm out of the skates and off the ice for a bit and if it starts to flare up," Staal said.
 
With Crosby out again with concussion-related symptoms, there is a possibility the Penguins could be without all three of their star centers against the Red Wings. If that is the case, Bylsma said Joe Vitale, who alternates at fourth-line center with Richard Park, or Pascal Dupuis will center the top line.
 
"It's going to be a different story, or difficult, if Staal and Malkin don't play and Joe Vitale or Pascal Dupuis is our No. 1 center," Bylsma said.
 
Park is out for a month to six weeks with a broken foot.
 
Dupuis had never played center before filling in there against the Islanders.
 
"There have been some challenges there," Bylsma said. "Now Pascal Dupuis going to be part of the Big 3 (the Penguins' centers). We'll probably keep him with (Matt) Cooke and (Tyler) Kennedy to add some stability there, some defensive play. Then we'll see how the rest of it plays out come game time with our matchups."
 
Bylsma had no report on Crosby, who will miss his third consecutive game after developing headaches following a 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Dec. 5. Crosby said Monday he has been bothered by recurring symptoms -- mostly, headaches -- since last week.
 
After missing 61 games dating to last season, including the entire second half in 2010-11, Crosby returned to accumulate 2 goals and 10 assists in eight games before the concussion symptoms re-emerged.
 
"I don't have any update or anything on Sidney," Bylsma said.
 
With so much uncertainty, the Penguins (17-9-4) recalled forward Jason Williams from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) for the second time in a week.
 
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek (concussion), who hasn't played since Nov. 26, returned to practice Monday but will not play against Detroit.
 
Here's what the Pens' lines could look like against the Red Wings (18-9-1), who beat them in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final before losing in a rematch a year later:
 
PENGUINS
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Pascal Dupuis - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Steve MacIntyre - Craig Adams - Jason Williams
 
Paul Martin - Brooks Orpik
Deryk Engelland - Matt Niskanen
Simon Despres - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury, whose spectacular play in net sealed the Penguins’ 2-1 victory in Game 7 in Detroit, will be the goaltender. Brent Johnson serves as backup.
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 3:13 PM

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

Flexibility keeps Julien going strong

PITTSBURGH -- As the saying goes, change is inevitable. To Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, change is a necessity.
 
The Stanley Cup-winning coach said the NHL's ever-shifting game demands coaches adjust with the times, and sometimes quickly. Just as coaches expect players to improve with age and experience, Julien said coaches should expect the same of themselves.
 
To Julien, it's change or else.
 
"I don't think I'd be around, to be honest with you, if I coached the same way I did in Montreal (from 2003-06)," Julien said before the Bruins took on Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh on Monday. "The game has changed. There's been a lockout (in 2004-05), the red line was taken out, the (goalie) trapezoid (was adopted) -- all kinds of things have been added to this game."
 
Some of them are being added by the day; it's not unusual for an opponent to make noticeable changes from one meeting to the next.
 
"Even how you attack today and how teams are defending in their end (are changing)," Julien said. "There's the overload now to one side. Every year, I think you have to adapt and make some changes and tweaks here and there. You expect your players to continue to improve as they get experience and they move along, and the same has to be said about coaches. You just can't sit there and say, 'I'm going to coach the same way I did 10 years ago," because you’re not going to survive."
 
The Penguins are an example.
 
Last season, for all of their offensive talent, the Penguins' power play ranked 25th in the League. After being altered greatly -- rather than remaining in stationary positions, the attackers now rotate spots during a shift -- the Penguins' power play has climbed to 12th this season. And that's without star center Sidney Crosby playing during the first two months of the season.
 
To Julien, keeping up with the times -- and the rest of the League -- demands flexibility and adaptability, plus strong leadership from coaches and players alike.
 
"In coaching, you're as good as the people who surround you," said Julien, who previously coached Montreal and New Jersey. "Coaches who want to take credit by themselves are fools. I think players are the same way. Zdeno (Chara, Boston captain) is going to say the same thing; he really respects the people around him and who help him with that leadership."
 
Julien added, "There's no doubt he is a strong leader, but you certainly need support in today's game, whether it's the schedule or the travel, all the internal stuff that goes on. A lot more than ever before. It's important to have a solid core group."
 
The Bruins, at least offensively, would appear to be one of the NHL's most-changed teams. Only two seasons after ranking 30th in scoring at 2.39 goals per game, the Bruins went into Monday's games ranked second at 3.42, trailing only Philadelphia (3.52). They were fifth last season.
 
However, Julien insists he did not overhaul the Bruins' offensive system or demand a dramatic change in style from his players.
 
"I don’t know that we ever felt -- and although the fans might (disagree) -- that we were a team that wanted to sit back. We wanted to play solid defensively so we could get the puck back quicker," Julien said. "Offensively we may not have always had that same depth we have right now … some of the players who we have around now were young players, and they've grown their roles and that has allowed the team to be better offensively."
 
The Bruins also benefitted from the addition of rookie forward Tyler Seguin, who has a team-leading 12 goals. Still, despite their No. 2 ranking in scoring, only Seguin rankings the top 10 in the League in goals, assists or points -- he's tied for 10th in goals.
 
It’s the plus/minus ranking, however, where the Bruins stand out. The NHL's top five spots are filled by Bruins: Seguin (plus-20), Chara (plus-18), Chris Kelly (plus-16), Brad Marchand (plus-16) and Patrice Bergeron (plus-15).
 
Those numbers best explain how Boston is 13-0-1 in its last 14 games.
 
"We are better offensively, but not because we've changed a lot," Julien said. "Our personnel has grown, we've made a couple of tweaks here and there with trades. That has allowed us maybe to be better in finishing and scoring some goals."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 2:30 PM

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

Penguins' Letang diagnosed with concussion

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang has been diagnosed with a concussion that occurred during the Nov. 26 game in Montreal in which he also broke his nose but returned to score the game-winning goal in overtime.
 
