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Penguins Report: 3/13/12

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Crosby makes his return to the lineup (2:34 PM).
  • Status updates on both Letang and Martin (2:48 PM).
  • Full transcript of Crosby's chat with the media (2:37 PM).
  • Bylsma discusses the implications of Crosby's return (2:45 PM).
  • Pens' lines (12:12 PM).
  • Letang, Martin on the ice for practice (11:15 AM).
  • Letang and Crosby work on 1st PP unit (11:33 AM).
  • Pens use 5 forwards on 5-on-3 PP (11:58 AM).
  • Pens GM Shero happy about captain's return (6:10 PM).
  • Malkin coming to theaters soon (9:50 AM).
  • Crosby skates with “Little Pens” (9:40 AM).
  • Bylsma joins the MDA Team (10:00 AM).
  • Mike Lange talks about Paul Coffey (10:20 AM).
  • Pens History – Beating Philly in ’08 playoffs (10:30 AM).
  • Top 5 plays of the week (10:10 AM).
  • Pens pics (11:50 AM).
  • Go Green (9:30 AM).

6:10 PM:
Pens fans aren't the only ones elated to hear about Crosby's comeback.

While Crosby was delivering his long-awaited news to the media in Pittsburgh, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero was ensconced in a board room at the Boca Raton Beach Club, discussing the minutiae of potential rule changes during Day 2 of the NHL's GM meetings.

Have no fear, though -- the good news travelled fast.

"He's worked hard to try to get back, and like I've said for a while, he's a hockey player that wants to play the game of hockey and I know our team is looking forward to him back in our lineup and looking forward to Thursday night," Shero said just moments after popping out of the meeting room.

Full story here.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

2:48 PM:
More great news on the injury front is that defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin were both back at practice.

Letang was back practicing with his teammates for the first time since suffering symptoms from a hit he took on Feb. 29 at Dallas. Letang, who has missed the last five games, said he is symptom free and returning to practice was part of his progression.

Both he and head coach Dan Bylsma said that he will practice Wednesday and they will go from there in terms of determining his return to game action.

When asked if Letang could be ready to go Thursday, Bylsma responded, "Today was a good day for Kris. He’s progressed, he’s gotten back on the ice and now he’s back on the ice with his teammates. We’ll go from there. He’ll be on the ice again (Wednesday) and we’ll go day-to-day on Kris."

While Martin still doesn't feel 100 percent from the illness that sidelined him for the weekend's games (Friday vs. Florida; Sunday vs. Boston), he said he will be ready to play Thursday.

Both Letang and Martin's transcripts are below...

Kris Letang

On how he’s feeling:
I felt pretty good. To get back on the ice with my teammates is part of the little progression and we’ll go from there.

On if he is symptom-free:
Yes. We made it clear I’m not going to skate or do anything with symptoms.

On if he was ever diagnosed with a concussion:
No. It’s just a few symptoms appeared to be coming back. Probably from the old one, I don’t know. But I didn’t feel right. So we put me aside.

On if he could play Thursday:
I don’t know yet.

On if he’s fully cleared and did all the drills:
Yeah. I was doing all of them. Trying to get game ready. Trying to get back in shape.

On what he thought about the hit from Eric Nystrom that injured him:
I saw it. (Nystrom) obviously got me on the chin, but I don’t think (hurting me) was his intention. I think he wanted to get his team going with a good check, but he clipped my chin. That’s the only thing I saw.

On if he thinks he is ready to go Thursday:
It’s my first practice with the team. We’ll look back at this one and practice (Wednesday) and we’ll see.

On why he thinks he could have a quicker return:
Less symptoms. I think that’s it.

On having less symptoms than before:
The first one was pretty bad. I couldn’t do much, except sleeping and maybe reading. This one, there were a few things I didn’t like, that’s why I stopped playing.

On if it’s hard to be honest about these injuries because you want to be playing:
It’s your own problem if you start lying. You just put yourself at risk and your team at risk. At the end of the day, I think the most important thing is if you have symptoms, you let your trainers know and they’re going to do what’s best for you.

