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Penguins Report: 2/22/11

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Injury updates on Martin, Letestu, Jeffrey, Kunitz, etc. (1:21 PM).
  • Welcome to Pittsburgh Neal and Niskanen! (8:38 PM).
  • Neal and Niskanen couldn’t make it for team practice (12:25 PM).
  • Coach Bylsma on Martin’s absence and Neal’s linemates (2:35 PM).
  • Staal, Michalek, Dupuis and Cooke spit knowledge (2:07 PM).
  • Team signing day!!! (11:35 AM).
  • Kunitz, Jeffrey and Letestu work before practice (11:55 AM).
  • Kennedy and Sterling sit down with Steve Mears for IPH (2:12 PM).
  • Dupuis has some post-practice fun (2:09 PM).
  • Pens pics (12:35 PM).
  • “I bleached the sky every night…” (11:15 AM).

8:38 PM:
Welcome to Pittsburgh! After a re-route to Newark, NJ and a couple of flight delays, James Neal and Matt Niskanen arrived at CONSOL Energy Center. After the players met with Pens coaches, management and staff, they hit the ice ice for some late day work around 6 p.m.

Neal with Bylsma (left); Niskanen and Neal waiting for instruction (right)

Neal getting some puckhandling in (left); turning back up the ice while doing a drill with Bylsma (right)

Niskanen worked on D drills in the other end with assistant coach Todd Reirden

For even more photos from their twilight skate, check out the photo album on the Pens' official Facebook page.

2:35 PM:

Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On if Letestu is progressing quicker than anticipated
I don’t have the timeline in front of me. There have been a lot of people on this list. I think his timeline at one point in time was 3 to 6 weeks. Yes, he’s doing much better than the 6 weeks I think. Jeffrey to some degree as well, was not as severe as originally thought. They’re at the point right now where they’re cleared for practice and will go. It may take them some days to get back up to full speed, with contact and see how their injury reacts. I’m not giving a date where they might play, but they are going to be full practice with us (Wednesday).

On the growth of hockey in California:
I’m seeing the result of what I saw when I was play there, now. Seeing the players that are drafted and Brett (Sterling) coming out. There were extensive programs going on in our rinks and El Segundo where I played with the LA Kings. Now you’re seeing the result of some of that. I also think that in some of these cities where the NHL has been for a while, you see players staying there and coaching. You’re seeing results of NHL players being a part of the community and coaching these kids. You see it in Dallas, in St. Louis, in California a little bit. Right now in California you can get some pretty good NHL players being your coach. I think you’ve seen that in a number of cities.

On Martin, the hit and his absence:
Upper-body on Paul Martin. The hit I think was clearly a push to the back of Paul in a fairly dangerous spot. Luckily for Paul, if he had been a little closer to the boards it could have been worse. He was able to protect himself a little bit. I thought it was a dangerous hit. It was off to our left so I didn’t have a great picture of it in game. I was anticipating a penalty call on that. I didn’t get it. It’s not the only one that I disagreed with in the game.
Power play-wise, Matt Niskanen will be a guy that we use on the power play. Given the fact that Paul will be out (Wednesday), he’ll probably be on the first unit with Kris Letang. Some of the decision last game was the matchup coming after the power play. Washington has their No. 1 line come out after the penalty kill so we didn’t want to use Brooks Orpik back there on our second unit power play so that he could be in a matchup against that line. That was part of the reasoning on that. It’s not the most comfortable place for Brett (Sterling). He’s had some success in the middle on the power play. He’s more inclined to be a shooter where we saw him score in New York in that spot. We’re still looking at who we’ll put in that second unit.

On what qualities he’ll be looking for in linemates for Neal and who he anticipates playing with him:
Right now, I have him playing the left side with Jordan Staal for (Wednesday)’s game. I’ve got to ask him when he gets here, see if he’s okay with that. That’s a joke. He’s playing with Jordan Staal. Right now, that is tomorrow, the future, the near future and the foreseeable future. That’s probably going to be a situation where I like to see how (Neal) plays. He’s a big guy. He’s not a lot different that Chris Kunitz. Maybe more of a goal scorer, a heavier shot than Chris Kunitz, a bigger guy that Chris Kunitz and maybe more of an offensive-zone presence. (Neal) can be a real force down low. So with Jordan, right now I could see them being a real formidable pair in the offensive zone. They’re two guys that are real tough to handle, and Tyler Kennedy going along with them with his speed and work ethic and tenacity and his shot – I’d like to see that line do some damage (Wednesday).