The injuries occurred when Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty delivered a hard hit on Letang as the defenseman was winding up to take a shot during the third period. Letang did not see Pacioretty skating hard toward him.
 
Letang went to the dressing room and was examined by at least one doctor, but subsequently returned to score in overtime as Pittsburgh rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3. Pacioretty was not penalized at the time, but later received a three-game suspension because he made Letang’s head the principal point of contact.
 
Letang has not played since, and coach Dan Bylsma confirmed Monday that Letang and defenseman Zbynek Michalek have been diagnosed with concussions. Michalek also hasn't played since the Montreal game.
 
Bylsma defended the decision to allow Letang to return to the game, saying the team followed NHL protocol and had Letang fully checked medically away from the ice.
 
"Dr. (David) Mulder, I think he has the longest tenure in the League, he's well-respected, went and saw Kris and at that time," Bylsma said. "Kris didn’t have any issues other than they rearranged his nose. He was fine and ready to go back on the ice. Dr. Mulder went through the series of steps in that to clear him to go back on."
 
Bylsma emphasized the Penguins' training staff did not play a role in the decision.
 
Letang and Michalek now join team captain Sidney Crosby, Arron AshamEric Tangradi and Tyler Kennedy among the Penguins who have sustained concussions during the past two seasons.
 
Letang and Michalek will be out until they have passed their post-concussion tests and have been cleared by team doctors.
 
Despite missing five games this season, Letang remains among the NHL's defensemen scoring leaders with 3 goals and 16 assists in 22 games.
 
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 1:32 PM

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

Incident leads Jordan Staal to consider visor use

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal may have seen the light when it comes to wearing a protective visor.

Staal normally doesn't wear a visor, but he had one during the morning skate in advance of the Penguins' game against the Boston Bruins on Monday night. And the change may not be temporary.

Staal received an estimated seven to eight stitches under his left eye -- and a major scare -- when an attempted pass by Carolina's Tomas Kaberle deflected off Staal's stick, causing the puck to strike him flush in the face Saturday night. Staal, who was bleeding, left the ice following the third-period mishap and did not return to a game the Penguins held on to win 3-2.

Staal acknowledged the injury could have been much worse. He was fortunate that he saw what was happening and was aware the puck was traveling at a high rate of speed toward his eye.

"I was worried about getting (my eye) closed," Staal said. "Right away, I knew it was close. It's never a fun thing when it happens. It was unfortunate. I'm glad nothing worse came of it."

Staal planned to wear the visor Monday night and is weighing whether to keep one on his helmet fulltime.

"A lot of guys wear them. It's not a huge issue," Staal said. "I've just been used to having without, but maybe I'll get used to having one."
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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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Posted On Monday, 11.21.2011 / 12:02 PM

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

Projected lineup for Penguins in Sid's return

Yes, that is Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins' starting lineup against the New York Islanders. It's the comeback that Crosby, the Penguins and the NHL have awaited since January, when Crosby sustained a concussion that ultimately sidelined him for more than 10 months.
 
This will be only the third game in the last two seasons in which all three of the Penguins' top centers -- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- will play in the same game. Staal missed the first half of last season with a foot injury and broken hand.
 
But Crosby isn't the only Penguins player to return following an injury layoff. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who hasn't played since Oct. 22 because of a broken finger in his right hand, also returns and will be paired with usual partner Paul Martin.
 
The Penguins' lineup, one they have been waiting to put on the ice since the season began:
 
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Craig Adams - Richard Park - Arron Asham
 
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland
 
Marc-Andre Fleury is back in goal after Brent Johnson played during a 3-2 loss at Florida on Saturday night. Fleury is 7-0-1 at Consol Energy Center this season.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:30 PM

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

Sacco impressed by Pens' play without Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Colorado Avalanche are taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time in nine months, but two key factors haven't changed going into the interconference matchup.
 
Sidney Crosby isn't playing, yet the Penguins remain a very difficult opponent even without their world-class center.
 
Since Crosby sustained a concussion during the first week of January, the Penguins are 33-17-8. They have gotten at least one point in 41 of 58 games, even while being without the player who was easily leading the NHL in scoring at this time last season.
 
Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said the Penguins are capable of being just as impressive, from a team concept standpoint, as they are when the former Hart Memorial Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner is in the lineup.
 
"This team rolls along, they don't miss a beat, and they've done that for a year and a half now with the injuries they've had," Sacco said. "They've figured things out, how to get by without some of their top players. He's not the only guy missing, but certainly he's the key."
 
Since the 2010-11 season began, the Penguins have played only two games with all three of their top centers – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- yet they are 59-29-11 during that span. Staal missed the first half of 2010-11 with a foot injury and broken hand.
 
Pittsburgh also was without Malkin (right knee) for half of last season and seven games of this season.
 
The key to Pittsburgh's success without its stars, according to forward Matt Cooke, is a determination to play with the same intensity, preparation and commitment to a system that has worked no matter who is in the lineup.
 
"If we play out our game plan, we're going to have success -- regardless of what the other team does," Cooke said.
 
Defenseman Alexandre Picard, who played for Montreal last season, is impressed with how the same system used in Pittsburgh is implemented at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL).
 
Penguins general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma require that organization-wide uniformity so that a player such as Picard can be exposed in the minors to the same power-play unit, penalty-killing unit and offensive and defensive systems they will play in Pittsburgh.
 
"Even down there, it's the same thing, it's the mentality of the organization," Picard said. "It doesn't matter who you are or how many minutes you play, the coaching staff expects something out of you. Whether you're Sidney Crosby or Joe Vitale, they expect the same thing."
 
That doesn't mean that Picard isn't eager for Crosby to rejoin the Penguins -- and perhaps soon. Picard opposed the Penguins and Crosby while with Montreal, Philadelphia and Ottawa, so he can't wait to have him on his own team.
 