On what it would be like having Crosby on the point:
It’s a new look, obviously. Sid is a great player; I think he’s going to do a great job on top. It’s going to be a whole new look for our power play this year. It’s going to be the first time we’re all together. But from there, I don’t know. It was just a practice.

On if his own responsibilities change:
No, they don’t. The power play, it’s just a 5-on-4. You just try to use your skill and create some stuff. Having him on the point will make our team more and more dangerous.

Paul Martin

On how he is feeling:

I’m not feeling that great, but it’s good to be back at practice. I’ll be ready by Thursday.

On if he's excited at the prospect of the team being healthy going into the stretch before the playoffs:
Yeah, definitely. Being held out the last couple games I was able to watch a little bit. As a player you definitely get excited when you see guys start to come back, your captain (Sidney Crosby), Kris (Letang) and some other guys. You definitely get a good feeling. We know how good we are and how good we can be with guys out of the lineup. I think we get excited when we have everyone healthy at the same time. That’s the nature of the game and it’s bound to happen. Just the depth that we have will definitely help us down the stretch.

On not seeing the depth since he signed with the Penguins because of injury:

Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve seen the whole team healthy, maybe for a couple of games. Jordan (Staal) has been out or Sid or Geno has. It’s definitely something everyone has looked forward to, getting everyone healthy and playing together. Hopefully we get that soon.

On if it is harder coming back from an illness versus physical injury:

A little bit. I definitely haven't been able to do a whole lot the last couple of days. But it comes back pretty quick. Get a few days of skating under your belt and you should be fine.

--Michelle Crechiolo and Brittany Goncar

2:45 PM:
The main topic of coach Dan Bylsma's media conference was, you guessed it, Sidney Crosby. Bylsma spoke on the implications of the captain's return to the lineup and touched on his ice time, what line he'll play on and where he'll be used on the power play, among other issues...

On confirming that Crosby is going to play Thursday:
Sid has said today that he is going to play on Thursday, yes. We’ll look forward to getting him back in the lineup in New York.

On what to expect in terms of ice time for Crosby:
I think this time, shooting for around the 15-minute mark or 14-15 minutes in the game is more likely given the fact we’re playing three (games) in four (nights) and him getting back in the lineup again for the first time in a while. That’s where we’re most likely to try to keep him. It’s hard keeping a guy like that on the bench, though, but that’s the number we’re looking at.

On the Cooke-Crosby-Kennedy line:
If there was another combination or if it was (Chris Kunitz) and (Pascal Dupuis), it would be a lot tougher to keep him at 15 minutes. Last time, when he hopped back in there, he was right back with 14 and 9 and he was right at 19, 20, 21 minutes right in his first couple of games. Again, wanting to get him back in the mix, but also a little bit more – well, you don’t pace Sidney Crosby – but keeping his minutes a little bit closer to 15 is what we’re looking at. That’s one of the reasons for putting him with 24 and 48. I’ve always told him he could be a Selke winner. He’s going to have his chance here with Cooke and Kennedy.

On having any trepidation about five forwards on the power-play unit:
I don’t really have any trepidation. I think the one thing that you might think is there’s not a person out there with a defensive mindset or worrying about that side of the puck. The way we play our power play right now with Steve Sullivan up top and Kris Letang in a flanker position or on the weak side, Steve Sullivan is our guy back. He’s the guy that’s back. If we did go five forwards, that would be the situation, most likely again, that Steve would be the guy back much like we have now. I’ve also 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. 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. In the 14 games we have left, certainly we’ll be working on how that works for our team.
On having a healthy lineup and the options it gives him:
I think it’s a feeling-out process, a little bit. We haven’t had this situation in a while. I know, speaking from the eight games we played earlier this season, players fall in different spots on the team and in different ice times and different lines. That’s a feeling-out process. That’s again, another one of the reasons Sid is going with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy as a unit. The other lines are playing well right now. We’ll see Sid on different lines throughout the game. That’s going to be a for sure. We’ll have a number of games here to kind of go through the feeling-out process. In the next 14 (games). We have 7, 8 (games) or so to feel out and have 7, 8 more before the playoffs after that.