On if a move before the deadline like this shows confidence that Shero still wants to make moves despite the injuries and if he still feels like there’s enough here to make a long postseason run:
I’m not waiting for signals for Ray on this regard. I have conversations every day with Ray and we continue to have them. I know we feel like we’re a good hockey team and we can win hockey games. Adding a player of this caliber, this power forward, gives us another person that we’ve been looking for to add to our group of guys to be able to do some damage with the way we want to play. James Neal didn’t happen overnight. He’s a guy that we’ve looked at and targeted and said 'This is the type of player that we had been looking for, for our top six as a winger.' I think he’s going to make us a better team going into (Wednesday) night’s game and give us a chance to get us what we need to get wins. It could have been the difference (Monday night) in the game in which we did a lot of good things but didn’t get a puck across the goal line. He’s a guy who would fit right into the way we played that game and be able to add. I think that’s our mentality, and I know we’re still looking at trying to make ourselves better and do some damage and win hockey games – right now and in April.

On if they will lean on Neal more now than they would under ideal circumstances:
I think right now, there is – I’ll use your words – leaning on the guys like Jordan Staal, now like James Neal – guys that have more points than the other players. Jordan Staal, while he’s playing a few more minutes and he’s playing more power play time, we’re not asking him to do more than he’s ever done for us in the past. We’re not asking him to stop playing like he played when Sid and Geno were here and now really emerge. He’s playing exactly like he played for us before. James Neal, we’re not going to ask him to do anything different than what his game is. That will add to our team. That adds a shot presence, something we can use on the power play, an offensive zone presence. But we’re not going to ask him to be Sidney Crosby. We don’t want to pay him like that either. (Laughs) We want him to be James Neal, a big power forward, heavy shot, hard working. He’s got to be real consistent in how he plays his power forward game, something he needs to do, I think, to get his game to the next level. He needs to bring a little more consistency and use that work ethic and that physicality on a nightly basis and be a factor for our team, and that will help us.

On if the team’s current record is a fair gauge of where they are without Crosby and others in the lineup:
I believe you’re asking me if two games above .500 is what this team would be without Sidney Crosby. I don’t look at it that way. I think we are dealing with a list I have to ink to be able to remind you of all the updates that are there. I think Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Kunitz, Nick Johnson, Arron Asham – these guys helped us win hockey games as well. I think we anticipate winning and being able to win a lot of hockey games with the guys that I mentioned on that list minus Sidney Crosby. I think we did that. We won five in a row. So I think we miss Sidney Crosby. He’s a great player. We’re going to look forward to getting him back in our lineup in the future, but we’re capable of winning hockey games better than eight (wins) in the last 20. We anticipate being a good team and winning hockey games for the next 21 and going into the playoffs.

On when Neal and Niskanen will arrive and how much it hurts not them here for a full practice:
I think you’re aware they got rerouted (to Newark, N.J.) and they hopefully didn’t think they got traded to the Devils. We want them here. And they wanted to try and get in a car and get here so they could be here for practice today, but it just wasn’t plausible with the weather. We would’ve liked to have them for a practice. They are on the ground, I believe. They have to get a physical as soon as possible, so we have to get them here and get them a physical ASAP for some league rules and so forth. But we’ll spend some time with them this afternoon after they get the physical and go over some things and try to get them integrated into just a normal day, which it won’t be. But a normal day for them come (Wednesday). I would have liked to get them on the ice and skate. I think they would have liked to get on the ice with the guys and see our practice. But we’ll do a little bit with them this afternoon after they get their physical and then they’ll be thrown into the fire (Wednesday) with San Jose.