Like his other teammates, Picard sees daily in practice how Crosby appears to have recaptured all of his offensive skills despite being out more than 10 months with a concussion. The earliest that Crosby could play is Thursday at Tampa Bay.
 
"He's the best player in the world, so obviously when he comes back it's going to be a huge boost," Picard said. "But you still want guys to play the same way that we're playing now, and not hold back anything just because he’s back."
 
While Crosby won't play -- just as he didn't during the Penguins' 3-2 overtime victory at Colorado on Feb. 16 -- the Avalanche-Penguins matchup features the NHL's top power-play unit against its best penalty-killing unit.
 
Colorado's power play is converting at a 27.1 percent success rate (17 of 55), while the Penguins have permitted only 3 power-play goals in 50 attempts, a 94-percent kill rate.
 
"They have a simplistic approach," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of the Avalanche's power play. "They get the puck to the net. They get the shot up top. Then they have skilled players with a unit anchored by (captain Milan) Hejduk."
 
Bylsma also said, "They have skill, movement, they hunt pucks down, (they) have a big shot from the point. They've had success in a lot of different ways. They haven't gotten it one way. It's not a one-dimensional power play. They are relentless."
 
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 1:31 PM

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

Hejduk debuts as Avalanche captain

PITTSBURGH -- The Colorado Avalanche's jerseys had a slightly different look for their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. One of them now features a 'C' on the front.
 
Milan Hejduk officially made his debut as Colorado's captain today after coach Joe Sacco waited until nearly one-quarter of the way through the season to make his choice.
 
"He's won a Stanley Cup, he knows how to win and what it takes," Sacco said. "I didn't have a certain date in mind; it was just when we felt it was the right time."
 
As it turned out, that time was the start of a two-game road trip, to Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
 
Sacco may have required some time to reveal his selection, but to him, it was an obvious one. Hejduk, who has 364 goals and 769 points in 927 NHL games -- all with the Avs -- was chosen 10 years after helping Colorado last win the Stanley Cup.
 
"He's a leader by example," Sacco said. "He's not going to be the most vocal guy, he's not going to be yelling and screaming -- that's not his identity as a person. But he does lead by example on and off the ice by the way he conducts himself, the way he handles himself, his preparation for both practices and games."
 
Sacco added, "He's been an Avalanche now for his 13th year. He's what we want our younger players to be."
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 1:07 PM

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

Potential lineups for Pens, Avs

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Tyler Kennedy (concussion) and Steve Sullivan (lower-body injury) took part in the morning skate and will be game-time decisions tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2) against Colorado, but it appears as if both will play.
 
Kennedy has been out with a concussion since Oct. 15, while Sullivan sustained an undisclosed injury during a 5-3 loss at Carolina on Saturday.
 
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, as usual, took part in the morning skate but will not play after being ruled out Monday. The earliest he could play would be Thursday at Tampa Bay. Crosby hasn’t played since Jan. 5 against the Lightning.
 
Avalanche forward Brandon Yip (broken right arm) took part in the morning skate and got in some extra work afterward, but coach Joe Sacco said he won’t play in the first meeting between the teams since Pittsburgh's 3-2 overtime win Feb. 16, 2011, at the Pepsi Center. Kennedy scored the game-winning goal on a power play with 50 seconds remaining.
 
Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis left the morning skate after about 10 minutes with a cut on his face that required stitches, but will be in the lineup.
 
The expected lineups at Consol Energy Center:
 
AVALANCHE
Joakim Lindstrom - Paul Stastny - Milan Hejduk
TJ Galiardi - Matt Duchene - David Jones
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Daniel Winnik
Cody McLeod - Kevin Porter/Jay McClement - Chuck Kobasew
 
Kyle Quincey - Shane O'Brien
Ryan Wilson - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
 
Semyon Varlamov, 2-0 in his career with a 2.00 goals-against average against Pittsburgh during the regular season, is expected to be in goal, with Jean-Sebastien Giguere as his backup.
 
PENGUINS
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Alexandre Picard
 
Marc-Andre Fleury (9-2-1) will be back in goal after backup Brent Johnson played against Carolina. Fleury enters tonight's games second in the League in wins (nine), sixth in goals-against average (1.87) and ninth in save percentage (.932).

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.

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Posted On Friday, 11.11.2011 / 4:07 PM

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

Tangradi earned way back to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- Even with Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy sitting out with concussions and Evgeni Malkin missing seven games with knee soreness, the Pittsburgh Penguins didn't recall top forward prospect Eric Tangradi.
 
Tangradi didn't take it as a slight, however, just as he didn't when he was one of the first players cut during training camp. He didn't speak out. He just kept producing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL), with 7 goals and 5 assists in 12 games.
 
That steady production led the Penguins to call up Tangradi for their game Friday against the Stars, even though they could have recalled Dustin Jeffrey or Steve MacIntyre, who are in Wilkes-Barre on conditioning assignments.
 
"I don't think I need to do anything different," said Tangradi, who has 1 goal and 2 assists in 16 NHL games the last two seasons. "I'm here for a reason. I'm here to play my game and not worry about anything else. Not be too nervous, not do more than I'm capable of doing and just play my game."
 
Coach Dan Bylsma said Tangradi is up for a reason.
 
"Eric's game has really come on strong the last eight games or so with Wilkes-Barre," Bylsma said. "He's playing strong down low. He's protecting the puck. He's been a physical presence. He's really improved his puck management in the neutral zone. That's something that he's been inconsistent on in the past. We're looking for him to continue that and be a force in the offensive zone, hold on to the puck, get to the net."
 
And show why he is Pittsburgh's top prospect.

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Posted On Friday, 11.11.2011 / 1:08 PM

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

Penguins to honor military heroes

PITTSBURGH -- A dozen wounded military veterans attended the Penguins' game-day skate, part of the team's Veterans Day tribute.
 
