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Penguins Report: Game Day at Carolina

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


5:04 PM:
Some random photos from today...

Alex Kovalev talks to the media

Assistant equipment manager Paul DeFazio sets up the gear in the locker room

2:13 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma...

On if he would consider Kovalev playing the point on the PP short-term or long-term:
Yeah, I would consider him on a longer-term basis right now. Obviously right now we have a need there. When Paul Martin returns, he’ll be back there on the point as well on the power play, but there’s a possibility (Kovalev) could be there when everyone else gets healthy.

On if putting Kovalev there is because special teams are so crucial right now for the Penguins:
Yes, it is a huge part. You want to put your best players with the right skills in the right spots to be able to be effective for you. Putting a forward back on the point on the power play is somewhat new to my coaching in Pittsburgh, but it’s not something that I’ve (not) done in the past or am (not) comfortable with or (don’t) think it’s a good thing. Dustin Jeffrey’s played the point on the power play in WBS, he has a little bit here in Pittsburgh when he’s been up. So it’s not a foreign thing. Alex has been back there in the past numerous times. It’s something he’s comfortable doing and being in that position, and he’ll be there tonight with Kris (Letang).

On if Jeffrey is the only guy he expects to get back tonight:

On when he concluded that Jeffrey would be a good bet to go this evening:
Two days ago, when we went through practice and he had a good skate afterwards. He looked good, felt good. And then in the morning when he still felt good, (he) still had to go through some physical battle drills and have that kind of contact. And (he) was able to do that (Thursday) with no side effects, no lingering issues with his injury, so he’s going to be ready to go.

On the difference Kovalev makes in the lineup:
Well, there’s a play. There’s a play and there’s a goal and there’s a shot there that we didn’t have before. At this point in time we have a lot of workers, we have a lot of speed, we have a lot of tenacity in our lineup – we don’t have plays to be made from our group. We’ve done a good job of working and playing in the offensive zone. We’ve done a good job of spending time there, but we haven’t been able to finish many plays or make plays to create goals. We’ve had to try and manufacture them. That’s what he brings, both five-on-five and on the power play as well.

On if he anticipates any challenge keeping Kovalev motivated and focused:
Whatever you view as the word ‘challenge,’ that’s something we face with every player on the team and playing the way we want to play. I’m actually excited about the opportunity to coach Alex – a different player at a different point in his career, a different age, a different mentality a little bit, but a guy who right away said, ‘Tell me where you want me to go, tell me what you want me to do, and let me know how you want me to adjust to play the way we need to play. How can I help out this group and how can we win games?’ That was his message to me, and he’s going to get that opportunity tonight, both five-on-five and on the power play.

On the biggest thing he’s admired about his ever-changing group as a coach:
I think we have a good, clear identity of how we want to play and how we should play in Pittsburgh and in our organization. The players understand that, the players buy into that. And they have just – whether it’s in Wilkes-Barre, whether they’re a call-up, whether they’re Jordan Staal coming back from an injury – the work ethic’s been there, who we are and how we need to play is there, and it really doesn’t matter a whole lot when a player comes and goes in our lineup. We certainly would like Sidney Crosby to be there and Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik, but when one of those players isn’t there, we don’t sound alarm bells, we don’t hold the fort, we don’t plug the dike with a finger. We go to work and know exactly how we want to play. There’s a standard and a work ethic in our group that our guys have continued to uphold and when a new player comes in, there’s no shakeup, there’s no different mindset. We’ve been able to keep on with that and we think we can be successful that way.

On what has changed in Marc-Andre Fleury’s game since the Penguins’ last visit to RBC Center:
There was a hiccup, I guess, from the outside looking in on Marc-Andre from the beginning of the season. But one thing he’s done this year through that time and starting with training camp is he’s changed a little bit of his pre-practice routine and a little bit different focus on his fundamentals and his game. He has been rock-solid for a long, long time. He’s not only making athletic saves and big saves when we need them, he’s also being real, real solid in rebound control, when pucks are in the crease and in those areas, he’s been real, real consistent in his play and been a real big factor for our team. It’s almost been night in, night out, we can expect that level of play from Marc.

Spin-o-rama shootout goal: Michelle Crechiolo

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

Alex Kovalev

On how he feels about returning to Pittsburgh:
I feel great. (I’m) excited to go back to a team I had success as a player and play in the playoffs again. It’s been a while for me, so I’m pretty excited.

On if he feels better physically:
Oh, 100 percent. Between being 100 percent physically and being excited, I think it’s 120 (percent).

On learning about his new teammates and the system:
It’s a lot of information, but I’ve played long enough in the league (that) most of it – 80 percent of that – is not new to me. All I need to do is keep up with the guys.

On working the point on the power play:
They’re missing some guys, so I’ll fill out the role – any roles – they want me to play. I’ve been on the power play on the back before, so they’ve got good forwards up front there that are doing a pretty good job in front of the net, so my goal will always be to get the puck to the net and let the forwards do the rest.

On what the high point of his career has been so far:
I think you can’t take away the days in New York, because that year I won a Stanley Cup it was just the beginning for me, I just started my NHL professional career. But I think as far as me and the player I’ve always been and want to be, the six years in Pittsburgh have been the one (point in my career) that I really had the chance to explore my talent and show that I can be a different player, and show people that I’m not only a 20-goal scorer, I can be 30 (goals), 40 (goals), whatever. I still feel that I have that capability, and like I said, I’m really excited to start fresh again and hopefully it works.