Slam dunk: Michelle Crechiolo

2:12 PM:
The Pens are filming some segments for Inside Penguins Hockey - which can be seen on FSN Pittsburgh Saturday's at 10:30 a.m. Today's victims guests of Steve Mears are Tyler Kennedy and Brett Sterling.

Kennedy (left); Sterling (right)

2:09 PM:
After practice, Dupuis skated with a couple of youth hockey players. He then playfully dropped the gloves with a young mite. In the end, the youngster got the best of Dupper.

2:07 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Jordan Staal

On how the team moves on without Goligoski:
Something like that happens every year, but every time it’s always a shock. Obviously we lost a great guy in “Goose,” and it’s going to be tough not having him in the room and around the guys. But at the same time, I’m sure we picked up some good guys as well, and it’s going to be a lot of fun in this final stretch.

On the trade being a long-term solution and not a rental:
We’re going to have those guys for a while, which is nice. It happens every year and it’s something that players have to deal with.

On the team’s effort these past two nights and what might be the difference:
I think just a goal. We created a lot of opportunities last night, a lot of shots. It just didn’t quite come through for us. In the game before as well, we kept pushing through on that game and found a way to just get a point. It was close in the shootout. It’s been two pretty solid games for us, obviously we want to keep getting better and hopefully Neal will help us get that extra goal.

Zbynek Michalek

On if bringing a new guy onto the defense changes his role at all:
I don’t know, maybe. We’ll see what happens. We didn’t talk to the coaches about what the pairings will be like, and we’ll definitely miss Goose. He was a big part of our offense and power play, so somebody will have to step up and try to fill his role. There’s going to be some adjustment time, but I think we are going to be able to fill in that role, hopefully.

On what the team will miss most about Goose
He was a great guy, just a fun guy to be around. Everybody liked him. On the ice, he was a big part of our team, especially offensively and running the power play and helping, especially with the injuries. He was playing great offensively and he was a great defenseman. He’s going to be missed.

On if he foresees himself getting a few more chances offensively:
I would like to, definitely. It’s the one part of my game that I want to improve. If they need me to play more offensively or spend more time on the power play, I’m happy with that and I know that’s something I have to work on and get better at.

On how Niskanen will fit in on Pittsburgh’s blue line:
I’m sure it’s going to be just fine. We have a good coaching staff and they’re going to make sure he feels comfortable right away. I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem. Some guys that have been here for a while, like “Brooksie” or “Tanger,” they can help him out. He’s been in the league for a long time, so he’s an experienced guy and he knows how the league is. It shouldn’t be any different.

Pascal Dupuis

On the arrival of Neal and Niskanen:
We have got some really young and talented players. Neal is a big body. He is hard to play against. He has got a good shot and is a good skater. Niskanen is a really good defenseman we got out of that deal. I think it’s a good deal for us. Yes we will be missing Alex, but it is a good deal.

On long-term lines once everyone is back healthy:
It’s the coach’s decision and we will see who he wants to put with whom. But right now the main thing is we got these two guys to help us win some hockey games while the rest of the crew is out.

On Neal’s ability on the power play:
You have a big body and a guy that can shoot the puck. Like I said, we don’t even know how he is going to be used, but at the same time he is more than welcome to score some big goals for us.

Matt Cooke

On being a player who is traded close to the deadline:
I have been involved in it once from Vancouver to Washington. You are coming in as a bit of an unknown. The team welcomes you with open arms and you’re expected to come in and help. I think that is going to be the same on these two guys. We are glad to have them and we are excited and we need them to come in and fit into our system right away.

On Neal and Niskanen switching from the West to East conference:
It is easier. I came from the West and came to the East and I couldn’t believe the lack of travel that’s out there. So that won't be an issue for these guys.

On getting hit by Bradley last night and not retaliating:
The suspension is behind me now. I knew he was getting a penalty and I didn’t want to do anything to get away from that penalty and you know it is one of those things. I don’t feel like I shouldn’t be hit. I don’t feel like I can't be hit and I don’t think there should be a penalty called every time I get hit. It is just part of the game.