The veterans, seated near the glass during the skate, were greeted by Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, who signed autographs for a group representing the Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Troop Appreciation and the Veterans Affairs department.
 
The veterans also were given a tour of the Penguins' dressing room, with numerous players coming up to shake hands and pose for pictures. Select members were given personalized Penguins jerseys.
 
During the pre-game skate before the Stars-Penguins game, the Pittsburgh players will wear special camouflage jerseys that they later will sign. The jerseys then will be auctioned on NHL.com, with proceeds benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Troop Appreciation.
 
ROTC members will be stationed at all entry gates at Consol Energy Center, and selected military members will sit in suites purchased by Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. All fans will be given an American Flag Foundation wristband. Military veterans also will participate in Zamboni rides during the game.

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Posted On Friday, 11.11.2011 / 12:31 PM

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

Likely lineup for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Here's the Pittsburgh Penguins' likely line combinations for tonight's game against the Dallas Stars (7 p.m., NHLN-US), a matchup of the teams currently leading the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively.

The Penguins are playing their first game since a 3-2 shootout win at Los Angeles on Saturday.
 
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Arron Asham
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
 
Coach Dan Bylsma rotated his six healthy defensemen -- Paul Martin, Deryk Engelland, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Alexandre Picard and Matt Niskanen -- during the morning skate. Bylsma has been using different pairings since Zbynek Michalek (broken finger) and Ben Lovejoy (broken wrist) have been hurt, and was forced to improvise Saturday when Niskanen didn't play against the Kings because of a lower-body injury.

Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal, with Brent Johnson the backup.
 
Tyler Kennedy (concussion) skated mostly by himself during the morning practice and will not play. He has been out since Oct. 15. Sidney Crosby (concussion) also took part in the game-day skate, as he has been doing all season, even though he has yet to play in a game. On Thursday, Crosby was ruled out of the Penguins' games this weekend, against the Stars and at Carolina on Saturday.

We'll have more on the Stars' lineup after their skate.

For more on today's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 4:23 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Pens hope All-Star Game follows draft to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- The Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and 2009, the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic, now the 2012 Draft. Obviously, Pittsburgh has been a busy port of call for the NHL over the past few seasons.
 
According to Penguins CEO David Morehouse, not quite busy enough.
 
Now that the much-praised Consol Energy Center is their home, the Penguins are making a major push to also play host to the NHL All-Star Game. The All-Star game was last played in Pittsburgh in 1990, when Mario Lemieux scored four goals in his one and only all-star appearance on home ice. A season later, he would lead the Penguins to the first of two successive Stanley Cups.
 
That 1990 All-Star Game was notable for being the first to stage a Heroes of Hockey Game and an All-Star skills competition.
 
Morehouse promised the Penguins will remain aggressive in pursuing the All-Star Game, which will be played this season on Jan. 29 in Ottawa.
 
"I know we're going to ask an awful lot," Morehouse said. "We're going to see if we can wear them down. In a few years, I think it's a great place to host an All-Star game. It's one of the premier facilities, if not the premier facility, in the NHL. And Pittsburgh has proven itself a great hockey town -- we continue to lead U.S. teams in television ratings and merchandise sales and almost every other category. We're very excited about the growth of hockey in Pittsburgh, and how it continues to grow."
 
The Penguins will play before their 216th consecutive sellout crowd Thursday night when they meet the Islanders, a streak that began when they played in the Civic Arena. The 18,387-seat Consol Energy Center opened last season.
 
At least one more major hockey event will be played in Pittsburgh in the near future -- the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four. Morehouse also wants to bring the world junior championships to Consol, but has been told there is a waiting list for that popular, holiday-time tournament.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 2:39 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

J. Staal has fond draft memories

PITTSBURGH—Jordan Staal said Pittsburgh is in for a treat.
 
Staal, one of the NHL's best two-way centers, said being drafted No. 2 by the Penguins in Vancouver in 2006 remains one of the biggest thrills of his life. He has watched other drafts since then, and he said it's always entertaining to watch a young player learn where he is going to begin his professional career.
 
"The draft was pretty cool for me," Staal said. "It's your first step into your new dream and it's a pretty fun experience that I'm sure a lot of players will never forget. I'm excited that it’s going to be in Pittsburgh, and I'm sure it’s going to be a lot of fun."
 
When the Entry Draft was last held in Pittsburgh in 1997 -- at the now-closed Civic Arena -- Joe Thornton was the No. 1 pick by Boston, followed by forward  Patrick Marleau, San Jose; forward Olli Jokinen, Los Angeles; goalie Roberto Luongo, the New York Islanders; and defenseman Eric Brewer, the Islanders. Other first-round picks included Sergei Samsonov, Marian Hossa and Brenden Morrow.
 
Thornton became only the second 17-year-old to be selected No. 1, joining Pierre Turgeon. Luongo was the first goaltender drafted as high as No. 4 since the draft began in 1969.
 
The Penguins' top pick, forward Robert Dome at No. 17, turned out to be one of their less-successful first-rounders. Dome, who wore his hair long to mimic then-Penguins star Jaromir Jagr, had 7 goals and 7 assists in 53 career NHL games, all but one with Pittsburgh.
 
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Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 12:50 PM

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

Upcoming lull in schedule should help get Sid ready

PITTSBURGH -- Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins will catch a break next week.
 
A schedule break, and a long-awaited one at that. One that might accelerate star Sidney Crosby's return to the lineup.
 
The Penguins are beginning their season by playing 13 games in 24 days, a hectic pace that concludes with games Thursday against the Islanders and Saturday at Toronto. By contrast, they play only 12 games in 31 days in January, partly because of the All-Star break.
 
So many games in so few days this month -- only once have the Penguins had even a two-day break between games -- hasn't allowed for much practice time. Or time that is needed for Crosby to be introduced to more contact, which he needs before he can be cleared for game action.
 