On what the chance for him to compete for another Cup means to him:
Let’s look at it this way – I’m sure most of you guys here probably heard before that when I won the Stanley Cup, I never had a chance to take it home because of the lockout year. So I never really saw the Cup except holding it on the ice. That’s one of the reasons I want to get another Stanley Cup, so I can finally share it with my friends and take it home maybe. I want to get another Cup before the end of my career. To start with a Cup and end with a Cup, that would be great.

On if he’s thinking about playing beyond this year:
If I win a Cup, then I’ll – you know the way it works. You win, you want more. But right now, I’m thinking about the second one.

Dustin Jeffrey

On if he’s good to go for tonight:
Yeah, I feel really good out there. (It’s been) a good last two or three days of practice (and) I feel ready to play.

On if he’s going to be able to push himself right away or if he has to feel it out:
I think that was a concern for the coaching staff and myself. I wasn’t going to come back until I was really able to push myself. The last few days in practice, I pushed it pretty hard as much as I could to get into a game-like situation, and it felt good. So I’m not really worried about it, I’m not really concerned about it. We waited long enough.

On how difficult it is to gauge that level:
That’s what’s tough. There’s so many different things that happen in a game – scrums in front of the net, people coming in. You have to do as much as you can and then you just got to trust your instincts. I knew I had to be honest with them how I felt about it, and I feel like I am ready for the variables out there in a game depending on what happens.

On how excited he is to get back in the lineup:
I’m really excited. It’s tough watching games. Sitting out for two weeks and watching the guys go through the battles and just being around them and not being able to contribute, it’s nice to be back in the lineup and help out.

Brian Strait

On if he’s excited to have been called up:
Yeah, definitely. It’s exciting. Like I said, any time you get to play up here, it’s really exciting. So you just enjoy it and I’m making the best of my opportunity.

On the value of playing in WBS for a full year:
Oh, tons. Last year was my first taste of pro hockey and it was an awakening. I struggled off the bat and I got better as the season went on. This year, I’m kind of figuring out what pro hockey is all about, so getting rewarded with a call-up is nice.

On playing with Ben Lovejoy:
It’s great. I played with him last year a lot too down in Wilkes-Barre, so we know each other a lot. Same with Deryk (Engelland) too, I played with him a little bit. Those are guys that I’m used to playing with, so it was pretty easy to just jump in right with them.

On what he has to work on to be a veteran defenseman:
Everything. You know, even after just one game, I just see how much faster the game is and how much more I have to work. I think that just overall rounding out my game is what’s going to help me get to where I want to go and stay here.

Game-tying goal in regulation: Michelle Crechiolo

12:23 PM:
Dustin Jeffrey confirmed that he will be back in the lineup tonight for the Pens against Carolina.

"Yeah, I feel really good out there and the last two, three days of practice," Jeffrey said. "I'm ready to play."

12:08 PM:
The Pens are using Kovalev at the right point on the top power play unit, alongside Kris Letang. Up front were Jordan Staal, James Neal and Tyler Kennedy.

11:43 AM:
Pens morning skate pics...

Kovalev wearing the Penguin crest once again, and chats with Kris Letang (right)

Kovalev warms up at the morning skate

Jeffrey (left) is expected to return tonight; Martin (right) will not play

11:35 AM:
The Pens are on the ice at RBC Center for their Friday morning skate. Martin and Letestu are out, but not doing line work. Dustin Jeffrey is working in lines and is expected to return to the lineup this evening against Carolina.

Kovalev was paired with Neal and Staal. Here were line combos:


11:05 AM:
Some pics of Kovalev's locker room stall at RBC Center.

8:30 AM:
I grabbed this video while surfing this thing called the inter-web.

8:15 AM:
Ironically, PensTV and myself actually caught up with Kovalev at the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. We walked down memory lane with the Russian sniper.

8:00 AM:
The Penguins are going back to the future. "Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads."

Pittsburgh is hoping a plunge into its past will pay dividends for its future. The (re-)acquisition of dynamic winger Alex Kovalev was a low-risk, high-reward move by Pens GM Ray Shero. The Pens only gave up a seventh-round pick (though it could end up a sixth-rounder) and the payoff of having Kovalev in the fold could be huge. 

There is no denying the natural ability and talent that Kovalev possesses. At 38 years old (his birthday was yesterday!), he is not quite the same player he was a decade ago for the Pens. And he isn't having quite the season that he would have liked to, but as Shero pointed out in his media address Thursday, coming to a new team has a way of rejuvenating a player - see: Guerin, Billy. 

On a personal note, how cool is it that Kovalev will be wearing a Penguins sweater again? Kovalev is one of my all-time favorite Penguins. The Alexei (as he was once called) Kovalev-Martin Straka-Robert Lang line was a formidable trio. 

Watching Kovalev dance all over the ice and carry the puck with his skilled casualness was remarkable. Kovalev's ability to curl and drag the puck, thus changing the shooting angle on a goalie, was one of a kind. He did it with such ease and regularity, something I've never seen any other player able to replicate. And don't forget about that monster slap shot.

But most importantly - no one can moonwalk like Alex Kovalev. 

So welcome back Kovy. Glad to see you back in black (and gold). 

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