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Inside Scoop: Pens-Isles (Game 1)

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens' morning skate at NYCB Live prior to Round One Game 1 against the NY Islanders… 

* Defenseman Brian Dumoulin and forward Zach Aston-Reese, both recovering from lower-body injuries, will be game-time decisions tonight for Game 1. Dumoulin did not skate in the optional morning skate. 

Aston-Reese did take part. And being a Staten Island native, Aston-Reese is hoping he'll be able to play tonight. 

"I felt pretty good this morning," Aston-Reese said. "It's really exciting. It's nice to be close to home. It's always nice to have family around. 

"It would be a little more personal for me (to play tonight). Growing up I wasn't an Islanders fan, but I skated in their facilities and have been around them growing up and playing in those rinks. It is pretty special to me."

* Players that did not take part in the optional skate were Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz.

* This series will feature a showdown of frenemies of sorts. Pittsburgh's Bryan Rust and New York's Tom Kuhnhackl are close personal friends off the ice.  

The duo matured as hockey players together with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL. From there they were both part of a wave of call-ups late in the 2015-16 season. They then went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships together in '16 and '17. 

But Kuhnhackl signed with the Islanders in the 2018 offseason. Although they've played each other already, the stakes haven't been this high. 

"I talked to him a little bit. It's definitely going to be a little bit different playing against him and (former Notre Dame teammate) Anders Lee," Rust said. "Two guys I consider really close friends. Gonna have to turn that off for a couple weeks." 

Rust and Kuhnhackl were particularly close during their time together with the Pens organization. They built several rituals together. They were the first two players to begin the pre-game soccer sessions, and spent a lot of time together on the road. 

"That's part of the game. I've played with those guys for a long time in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh," Kuhnhackl said. "We've got great memories together. Knowing those guys is nice, but once the puck drops tonight there will be no friends out there." 

Once the puck does drop, perhaps communication will stop for the remainder of the series as the players stick with their tribes. Or, perhaps it will intensify. 

"Maybe a little bit. We'll see what happens on the ice," said Rust, who added with a smile that the trash talk may extend into their text conversations. 

There is no more needed incentive in the playoffs than to win a Stanley Cup. That being said, being able to one-up your BFF is an added bonus. 

"Anytime you play against a friend or somebody you know that gets the competitive juices going a little bit more," Rust said. " It gives you something more to play for, even though there isn't a whole lot more to play for than trying to win the Stanley Cup." 

* A lot has been made in this series about the Pens' offense going against the Islanders' stingy defense. But what about the other way around? After all, the Islanders are a strong group in the offensive zone and can really forecheck. 

That's something that the Pens' D corps will have to handle. 

"We're going to have to play solid in front of the net," said a freshly shaven Marcus Pettersson. "They're good bodies, they love going to the net. We have to make sure we get to them early. If you let them skate at you with speed they're tough to stop, so just come at them early."

* Head coaches Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz are now facing each other for the fourth consecutive postseason. There aren't many secrets left between the two bench bosses. And at this time of year, strategy and adjustments will only account for a sliver of the final result. 

For Sullivan, this series will come down to two things: "At the end of the day it boils down to effort and execution."

"There aren't a lot of secrets in today's game with technology and how diligent respective coaching staffs are," Sullivan added. "Part of our responsibility as coaches is to provide the necessary adjustments for all the different aspects of our overall team game to give our guys an opportunity to have success."

* The Pens knew they'd be facing the Islanders last Saturday night. And for the past five days they've prepared and talked a lot about this series. But now there is nothing left to say that's already been said. 

Let's just drop the puck already and go. 

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