Crosby, who is healing from a concussion, has taken part mostly in game-day skates, during which contact is minimal at best.
 
Next week, though, the Penguins will enjoy a four-day break before they play at San Jose next Thursday and Los Angeles on Nov. 5. After that, they have five days off before a Nov. 11 home game against Dallas.
 
Those days, coach Dan Bylsma said, will permit more detail work during practices than the Penguins can experience while playing so often.
 
"I think you'll see some days for the whole team to rest, but that time will also allow us to have some type of practices that are different than even what we go through (on a normal practice day)," Bylsma said. "That'll be balanced with some rest days as well. But I think our team -- not just Sidney -- knows we need some work and some work days."
 
Bylsma said the Penguins, despite their strong start, need some "work-day practices where we're getting pace and tempo and some battle into our game in different areas. Those are areas that we all know we need. Not just guys who are returning from injuries, or Sidney."
 
Crosby was cleared Oct. 13 for contact during practice, but has yet to experience anything other than bumping or shoving -- and nothing approximating what occurs during a game.
 
Crosby didn't get much time on the ice during Thursday but took full advantage of it, flying down the ice with excellent acceleration while shooting with precision and authority. At times he was a white-and-purple blur, reflecting the specially-designed jerseys the Penguins wore during the morning skate and will don again for the pre-game warm-ups. The jerseys will be auctioned on NHL.com starting Nov. 1 as part of the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative.
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 2:22 PM

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

New Jersey's Josefson out 3-4 months

PITTSBURGH – New Jersey Devils center Jacob Josefson could be sidelined for three-to-four months after undergoing surgery to repair a broken right clavicle that occurred in the first period of a 4-3 shootout loss to San Jose on Friday.
 
Josefson lost his footing as he carried the puck toward the net and, with both Jamie McGinn and Dan Boyle reaching for the puck with their sticks, crashed hard into the end boards. Josefson skated off the ice without assistance but immediately went to the Devils' dressing room.
 
“I watched the replay and you could tell the way his body was when he went in, he was going to get hurt," linemate Nick Palmieri said Saturday. “It's unfortunate, but he was trying to make a play and he did – he made a nice play. But skating fast, just the little bump was enough to knock him off balance and it's tough to recover. It's scary to see."
 
Josefson also was hurt against the Sharks last season, missing two months after tearing a ligament in his right thumb.
 
To replace Josefson, the Devils called up forward Adam Henrique from Albany of the American Hockey League. Henrique didn't have a point in the first two games of the season with the Devils earlier this season and had an assist in three games with Albany.
 
“He's a very capable center and I think we're pretty comfortable with him in the lineup," Palmieri said following an optional morning skate. “We're going to miss [Josefson] on our line, but I think Adam can step in and do the job."
 
The Devils already were without center Travis Zajac, who had surgery Aug. 18 to repair a torn Achilles' tendon.
 
Pittsburgh will be without center Evgeni Malkin (right knee soreness) for the fifth consecutive game and the seventh time in 10 games. He was ruled out by coach Dan Bylsma after taking part in the morning skate.
 
The likely lineups:
 
DEVILS


Zach ParisePatrik Elias – Petr Sykora
Ilya KovalchukDainius Zubrus - Nick Palmieri
Mattias TedenbyAdam HenriqueDavid Clarkson
Eric BoultonRod PelleyBrad Mills
 
Andy GreeneAdam Larsson
Bryce SalvadorAnton Volchenkov
Henrik TallinderMark Fayne
 
With Martin Brodeur still out with an injured shoulder, former Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg will be in net. Keith Kinkaid will be the backup.
 
PENGUINS

Chris KunitzJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Steve SullivanRichard ParkJames Neal
Matt CookeJoe VitaleArron Asham
Steve MacIntyreDustin JeffreyCraig Adams
 
Coach Dan Bylsma rotated his seven defensemen during the morning skate, now that Kris Letang has returned from his two-game suspension for a boarding violation. Bylsma said the pairings would be a game-time decision.

Paul MartinZbynek Michalek
Brooks OrpikKris Letang
Matt Niskanen or Ben LovejoyDeryk Engelland
 
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will start after losing a shutout in the final two minutes of a 3-1 decision over Montreal on Thursday. Brent Johnson will back him up.
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Posted On Saturday, 10.22.2011 / 12:01 PM

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

Still no Malkin for Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Star center Evgeni Malkin will miss a fifth consecutive game Saturday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on division rival New Jersey at Consol Energy Center.
 
Malkin, bothered by soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, went through a full practice Friday -- creating optimism he might be ready to return. But after Malkin went through the morning skate -- during which he and Sidney Crosby manned the points on the power point during one drill -- coach Dan Bylsma ruled him out.
 
Malkin hasn't played since getting two assists during Pittsburgh's 3-2 overtime loss to Washington on Oct. 13. He has a goal and 3 assists in three games but, if he sits out the Devils' game, will have missed seven of Pittsburgh's first 10 games.
 
Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy (concussion) will be out for a fourth consecutive game. He must be symptom-free before he can return, and Bylsma has not speculated when that might be.
 
The Penguins, the NHL's most active team this season, are 5-2-2 and have earned at least a point in all but two of nine games. They will be playing their fourth game in six nights. New Jersey is 3-1-1 following a 4-3 shootout loss Friday to San Jose, which scored the tying goal in the final minute of regulation.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.20.2011 / 6:13 PM

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

Students get surprise delivery from Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- Hundreds of college and high school students who waited in line for up to seven hours for discount tickets to the Canadiens-Penguins game on a blustery, chilly day got a surprise: free hot drinks and pizza, courtesy of the Penguins.

Even better was who delivered the goodies: general manager Ray Shero, coach Dan Bylsma and five players.

On a late October day that had a wintry feel to it, Shero and Bylsma handed out cups of hot chocolate at mid-afternoon as the students waited patiently outside Consol Energy Center. A couple of hours later, players Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Arron Asham and Deryk Engelland played pizza man and doled out slices of hot pizza.