On what he likes about the options of putting Crosby on the point:
I think Sid, his vision from the point on shooting or a pass, passing to the net, to the side of the net, will be the best that we have on our team. I don’t think there’s any question about that. He hasn’t played there since juniors, being the top guy on the point, but his vision and his ability to shoot the puck, shoot it towards James Neal, his ability to get across the line and go back to Malkin, is unparalleled on our team. There’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment. We’ve been working with Sid the last 7, 8 days on that, whether it’s when he’s been out there by himself or whether he’s been out there with the team and now in practice the last couple times for the power play. There’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment there, but his ability to have vision from back there and see the passing lanes, shooting lanes and get it back to both Letang, and if it’s Sullivan, Sullivan and Geno for his one-timer there, I think is going to be unique.

On the balance between winning games and tinkering with his lineup so close to the playoffs:
I’ve already been doing that knowing at some point in time, Sid was going to be coming back here. Whether it’s next game or the games down the road, I’ve already had that thought in mind. People have asked about the power play, I started thinking about the power play two months ago. That’s not something Sid talked about two days ago and we started saying, OK, what are we going to do. We’ve been thinking about this for a while. With 14 games left, we’ll see the next 5 to 7, 8 games different combinations on the ice in lines. It’s a good number of games left to have. I think you’ll see something we’ve never seen before, which is 87 and 11 on the ice together in addition to sometimes seeing Sid with Geno on that combination on the ice as a line. 87 and 11 will get out there. Perhaps as we go here, we might see 87 on the wing with 11, too, in certain circumstances. I still think we have a pretty good chance of having good hockey players on the ice and playing Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey to win hockey games.

On who would be on the other wing of a Crosby-Staal line:
I think Pascal Dupuis. Pascal has some familiarity with playing with Sid and Sid has it with Pascal. But I think Steve Sullivan, too. The line still has size and a big body on there with Jordan, so possibly Steve Sullivan on there as well.

On what he expects from Crosby in his first game back this time around:
Last time, I was reluctant and hesitant to say that I expected a lot. We saw what he did against the NY Islanders. I think it’s unrealistic to think that he’s going to step into Madison Square Garden and be the only show on the ice. But I know how the guy plays. I know how fast he is going to go. I know what’s going to happen when he has the puck with speed. You know how he’s going to be able to play down low with the puck and you expect to see that player step on the ice. That’s a really good hockey player. That’s the best hockey player in the world from the last time he’s played hockey for a long period of time. You know what Sidney Crosby is. Is he going to produce five points, four points or three points in his first game? We’re going to go try to win a hockey game, a big game for us. We’re going to try to pull two points closer to the Rangers. I know that’s what Sid is going in with the mindset to do and be a part of. We’ll see something special, I’m sure. But we’ll also see a team and a guy going into a very big game against the Rangers, who we’re trying to still, and think we can, catch if we win the two games against them.

On having the two best players in the world in Crosby and Malkin:
I hope they fight it out for that title as we go in the last 14 games and into the playoffs (laughs). But there’s always been a little bit of an idea that Geno somehow elevates his game to a different level without Sidney Crosby. The statistics aren’t drastically different. He’s had some great hockey games, some great periods of hockey, won the Conn Smythe with Sid there. I know Geno is excited to be on the same ice with Sid again as well. We’re all excited about getting all of our players healthy and playing some hockey here and seeing where we can go and what we can do. I still think it’s a great challenge for our team. This is not something we’re shooed in to be a really good team when they all come back. We have to do the same things and play the same way that allowed us to be a good team with or without 71 and 87. We need to do that with 87. That is going to be a focus for our team, getting back to having our healthy group playing that way and playing that way in the last 14 games.

--Michelle Crechiolo

2:37 PM:
Here's the full transcript of Crosby's chat with the media...

Sidney Crosby

On how he felt today:
I feel good. The plan is to play Thursday. I got a good practice in and I’m just looking forward to getting out there Thursday.

On if the long practice was helpful:

It’s good to get out there with everyone, get some contact and get all that game situation stuff in. There’s not a lot of opportunity this time of year, so it’s good to get that in.

On if he’s done all he can do from a practice standpoint:

Yeah, I think so. I tried to make sure I progressed and remained symptom-free, so everything’s gone really well.