On what is expected of the new guys:
I think that you fully expect them to come in and be ready and willing and able to help out. Especially with the way that there will be some influence by the dressing room like “This is the way we do things and we want to stick to that.”

Lovely Jubbly: Michelle Crechiolo and Joe Prince-Wright

1:21 PM:
Head coach Dan Bylsma had a couple injury updates after practice:
  • Paul Martin will not play Wednesday vs. San Jose with an upper-body injury
  • Letestu and Jeffrey will return to full practice Wednesday
  • Kunitz is not yet cleared for full practice
  • N.Johnson, Tangradi and Asham continue to have concussion symptoms

"Paul Martin is out for (Wednesday)," Bylsma said. "He skated today, but will not play tomorrow.

"Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey will return to full practice tomorrow, and progress towards playing as able.

"Chris Kunitz is not cleared for a full practice with the team as of yet.

"(Nick) Johnson, Tangradi and Asham continue to have concussions.

"Geno and Sid, there is no update on those two guys."

12:35 PM:
Pens practice pics

Michalek (left); Bylsma (right)

Engelland (right)

Cooke chillaxes at practice (right)

Dupuis (left); Staal (right)

Skills drills 

12:25 PM:
Update on the arrivals of Neal and Niskanen: The two were supposed to fly last night to Pittsburgh and practice with the team today. However, their flight was diverted to Newark last night due to the weather. Then their flight today to Pittsburgh was delayed. Thus they are not practicing, but are still expected to make it to CONSOL Energy Center at some point.

12:09 PM:
The Pens are on the ice for their noon practice. Orpik and Martin are not on the ice. Martin missed Monday's game with an undisclosed injury. We'll get updates following practice.

11:55 AM:
Kunitz, Letestu and Jeffrey continue to work on their own before team practices.

Kunitz (left); Jeffrey (right)

Letestu (left)

11:35 AM:
Before practice today, the Pens held a signing session. Throughout the year, certain days are designated for the players and coaches to autograph items that will be donated to charities.

Funny story, as Maxime Talbot was signing the stack of photos of himself, somehow a pic of Pascal Dupuis was slipped into the fray. Talbot said, "This is Dupper," and then whipped it to the ground. And the crew joked that Dupuis just wanted Max's autograph.

New guys have to sign too.

Head coach Dan Bylsma

Jordan Staal

Maxime Talbot signs.

Talbot's discarded Dupuis picture

11:15 AM:
The Pens will welcome two new members to the family today as James Neal and Matt Niskanen arrive at CONSOL Energy Center to meet their new teammates for the first time. They'll join the Pens will practice at noon, and will face the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. on FSN Pittsburgh (locally) and Versus Network (nationally).

Let's kick off the day with a little ditty by the British band Bush called "Little Things." It was their second release off the album Sixteen Stone. Other songs from that album become much bigger hits: "Comedown," "Glycerine," "Machinehead." (By the way, it was impossible to go to any sporting event in the late 90s and NOT hear Machinehead, and I still hear it from time to time. I have nightmares about that song. Seriously, it haunts my dreams). But Little Things was always my personal favorite. It's the song (along with "Everything Zen") that got me hooked on the band.

TMI - Bush was one of the first bands I ever saw in concert. They were also the first band I ever saw play at Mellon Arena (opening acts were No Doubt and Goo Goo Dolls. And I admit my boy crush on Gwen Stefani - which is still going strong).

After Bush finished their initial set, they came out for their encore and the bass player was wearing a Penguins jersey (Yes, I remember stupid things like this). I'm sure they did that in every city that they went to, but to a naive 6th grader that was the coolest thing ever! It's the little things that make us happy. It's also the little things that kill, according to Gavin Rossdale (who broke my heart when he married Stefani).

Anyways, enjoy.

BONUS! One of my most vivid memories of Bush came when they played a late night show at MTV's Spring Break. It was pouring rain, but Rossdale came out solo and rocked out Glycerine. It's now folklore that Rossdale was warned that he could be electrocuted due to the rain and electronics. But in true rock fashion, as the legend goes, he played anyways. He's so rock 'n roll.

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