A hockey game and dinner, all for $25. Not a bad deal.

While the Penguins have 9,000 fans on their season ticket waiting list, they set aside several hundred tickets for each game at sold-out Consol for the Student Rush program. The number of student tickets available was bumped up to 500 for the Canadiens, one of five such games this season in which the extra seats will be sold.

The Penguins make the pizza giveaway an annual event, but do not publicize in advance which game will be selected.

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Posted On Thursday, 10.20.2011 / 2:30 PM

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

Crosby happy with Shanahan's consistency

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins star Sidney Crosby, still idled by a concussion, is pleased with the consistency of new NHL Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan's disciplinary rulings.
 
Crosby, out since sustaining a concussion in early January, and the Penguins are lobbying for the elimination of dangerous hits to the head. With the season less than a month old, Crosby believes Shanahan's rulings are helping make the game safer, yet are preserving most of the fan-pleasing hitting.
 
"I think it's been good," Crosby said. "He's looked at each situation individually. I think everything has been pretty well thought out, and the same message has been continued throughout and been consistent. And that's important. We still see some pretty big hits out there."
 
The Penguins didn't protest when star defenseman Kris Letang drew a two-game suspension for driving Jets forward Alex Burmistrov into the boards Monday in Winnipeg -- even though it further depleted an injury-weakened lineup. Letang will serve the second game of that suspension tonight when the Penguins play Montreal.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.20.2011 / 1:09 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canadiens, Penguins

Here's what the lineups could look like when the Montreal Canadiens meet the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in Pittsburgh.
 
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin didn't reveal his lines after the morning skate and has been juggling them regularly. But with LW Mike Cammalleri unexpectedly set to return despite having a cut on his leg, he seems certain to go onto the top line centered by Tomas Plekanec. Cammalleri had been expected to miss a few more games.
 
Cammalleri, who sat out three games, had 3 goals and 1 assist in three games against Pittsburgh last season. In 2010, he had 7 goals as the Canadiens upset the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
 
The Penguins will be without C Evgeni Malkin (right knee) for a fourth consecutive game, and F Tyler Kennedy (concussion) will miss his third in a row. D Brooks Orpik (sports hernia) will play for the first time this season despite getting minimal practice time during training camp and missing all of the preseason and the Penguins' first eight games.
 
Penguins F James Neal, who has 6 goals in eight games, did not take part in the morning skate, but coach Dan Bylsma expects him to play. Bylsma said Neal was given the morning off.
 
CANADIENS
Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Travis Moen - Andreas Engqvist - Lars Eller
 
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber
 
Carey Price starts in goal.
 
PENGUINS
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - James Neal
Steve MacIntyre - Mark Letestu - Craig Adams
 
Zbynek Michalek - Paul Martin
Deryk Engelland - Brooks Orpik
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy
 
Marc-Andre Fleury returns in goal after backup Brent Johnson made 24 saves in a 4-2 victory at Minnesota on Tuesday.
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Posted On Saturday, 10.15.2011 / 2:14 PM

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

Now settled, Pittsburgh's Neal scoring again

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal won't wonder again why some players - even those with a history of producing - struggle after being dealt to a contending team at the trading deadline.

Last season, he was one of those players.

With the injured Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup and the Penguins' scoring average down a goal per game from when their stars were playing, they acquired Neal and his reliable scoring Feb. 21 from the Dallas Stars.

Only that scoring touch disappeared when he left the Stars to join a team loaded with injured stars. Pressing to produce for a team that was winning even without Crosby and Malkin, Neal was held to a single goal in 20 regular-season games. He also had only one in Pittsburgh's seven-game Eastern Conference playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

An unfamiliarity with a new city, new teammates and a new system, and perhaps some loneliness associated with his family being back home in Dallas, admittedly affected Neal's game.

"I underestimated it," Neal said Saturday before the Penguins played the Buffalo Sabres at Consol Energy Center. "I keep saying you get one phone call in your life that turns your life upside down within seconds. You're on a plane and in a whole city, with new teammates, and it's a huge change."

No wonder Neal welcomed a new start this season.

"I came in fresh, a better mindset and everything was easier with the living situation," said Neal, who relocated to Pittsburgh during the offseason. "It was just a lot more of a comfortable feeling coming to the rink. Now, knowing all of your teammates and really being a part of the Penguins is definitely better."

The stats sheet agrees with him. Playing mostly on a line with Malkin and Steve Sullivan, Neal had four goals and an assist in Pittsburgh's first five games, including two goals during a 3-2 overtime loss Thursday to the Washington Capitals.

"When Geno, Sully and Neal are on the ice together, they enjoy every single shift and they create so many chances and plays," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "It can be a dangerous line definitely."

Malkin won't play against the Sabres because of right knee soreness - he will be missing his third game in the Penguins' last four - but Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said playing the Penguins without their stars is no treat. The Sabres lost to Pittsburgh twice last season after Crosby sustained a concussion the first week of January.

"They're very dangerous. They're a hard-working, competitive team and they're getting goal scoring from different areas that makes them dangerous," Ruff said. "In our case, we know we've got to take care of our part. We know what to bring and we've got to be ready to outplay them."

The Sabres are looking to bounce back after losing their home opener to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 on Friday night after permitting two shorthanded goals. They began the season with a pair of victories in the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere in Europe, beating the Los Angeles Kings in Berlin and the Anaheim Ducks in Helsinki.

"I thought we played a really good two games overseas, but we got away from our game (against Carolina). I think we got caught up a little bit in the hype of home ice, the home opener," Ruff said. "We've talked about that and now it's get back to work and play our game."

Neal is expected to move onto the Crosby line once the Penguins' captain returns; Crosby skated on a line with Neal and Sullivan during the morning skate but still has not been cleared medically to play in games.

