Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens' morning skate ahead of hosting the Detroit Red Wings for their second-to-last regular-season game.
MALKIN, LETANG BOTH GAME-TIME
Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said that forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang will be game-time decisions for tonight's rematch with the Red Wings.
"You always get a boost when guys get back in the lineup, especially this time of year," captain Sidney Crosby said. "Games are so important, it'd be huge to get them back."
Malkin has missed the last eight games with a lower-body injury, while Letang has missed four games and 15 of the last 18 with an upper-body injury.
Today Malkin practiced with a regular-contact jersey for the second straight day. After skating in a no-contact jersey on Wednesday, Letang progressed to wearing a regular-contact jersey today. But since it was an optional morning skate, he's not getting ahead of himself.
"It was just another practice, it was low intensity," he said. "I have to talk with the doctors. I can't really base my decision on a morning skate."
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who missed Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury, did not skate today and remains day-to-day.
The Pens' magic number to make the playoffs entering Tuesday's game was two, which is where it remains after their 4-1 loss in Detroit that night.
There are a couple of additional clinching scenarios entering tonight (the Pens can also make it if they get one point AND Montreal loses to Washington in any fashion or Carolina loses to New Jersey in regulation; or if the Canadiens lose in regulation), but the simplest one remains to just get a win.
"The fact that we already played them I think is good for both teams as far as knowing what to expect," Crosby said. "We just got to go out there and find a way to get a win."
For Sullivan, it's important that his team stays in the moment and doesn't dwell on that missed opportunity in Detroit. He spoke with them after practice on Wednesday about how they needed to have a certain resilience and mental toughness, and to make sure that they respond to the emotional lows and highs that have and will continue to occur.
"We want to stay in the moment," Sullivan said. "We don't want to dwell on what's already happened. We want to learn from each experience. We have to be prepared to move by things, take what we can from it, try to improve, get better and be ready for the next challenge. We can't look ahead either. We have to take care of the task at hand. It's such an important aspect of what we do."
KEY TO VICTORY
The Pens are looking forward to their rematch with Detroit, where the biggest key will be doing a better job of handling their team speed.
It starts with Detroit's top line of Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, who were the biggest difference in the game. They combined to score all four of the Wings' goals, with Mantha and Bertuzzi each tallying twice and Larkin collecting three assists. In addition to them, Sullivan and many of his players singled out Andreas Athanasiou for his speed.
"They have a quick team, they have a speed team, they like to stretch the ice," Sullivan said. "They have a couple players that like to get behind defensemen, and they use their speed so they're good at it. Athanasiou is one that for me comes to mind. He's very good at getting behind defensemen. He tends to get a breakaway almost every game that I watch him play, whether it's against us or somebody else."
The Pens all agreed that it will be important for them to limit the Wings' opportunities off the rush.
"I think we did a good job in our own end as far as coverage," defenseman Marcus Pettersson said. "It's just off the rushes where we have some things to clean up. If we can do that, rushes are a big part of their system. We have to eliminate that and we'll be good."
It will also be important for them to get their own offense going and do a better job of executing on the chances they get.
"We can play better," forward Matt Cullen said. "We weren't terrible by any means. We looked at video and there's areas where we can improve, but bottom line on that one is that you understand that it wasn't our very best game and they beat us, but we have another chance here today to get where we want to be. For us right now that's the entire focus."