On if contact in practice really compares to a game:

That’s as best as you can prepare. If you were to go out there with no contact, you wouldn’t really know how you are going to respond. You do the best with the situation and try to test yourself as much as you can. I definitely agree that you’re not going to get hit to the extent that you would in a game, but you’ve got to test as best as you can in practice.

On the possibility of playing on the point on the power play:

It’s a different spot for me. I’ve played there in juniors so it’s been a few years since I’ve been back there. But I think I’m able to see a lot of the ice there and I’ve got ‘Geno’ (Evgeni Malkin) who has that big shot on the sidewall. My job would be to try and distribute the puck amongst everyone, but when he’s shooting the puck like that, just giving it to him in that area and letting him work there.

On any idea where he will be on a line and if he’ll play with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke:
That’s where I was today, so I’m pretty sure I’ll end up with those two. I wouldn’t see coach putting me with a different pairing after missing this much time. I’m sure he’s trying to get guys used to playing with one another. I’m sure like any game that’s always kind of changing and different line combinations are common. But probably for the most part, that’s who I’ll be with.
On the dynamic of the Cooke-Crosby-Kennedy line:

‘Cookie’ is pretty responsible on both ends of the ice and goes to the net hard and creates loose pucks. ‘TK’ does the same thing. He’s got great speed. He creates turnovers and he knows how to shoot it and find those areas, so that’s exactly it. We’re going to try to move our feet and control the puck down low and generate some good chances, hopefully off the cycle.

On if he's played with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy in the past:

No. But I know them pretty well. We’ve been together at different points. Not necessarily as a line, but separately. Both bring speed and hopefully that will be big element on our line, just creating loose pucks and hopefully creating some good chances.

On if he feels the same as he did mentally as his last return in November:

Actually, you know what, I probably feel a little better just knowing what to expect. I think it’s just easier going through it this time. I know what to expect. That first game was pretty overwhelming. It was a lot of fun. But that being said, I think I’ll take a little more in stride this time and make sure I’m getting better every game, but also try to pace myself a bit – especially with the schedule. It’s going to be draining enough here getting back into it. I just have to try to be as progressive as possible.

On if he will play 17-18 minutes:
We’ll see. We’ll see how I feel. I don’t really know what to expect. I’m sure the first game, no. Obviously this time of year is a little different then coming in when I did last time, so the pace is a little higher. The intensity and the importance of the game is a little bit higher, so I’m sure that there will be kind of a feeling-out process and we’ll see how things go.

On the prospect of all the players being healthy on this team:
I don’t want to talk about it (laughs). I hope so.

On the nine-game winning streak and progressing with a healthy team:

We’re playing some really good hockey and we have some big games coming up, some really good teams. The timing is right for everyone to be together here and we need our best games going down the stretch here. We’re all excited for that.

On if it’s difficult to be out when the team has won nine in a row:
I don’t think it’s easier either way. When you’re out, you ‘re out. I think if anything, you are just really happy for the guys and happy that everyone is having success. It’s never easy watching no matter if you’re losing some games or winning. You want to be involved in it, too. I think that it’s never easy, but if anything you are happy for your teammates and happy the team is having success and preparing yourself to come back and contribute.

--Brittany Goncar

2:34 PM:
It's official: Sidney Crosby is back.

The Penguins captain will return to the lineup Thursday night in New York against the Rangers. 

"I feel good and the plan is to play Thursday," he said following practice on Tuesday at Southpointe. "I had a good practice and I'm looking forward to getting out there Thursday."

Crosby, who began full contact practice a week ago, has been out of the lineup since Dec. 6 with concussion-like symptoms and a neck injury, missing the last 40 games.

Crosby worked on a line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy at practice, as well as on the point on the top power-play unit. And those are the spots he will start off playing Thursday.

The full story is here.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

12:12 PM:
The Pens used the following lines late in practice...

(Jeffrey, Tangradi)

-Sam Kasan

11:58 AM:
Pens using 5 forwards during 5-on-3 drills. Crosby and Sullivan on the point, Malkin on the halfwall and Kunitz and Neal down low.

--Sam Kasan

11:50 AM:
Pens pics...