"Obviously it would be great  to play with Sid, but the way we're playing with Geno, who knows what will happen?" Neal said. "As long as the team is doing well and I'm contributing, things are going great."
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Posted On Saturday, 10.15.2011 / 12:59 PM

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

Projected lineups for Penguins and Sabres

PITTSBURGH -- Jhonas Enroth will make his first start in goal for Buffalo, one night after the Sabres gave up two shorthanded goals in a 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in their home opener. Enroth was 9-2-2 last season while being recalled from Portland (AHL) five times. He was the first NHL goalie to gain each of his first three wins in a shootout.

"In back to back situations, we're definitely going to use him," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He had a great preseason for us. I don't have any hesitation putting him in. We've got faith he can play well for us. I think it's important for us – we're in a busy part of our schedule and we're looking for him to step in for us."

Enroth stopped 28 of 29 shots during a 1-0 loss to the Penguins on Nov. 24, 2010.

SABRES

Thomas Vanek - Luke Adam - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
Nathan Gerbe - Ville Leino - Brad Boyes
Cody McCormick - Paul Gaustad - Patrick Kaleta

Robyn Regehr - Tyler Myers
Jordan Leopold - Christian Ehrhoff
Andrej Sekera - Marc-Andre Gragnani

Enroth will start in goal, with Ryan Miller as the backup

PENGUINS

Steve Sullivan - Sidney Crosby* - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Pascal Dupuis
Arron Asham - Richard Park - Craig Adams

Kris Letang - Deryk Engelland
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy

Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net after missing Thursday's game against the Capitals with flu-like symptoms. Brent Johnson will be the backup.

*Crosby is practicing with the top line, but remains out indefinitely as he recovers from a concussion. Coach Dan Bylsma did not say who would move onto that line. The only other healthy center on the roster, Mark Letestu, was scratched against Washington. Center Evgeni Malkin won't play due to right knee soreness.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.13.2011 / 4:24 PM

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

Who's playing where for the Caps tonight?

Here is what the Washington Capitals' lineup likely will look like when they play the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). We had the Penguins lines earlier.

Alexander Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Alexander Semin - Marcus Johansson - Mike Knuble
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Jay Beagle
 
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

With the injury to Michal Neuvirth, Tomas Vokoun will get the start in goal. Braden Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey to serve as the backup.
 
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Posted On Thursday, 10.13.2011 / 1:43 PM

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

Sick Fleury to get night off; Vokoun in for Caps

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has an undisclosed illness, which means backup Brent Johnson is expected to start Thursday against Washington (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), his former club. Fleury would be the backup.

Johnson has started once during the Penguins' first four games, their 2-1 shootout loss in Edmonton on Sunday, in which Johnson stopped 34 of 35 shots. Johnson played for the Capitals from 2005-09.

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said Tomas Vokoun would make his second start in goal. Michal Neuvirth has an undisclosed injury and did not make the trip to Pittsburgh. Braden Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey and will be the backup.
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Posted On Thursday, 10.13.2011 / 1:40 PM

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

Sid, Geno availability leaves Pens' lines a question

The Penguins' line combinations during the morning skate weren't what they'll use in the game since captain Sidney Crosby -- cleared for full contact in practice for the first time this season -- centered a line with Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis.

Joe Vitale, who had 2 assists in a 4-2 win against Florida on Tuesday, is expected to remain on that line.

Evgeni Malkin centered Steve Sullivan and James Neal on another line. Malkin has missed the last two games with right knee soreness and is a game-time decision. If he can't go, Mark Letestu likely would move into this spot.

The other Penguins lines were:

Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Richard Park - Craig Adams.

The defensemen pairs were:
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Kris Letang - Deryk Engelland.
Ben Lovejoy - Matt Niskanen

Brent Johnson will start in goal in place of Marc-Andre Fleury, who is sick, but still will serve as the backup.

More coming soon on the goaltender situation for both teams tonight.


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Posted On Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 1:49 PM

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

One more opening night for Pens

For openers -- that is, NHL home openers -- this will be the Pittsburgh Penguins' fourth in as many games.
 
After playing the home openers for Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in a four-night span, the Penguins returned home from their Western Canada road trip to take on the Florida Panthers on Tuesday in their own home opener.
 
The Penguins are looking to do better than last year's home opener, when they opened the Consol Energy Center with a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
 
While there are ceremonies associated with each opening night, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said the only adjustment the players must make is to a little more idle time than usual in the dressing room and on the ice during the pregame introductions.
 
"It's a little longer to wait, so you kind of just stand there," Fleury said. "It's a little longer, but it's not a big deal. You try to move around in the room and stay loose."

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Posted On Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 12:38 PM

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

With Malkin out, Letestu remains on top line

With center Evgeni Malkin (lower body) out for the Penguins' home opener Tuesday night against Florida, Mark Letestu again moved into his spot on a line with Steve Sullivan at left wing and James Neal at right wing. That could very well be one of the Penguins' lines once Sidney Crosby returns from his concussion.
 
Crosby took part in the Penguins' morning skate, as he did during their three-game road trip to Western Canada, but again wore a white helmet signifying he cannot be hit. He said he is closer to being cleared for contact, but that he is not certain when he will get the go-ahead to take part in all aspects of practice.
 
The Penguins' other line combinations were: Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy; Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Pascal Dupuis; and Arron Asham - Richard Park - Craig Adams. The defensive pairs were Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek, Kris Letang - Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy - Matt Niskanen. Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal.

The Panthers, coming off a 2-0 victory over the Islanders on Saturday, are something of an unknown quantity to the Penguins given all of their roster changes since last season. Among the additions were Jose Theodore, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall and Kris Versteeg, plus coach Kevin Dineen.

"It's a lot of new players, a new coach, a new goalie, a lot of different things," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "The similarities, the things we know about them are from people from other teams. I coached against their coach in the minor leagues. Their goalie (Theodore) we've seen at different spots. (There's a) familiarity with some of the players and the parts, but not necessarily the team."
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 2:26 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Super Saturday

Penguins Camp: Can Neal reach 30 goals?

