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Penguins Report: 3/14/12

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

2:10 PM:
The Pens have a couple of Sunday games against the Flyers, and both will be played at 12:30 p.m. on NBC. This Sunday, March 18th, the two teams will meet in Philadelphia.

Then they'll meet against Sunday, April 1st, in Pittsburgh for a 12:30 p.m. tilt. The game was originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

More details here.

(Getty Images)

1:52 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On if there’s pressure on Crosby making his return in such a big game:
There are certainly expectations for Sid when he gets on the ice as to how he can play. I don’t know if there’s extra pressure on Sid because of the situation. We have a big game. We have a game in hand. They’re six points ahead of us. The tiebreaker is the Rangers’, so we have to get ahead of them. Gaining four points in the remaining two games against them I think is critical to put ourselves in a position where we could be two points back of them. We’d have to gain that ground in the 12 games remaining for our team. Winning this game is real critical for us if we think we can catch the Rangers and get to the top of our division and hopefully top in the conference.

On if he’ll hold his breath during Crosby’s first shift:
I guess I wouldn’t be totally honest (if I said) I don’t feel that way. But I’ve felt that way about every player on our bench at some point in time, if it was Evgeni Malkin when he came back at the beginning of this season and when he goes into the corner a couple of times, you see how he handles those. If it’s Kris Letang or Tyler Kennedy coming back from his injury and you see him stumble on the ice and know he had a high-ankle sprain. It happens with every player. Sid’s been out a long time. He’s only played eight games. So to get him back out there, we’re hoping we get him for 14 games here in the regular season and going into the playoffs. We know he’s doing well right now. We know he’s ready to go and that he’s eager to get back on the ice with our team.

On taking Steve Sullivan off the power play if Crosby plays the point:
Our power play has been fairly successful this year, around the 20-percent mark. A large part of that is due to the way we bring the puck up the ice and get set up, and that has solely been the responsibility of Steve Sullivan this year. He’s done that very well for us and been a big part of our success as a power play. At the beginning of the year, that assignment was going to be Sidney Crosby’s and Steve Sullivan’s together. We haven’t seen that happen. So Sidney Crosby is going to be playing a little bit on the point. If he is not out there with Steve Sullivan, he will be bringing the puck up as Steve does and we’ll still see situations where we have Steve out there as well. I would say in the next eight games or so, we’ll see five forwards out there with Steve being one of the guys out there as well. We know what Steve has done for our power play. We know he is still going to be among the top six guys out there and still doing what he’s done really well for our power play.

On if he’s ever been tempted to have two power plays, one for Crosby and one for Malkin:
Of course. We certainly explore all possibilities and opportunities out there. I think we’ve always felt, do feel and strongly feel – all of us feel this way – that having the best two players on the ice is the best thing and is what we’re going to be doing to have success on our power play. So we’ve thought of it. There have been occasions where one guy has been real tired because he’s been on the ice, and we’ve done it and had two different power plays. But having the two best players on the ice seems like a good thing to do.

On if this three-game road trip will be a good barometer:
On Jan. 1, I think there were some comments about how we hadn’t won against good teams in big games. Now in the past stretch, we’ve gone 16-4-1 against teams that are in the playoffs. I think we know we’re a good team. We’ve played good teams. We’ve played big games. We have three big games coming up. I think these three games will be a real good indication of where we’re going to finish in the regular season here. We win on Thursday night; it puts a whole new spin on where we’re at in the standings vs. New York. Then we have Jersey and Philadelphia coming right on the heels. We knew 2-3 weeks ago we wanted to make a statement with the games we had against the teams we were playing – New York, Philly, Boston. We still have a lot of those games left. We still have big games coming up here after these three games against those teams as well. This will be some good hockey. It’ll be on the road hockey. It’ll be playoff-type hockey. Sidney is back in the mix, so I think it adds a pretty good story. You’ll see some good hockey, some pretty intense games here.

On if Brad Thiessen could get a start this weekend:
Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be going (Thursday).

--Michelle Crechiolo

1:45 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Sidney Crosby

On how he feels after Tuesday’s strong workout:
I feel good. I’m just excited to get started. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. I’m just excited to get going.

On if the Atlantic Division is the best division in the league:
I don’t think I can say that because I don’t see the other teams enough. But we have a strong division. There’s no real explanation for it. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. But it’s just a really competitive division and a strong one. I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s important to get those games against tough opponents in your division and you’re going to have to play good teams to get to the playoffs. I think that is something that benefits everyone. 

On the Rangers, Devils and Flyers all vying for seeding in the playoffs:
This is a big stretch here for us. Down the stretch we are going to play a lot of divisional opponents, so that’s the time of year you want to be in the lineup and playing. It’s an exciting time. I think that it’s always important down the stretch to play well, but also, it’s big matchups like this that everyone gets excited about.

On what he will feel like making his debut against the Rangers:
I think it’s always nice just coming back, period. But to be in a big game like this, it’s nice. Like I said before, the more you get into games the quicker you’re going to adjust and adapt. I’m going to get into it pretty quickly here with the intensity and emotions of the games coming up. That’s really the best thing, I think. So I’m happy that that’s the case. Like I said, I’m just happy to be in big games like this. 

On if he is nervous coming back:
I think just excited. As far as nervous about it, I think I’ve gotten hit here pretty hard in practice and I responded pretty well. So that’s not going to be going through my mind.

