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Penguins Report: Defensive Pairings Impact

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
5:57 PM:

Filling in for Gonchar's absence isn't the only lineup adjustment the Penguins will make against the Florida Panthers. There will be a new face in goal as Brent Johnson gets set to make his second start as a Penguin.

"Brent Johnson is going to go (Friday) night," head coach Dan Bylsma said.

With back-to-back contests this weekend and playing in a condensed schedule due to the Olympic break, the Penguins are trying to balance the workload between Johnson and regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury.

"I think it is a rough estimate on the number of games, and then work your way backwards to a month-to-month plan," Bylsma said of rotating his netminders. "I think you can expect that the last 20 games will be different than the first 20 games in terms of how we approach the goaltending situation. It’s different based on time of the year."
Johnson's only other start this year came on Oct. 7 against the Phoenix Coyotes. He performed well, stopping 22 shots but the Penguins dropped the game 3-0.

2:04 PM:
Sounds heard 'round the locker room:

Jordan Staal
On Gonchar:
Obviously it’s a big loss. We’re going to miss him. But at the same time we’ll be fine.
On Letang, Goligoski on the power play:
They’re both dangerous players. They both can skate so well and move the puck well. When they’re playing together it’s something special. It’s nice to see them together.
On team being equipped to play without Gonchar, having gone through it last year:
It’s not something that easy. It’s tough to lose a player like that. But at the same time we have the depth on our team and the players that can fill in his spot. It’s something that different players are going to step up and play well for us.

Sidney Crosby
On Gonchar:
That’s a situation we face and we’ve been there before. I think the story doesn’t change when you lose guys. Other guys have to step up, especially with Gonchar. He’s a big part of our team. We’re going to have a bunch of guys do that.
On Letang, Goligoski:
They’re much more experienced. Both of them played, I think Goligoski played a couple games in the Washington series. Those are big games to be a part of. And Letang played all playoffs, the Stanley Cup Final. Those are pressure situations and they were able to do a great job then. This is something that’s a challenge for them, but they’re more than ready and they’ve been through it.
On Letang, Goligoski on playing the point together:
I don’t think Letang’s job is really going to change. He kind of stays in that position. That’s where he’s always played. I think it’s pretty much a normal job, normal spot. For Goligoski, he switches back there playing in Gonchar’s spot. He’s just going to have to get used to where we are. That position doesn’t change. You look for the same things. It’s just getting used to the guys your playing with. He played a little bit there last year. It’s kind of a gradual progression of getting used to everyone. They’ve both been playing in those spots for a long time. There’s no secret. They know what to do.
On Skoula:
I’m sure he was looking for his opportunity to get in the lineup. I’m sure he didn’t want it to be that way, but it’s still a great opportunity for him to get in. He’s a guy that’s experienced. It’s not like he’ll have the nerves and things like that. He’ll be able to come in and use that experience to his advantage.

Alex Goligoski
On Gonchar:
It’s unfortunate that we’re going to miss him for a little time. But I think we have guys that can step in. We have guys that can help fill that role for a while.
On switching sides:
I’ve played there before. I feel good over there.
On overcoming obstacles:
You have injuries every year. One guys not going to make or break a season most of the time. The team’s playing well, so everyone else has just got to step up a little bit.

Assist: Tom Mast

1:20 PM:
The mystery of the defensive pairings was solved (somewhat) with Bylsma saying that Martin Skoula will be paired up with Jay McKee. Though that plan is tentative, that is where the Penguins will start.

"Right now the tentative plan would be to go 44 (Brooks Orpik) and 3 (Alex Goligoski) as a pair, 74 (McKee) and 41 (Skoula) and keep 7 (Mark Eaton) and 58 (Kris Letang) together," Bylsma said. "That would be a tentative starting plan. But again we’ve talked about different scenarios within a game where that might change.

"I think it’s probably too early to tell. To say hey we’re going to go with three pairings, this is how it’s going to be. It may be a situation where the pairings start one way and in different situations kind of lean toward seeing a 3 and 58 together more often. Right now we’re going to see how that goes. We’ve talked about it and brought some things up. Mike Yeo, he’s going to be the guy who monitors that and makes those decisions, especially in that first game. We’ll talk about it after the first game. The confident thing for us is that Martin (Skoula) can play on the power play. He’s played the power play before. He’s played on the penalty kill before and he’s played a ton of five-on-five. We’re adding a guy with a ton experience and that’s a comforting thing."

1:14 PM:
Jordan Staal fielded some questions from reporters in a scrum, but there was a special guest taking part. Matt Cooke, weilding a microphone, chimed in with a question to Staal.

Cooke: Jordan can you tell us why you refuse to score with your linemates?
Staal: I don’t like them. I really don’t.


1:09 PM:
Here are a couple of interesting notes from Thursday's practice, which went for about an 1 1/2 hours:

<> Winger Ruslan Fedotenko took a few shifts at the point on Pittsburgh's power play. He logged some minutes in that spot during the preseason as well.

Ruslan Fedotenko
On possibly playing the point:
Johnson will start Friday against Florida (Getty Images)
I don’t know if I will be. I was just practicing just in case a couple times. I was taking one-on-one drills to get used to it. It is different. You definitely need to skate backwards a little more. If we have some injuries and I need to fill in there I will be there. If not, it is not a big deal I will just play in my regular spot. It’s up to the coaches if it happens.
On being comfortable there:
Yeah. I played in training camp a little bit there so if I have to fill in that’s not a problem.
On his backwards skating:
It definitely can improve a little bit, especially when you try to take somebody like Sid one-on-one.

<> Two players missed practice, forward Maxime Talbot and blueliner Jay McKee. Head coach Dan Bylsma addressed the media about their absence.

"McKee just had a family issue that he was gone for today and will be back tonight actually," Bylsma said. "Max is still on the schedule that is mapped out for him for his shoulder injury. He is not skating. We’re taking him off the ice. Max wants to skate. He got a shot in the foot and he has some pain. He can focus on his off-ice with his shoulder and off-ice conditioning. Max wants to go out there. This is coach saying we have time to be cautious and not go on the ice."

<> Bylsma also confirmed that goaltender Brent Johnson will get the start in goal against the Florida Panthers Friday night at Mellon Arena.


1:04 PM:
There was a heavy media scrum around defenseman Martin Skoula's locker following Thursday's practice. Mostly the crew was interested in Skoula's injection into the lineup following the injury to Sergei Gonchar. But the talk wasn't all business:

Reporter: What has been the most difficult thing to learn?
Skoula: Probably just driving around Pittsburgh.
Reporter: You don’t like construction zones or bridges?
Skoula: Or one-ways.
Reporter: So have you gotten lost in the city?
Skoula: Well I have the GPS on my iPhone but if not for that I don't know where I would end up.
Reporter: Was it easier in Denver because the city is built on a grid?
Skoula: Well in Denver the mountains were always west so you always knew where you were.

11:46 AM:
The Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi published his Q and A with injured Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar. And for some entertainment, read Rossi's "Blogger Profile" for more information on the legend.

10:38 AM:
Pittsburgh sports fans are displaying their love of their hometown sports teams across the country. Here is a picture sent by former contributor Deborah Francisco of a New York City delivery truck outside of the Empire State Building sporting a Steelers and Penguins stickers.

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