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins forward James Neal doesn't have to convince coach Dan Bylsma he can be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Persuading the Penguins' fans might take a little while longer.

Neal, acquired from Dallas late last season to add a reliable scorer to the Sidney Crosby line, never got to play alongside Crosby because of the concussion that sidelined the Penguins' captain during the second half of the 2010-11 season. Neal, pressing to prove to Pittsburgh that he could be the scorer he was in Dallas, wound up with only one goal in 20 regular season games and another in the playoffs after producing 21 goals in 59 games with the Stars.

Regardless, teammate Jordan Staal said, "I think personally Neal is going to do some great things this year."

Some of those once-skeptical fans must feel the same way, as they gave Neal a warm ovation during the first day of training camp on Saturday.

Staal believes that going through an entire training camp and season with the Penguins will prove far less stressful to Neal than making a hasty switch in teams and conferences late in a season. Bylsma concurs.

"He scored more goals than Tyler Kennedy last year, and Tyler Kennedy had a breakout year," Bylsma said, referring to Kennedy's 21-goal season. "To our fans, the feeling isn't the same because we didn't see him score those goals in our jersey.  James Neal is a plus 20-goals scorer and we think he can get to 30."
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 2:08 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Super Saturday

Penguins Camp: Crosby happy with first day

PITTSBURGH -- If it wasn't for the white helmet he wore that signified no contact, Sidney Crosby offered no sign that he is recovering from a concussion.

Crosby skated at full speed, pushing himself longer and faster than he has at any time during his injury layoff, while staying on the ice for nearly 70 minutes during the Pittsburgh Penguins' first training camp practice on Saturday. He drew loud cheers from a large crowd at Consol Energy Center when he snapped off a wrist shot that hit the net with authority and when he did anything that was reminiscent of a healthy Crosby.

Considering this was only the first day of camp, there was a lot of that. Or exactly how Crosby planned it.

Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5, exerted himself at a 100 percent pace for the first time since he began working out in advance of this season -- and with no apparent ill effects. When Crosby recently pushed himself at a 90 percent pace, he had a relapse of the concussion-related symptoms that have prevented him from being cleared for full contact.

"That was a really good pace -- it was tough but fun to feel it again," Crosby said. "I worked as hard as I possibly could out there. For that period of time, that's the longest I've went at that pace. It felt good."

Unless the symptoms return -- and Crosby said they have largely vanished the last few weeks -- he plans to practice every day at this same pace until he is cleared for contact. The Penguins have no offered no hint when that might be.
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 12:35 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Super Saturday

Penguins Camp: Crosby going through drills

PITTSBURGH -- If Sidney Crosby didn't realize how much he was missed by Penguins' fans, he does now.

Crosby, whose popularity in Pittsburgh might be unrivaled by any other athlete, took the ice to a standing ovation during his first training camp practice Saturday. While players such as Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury also drew loud cheers when they first stepped onto the ice, the greeting given to Crosby was movie-star like. There were additional cheers when he merely skated up and down the ice and even more when he began passing the puck during routine drills.

Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 6 because of a concussion, stood out from the rest of his teammates for reasons other than his still-evident hockey skills. He is wearing a white helmet, rather than a black one like the rest of his teammates, to signify that he cannot be involved in contact. Crosby, whose recovery from the concussion remains ongoing, has been cleared to practice but still cannot take part in any scrimmaging or contact drills. He also wore the white helmet during an informal team workout Friday.

Crosby expects camp to be more intense and physically demanding than the practices were when he resumed working out with his teammates on March 31. He stopped practicing during the Penguins' first-round playoff loss to Tampa Bay when his concussion symptoms returned.
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 11:02 AM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Super Saturday

Penguins Camp: Positive start for Evgeni Malkin

PITTSBURGH -- If Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin is looking for a good omen to open his season, maybe this is it.

Malkin, admittedly not the most confident player in shootouts, beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a forehanded attempt on a penalty shot during the first period of a training camp-opening scrimmage Saturday at Consol Energy Center. Malkin has tried a variety of moves and strategies during his career in an attempt to find a reliable way to score on breakaways, and he was continuing to search when his 2010-11 season ended prematurely with a right knee injury on Feb. 4. He later had surgery to repair two torn ligaments.

In his career, Malkin is 7 of 29 (24.1 percent) in shootouts.

This is a pivotal season for Malkin, who is coming off not only a shortened season but a less-than-satisfying one in which he has 15 goals and 22 assists in 43 games only two years after leading the NHL with 113 points during the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning season in 2008-09. With Sidney Crosby's status for the start of the season uncertain as he recovers from a concussion, the Penguins are relying on Malkin to carry their offense until Crosby returns.

"I think he's a motivated guy right now," coach Dan Bylsma said.
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Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 10:28 AM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Super Saturday

Penguins Camp: Thousands at CEC for first practice

PITTSBURGH -- Saturday wasn't a day to sleep in for Pittsburgh Penguins fans.

The Penguins are offering free admission to their first two days of training camp, and thousands of fans filled much of Consol Energy Center's lower bowl for a 9 a.m. EDT session Saturday. Concession stands were open and parking was free at lots adjacent to the uptown arena, and a majority of the fans wore team jerseys or apparel.

The 52 players available for Saturday's practice were divided into three groups, with forwards Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz and James Neal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury among the first on the ice. Sidney Crosby, cleared to practice but not for contact as he recovers from a concussion, was in the third and final group that was scheduled to practice around noon.
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Quote of the Day

Obviously a lot happened in a short period of time. At the end of the day, considering everything I went through, I really felt close to my teammates and I really feel like what we accomplished, I know we didn't win it all. ... I'm really proud of how we got there and what we did once we got there.

— Rangers forward Martin St. Louis to Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com