On what it’s like coming back during a nine-game winning streak:
I don’t think it changes anything when you’re coming back. I think that you still have to do your job. You still have responsibilities. You still have to be accountable. I just want to contribute and make sure that I’m doing my part. 

On if Madison Square Garden has a special feel to it:
I think it’s always a big stage playing there. I think there are certain buildings that always kind of have a little something extra. That’s one of them. It’s always a great atmosphere, and given the situation and the scenario we’re in with the Rangers, it’s just going to be even better. It’s exciting to be coming back and being involved in that game.

On if his injury was more about his neck, and if so, whether it makes him more confident moving forward:
I don’t think there was a definitive decision there. I think it was something that was playing a part. That’s the way I felt after getting my neck treated. I felt like I definitely saw some improvement. It had something to do with it, whether if it was everything, I don’t know. I’m going to be honest, the other hits aren’t on my mind. I can’t control if someone is going to put a shoulder in my head and how I’m going to react to that. That’s something that we’ll see, but I don’t have any less confidence in taking a hit. 

On who has been his primary doctor lately:
Our team doctor (Dr. Charles Burke). That’s who I’ve been dealing with the last month or so.

On what was his reaction to playing on the point:
I’ve played there before. It was a while ago, but (I’ll play) anywhere that I can contribute. No matter where you play, whether it’s halfwall, goal line, you’ve got to find ways to be successful. And back there, there are things that I think I can do to contribute to the power play. There are things that I think I can do at other positions just like everyone out there has their strengths. I think wherever it is that they think I will be able to contribute, we all have to play to our strengths. That’s the most important thing. With the guys we have out there, you can put all five of us in any of those spots and I think if we do the right thing, we are going to have success.

On Ray Shero discussing putting him on long-term injured reserve before the trade deadline:
He just asked me what I was kind of aiming for or how I felt, trying to get a general idea. I said I had no idea of the timeline of how long it was going to be, but I was doing everything I could to be back as soon as possible. Was I going to say two months or the start of the playoffs just because it’s two months and that’s a number I’m throwing out there? No, because I felt like I was doing some good things, seeing some good progress and I felt like I could be back fairly soon like I told him. He was trying to get an idea of where I was at. I was trying to give him an idea of what my goal was, just trying to get back as soon as possible. Not really just kind of throwing a day out there for no reason.

Kris Letang

On how he is feeling and if he is playing Thursday:
I feel pretty good. I had a good practice. I stepped on earlier and everything went well so we will go from there. We will see how I feel after the morning skate.

On if anyone has diagnosed his injury:
A lot of people ask if it was a concussion. At the beginning we said no. Obviously I had a few symptoms after the hit. Compared to the first one, It’s not like I waited after three days and I had bad symptoms and I was sick. So we were just being really careful. We were waiting for those symptoms to go away.

On if playing Thursday will be based on how he feels:
Just like I said, I felt pretty good today. If I feel great (Thursday) morning, we have to make a decision with the coach and the staff.

On taking into account the importance of the upcoming stretch in terms of his return:
No, not really. I’m just thinking about my own safety. I don’t want to step out there and be someone in danger or anything like that. We were clear. We don’t want to rush anyone coming back from those types of injuries. Obviously it’s a nice three-game stretch and they are really important.

On if he doesn’t feel rushed because of the performance by the team:
Yeah, the team is playing well and has always been while we have injuries. ‘Geno’ (Evgeni Malkin) went down and we were playing well. Sid went down and we were playing well. 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.

On if the Atlantic Division is the best in the NHL and if the road stretch will set the Penguins up for the playoffs:
I would say in the East it’s pretty hard to get through our division. Jersey has always been a tough team to play against. New York and Philadelphia are big rivalries against us. So yes, it’s a big division, but at the same time it prepares you well for the playoff.

--Brittany Goncar

12:28 PM:
Defenseman Kris Letang is a possibility for Thursday's game in New York against the Rangers.

"He’s heading towards being in," head coach Dan Bylsma said following Wednesday's optional practice. "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."

Letang has missed the last five games with symptoms from a hit he took on Feb. 29 at Dallas. He returned to practice with his teammates on Tuesday for the first time since sustaining his injury. Letang, who is symptom-free, participated in all of the drills, saying he was trying to get game ready and trying to get back in shape.

--Michelle Crechiolo

11:30 AM:
Pens pics...

Thiess in the crease (left); Eat n' Park - minus the eat (right)

Joey Victory (left); Niskanen wearing his white (right)

Lovejoy with a smile full of love...and joy (left); The captain (right)

Letang peeks over the horizon to see his future. Outlook is positive (right)

--Sam Kasan

11:00 AM:
It's Wednesday, so the time has come to shine the spotlight on a player. This week we look at the great play of Pascal Dupuis.

--Sam Kasan

10:50 AM:
The Pens just announced that today's practice is optional for players. The following players are taking the option: Crosby, Kennedy, Park, Tangradi, Jeffrey, Vitale, Martin, Lovejoy, Niskanen, Letang and Thiessen.

--Sam Kasan

10:45 AM:
Defenseman Kris Letang came on the ice a half hour before practice with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. The duo were doing 1-on-1 drills. Other players are starting to filter onto the ice.

--Sam Kasan

10:30 AM:
Good morning from Southpointe! Today the Pens will hit the ice for an 11 a.m. practice before jumping on a plane to New York. They'll take on the first-place Rangers at MSG on Thursday night.


On Monday, head coach Dan Bylsma and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury were awarded the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year. PensTV was on location and filed this report.

--Sam Kasan
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