Cooke blatantly ignores Sullivan's discussion of orca whales (left); La Flower (right)

Staal goes slip 'n slide (left); Niskanen has a staring contest with his stick. He lost (right)

Martin is back at practice following his illness (left); Neal: Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? Neeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! (right)

--Sam Kasan

11:33 AM:
The Pens are using Letang and Crosby on the points with Kunitz, Neal and Malkin up front on the first PP unit at practice.

--Sam Kasan

11:15 AM:
Pens practice is underway here at Southpointe. Defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin are on the ice. Letang has missed the last 5 games with symptoms from a hit suffered on Feb. 29 vs. Dallas, while Martin missed both weekend games (Friday vs. Florida; Sunday vs. Boston) due to illness.

Goalie Brent Johnson is the only one missing from the skate.

--Michelle Crechiolo

10:30 AM:
Pens radio host Bob Grove gives us a glimpse into team history. Today, he discusses how the Pens defeated hated cross-state rival Philly for the first time in the postseason during the 2008 playoffs to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

--Michelle Crechiolo

10:20 AM:
Shall we take a look inside Mike Lange's Journal? This week the Hall of Fame broadcaster talks about the brilliance of former Pens defenseman Paul Coffey.

--Sam Kasan

10:10 AM:
With the team off Monday and no Pens Report we didn't get our fix of top plays. So in a belated edition, here are the Dick's Sporting Goods Plays of the Week.

--Sam Kasan

10:00 AM:
Pens head coach Dan Bylsma recieved the 2012 Guy Buzzelli Jr. Champion of Spirit Award by the Muscular Dystrophy Association last Thursday at Heinz Field.

“I am honored to be the 2012 recipient of The Guy Buzzelli Jr. Champion of Spirit Award,” said Bylsma. “I am grateful to be recognized for such a distinguished accolade in the City of Champions. My family and I are excited to participate in this year’s Muscle Team event.”

More details here. Video of the event below.

--Sam Kasan

9:50 AM:
Coming soon to a theater/hockey rink near you...

Rated R (for Russian).

--Sam Kasan

9:40 AM:

Pens captain Sidney Crosby made a special surprise appearance with youngsters in the Little Penguins program at Southpointe Saturday after practice.

Crosby spent over an hour on the ice with the group of children, who are participating in the Sidney Crosby Little Penguins ‘Learn to Play Hockey’ program. The program, which is in its fourth season, provides boys and girls ages 4-7 with FREE head-to-toe hockey equipment, including skates, as well as weekly lessons to teach them the sport.

A combined effort between Crosby, the Penguins organization, Reebok and Dick’s Sporting Goods provided 1,000 kids with free gear.

“There are a lot of kids that are interested in playing, but it’s an expensive sport,” Crosby said. “I’m so happy that Reebok and Dick’s could help out with it. The Penguins have helped out tremendously. It’s just a chance for kids to play hockey and get some equipment.”

Full story here.

--Sam Kasan

9:30 AM:
Good morning from Southpointe! We're here waiting for the Pens to hit the ice for an 11 a.m. practice after having the day off Monday. It was well-deserved with the stretch the team has been on, as Sunday's win vs. Boston marked Pittsburgh's ninth straight victory -- a new season high for the team and the NHL's second-longest stretch this year.

We've got some time before practice begins, so I quickly want to acknowledge that today marks the beginning of one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans everywhere...MARCH MADNESS!

But the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament isn't just for sports fans. It's for everyone that wants to join in on the fun by filling out a bracket and following all the crazy finishes and Cinderella stories. And I must say, I'm incredibly pumped that my Michigan State Spartans have a No. 1 seed (fourth overall) for the first time since 2001. Why? Because 108-0 is the record of No. 1 seeds against 16-seeds. The Spartans truly thrive in this tournament -- I got to witness them in two Final Fours while I was at school -- so every year I look forward to the Green & White making a deep run.

I promised my good friend and fellow Spartan alum Mike Prisuta of the 'DVE Morning Show that I'd start today's blog with some school spirit, especially after they clinched the Big 10 Championship on Sunday over Ohio State. So you know MSU is our team. Who do you have pegged to go all the way?!

--Michelle Crechiolo
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