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Penguins Report: Game Day at Dallas

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Kennedy cleared for practice/more injury updates (12:26 PM).
  • Pens' lines (11:29 AM).
  • Mearsy has today's Game Day Report (12:32 PM).
  • What to watch for against Dallas (10:10 AM).
  • Remember last time in this building: Crosby vs. Niskanen (2:46 PM).
  • Scene of the crime (3:40 PM).
  • Lemieux stops by for lunch, sort of (3:20 PM).
  • Neal & Niskanen on their homecoming (12:21 PM).
  • Coach Bylsma on the former Stars, the current Stars and more (1:02 PM).
  • Spotlighting Malkin (11:15 AM).
  • Pens pics (11:46 AM).
  • Around American Airlines Center (11:10 AM).
  • "I'll always stick up for you..." (10:00 AM).

NON-HOCKEY ITEM: One of the main perks about traveling with the Pens is that I get a chance to go all over the world and see historic landmarks and history. Whenever I have these opportunities, I like to share them with you guys.

So when I was a humble guest on Penguins Live this morning, hosted by the loquacious Michelle Crechiolo, I teased that I was going to try and hit up a spot. Well, luck would have it I was able to make it to Dealey Plaza, the site of JFK's assassination.

Pens VP of communications/expert historian Tom McMillan provided myself, Dan Potash and a few other guys from ROOT SPORTS with the play-by-play and background info on what took place that day. He also patiently answered our questions, no matter how ridiculous they were.

So here are some pics for you from our afternoon adventure. Enjoy.

The old Texas School Book Depository Building, the place where Oswald fired on the President

Someone pointed out on the sign, it's where Oswald "allegedly" shot (left); The road view of the plaza and book depository (right)

The sixth floor window where Oswald pulled the trigger (left); The road has been marked with Xs on the spots where Kennedy was shot (right)

Some conspiracy theories believe a second shooter was stationed behind this fence. The red dot in the right picture is where it is believed the shot was taken from.

The spot where the fatal shot took place

A few of us from the Pens and ROOT staffs stopped for a bite to eat in Dallas for lunch and guess who was there.....the boss.

Autographed photo from the Pens-Oilers games in Dallas at Reunion Arena in 1988. Lemieux vs. Gretzky

There must be something about the American Airlines Center that brings out the inner pugilist in the Penguins. The last time they visited this arena, it was a fight-filled loss to the self-proclaimed Pesky Stars...and the bout that was the talk of both locker rooms was the one between Sidney Crosby and then-Star Matt Niskanen.

And this morning, the fighters-turned-teammates staged a mock reenactment of the altercation. Bylsma touched on it after practice with a quote that made me laugh...

Bylsma added that the reenactment perhaps set the tone for their game tonight.

--Michelle Crechiolo

Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma...

On what he’d like to see with his defensive pairings long term:
It’s not made up long term. Certainly not set in stone. Some of the way the game works out for our team, (Brooks Orpik) and (Zbynek Michalek) have always penalty killed together. They’ve always played after the power play together. Now they’re seeing more 5-on-5 time together right now with (Paul) Martin and (Kris) Letang playing together for a large portion of the 5-on-5. That’s more of what we’ll probably see in the next 10 games or so and keep going from there.

On how they’ll match up with Dallas’ top line:
It kind of depends on the type of line that it is in terms of whether you have (Evgeni) Malkin go straight up with it or you have (Jordan) Staal’s line go against them. The D pairing will definitely be something to pay attention to. With (Jamie) Benn probably being back in, they also have him to contend with as well and that may dictate where and who Jordan Staal plays against with his line. I think the two big lines together will be on the ice a little bit tonight, so it’ll be interesting to see that go head-to-head.

On the year James Neal has had:
I don’t know what to be surprised about, whether it’s getting to 30 goals after 62 games or how well he’s played in getting assists and points on that line. You knew James had a shot. We anticipated James being a 30-plus goal guy in this league. But I’m not sure I totally anticipated him being a guy who could play in, with and off of the real skill guy in terms of giving him the puck back as well. That has been maybe the biggest surprise I have seen in his game, is his ability to play with Malkin and give the puck back to Malkin in the right spot. Certainly Neal’s shot and his goal scoring has been very good for our 5-on-5 and power play in terms of having a trigger guy. Again, just fitting in with Malkin on that line and being able to give the puck back to him and his passing ability has been a big factor for the strength of that line.

On Crosby getting into a fight the last time Pittsburgh came to Dallas:
We revisited the scene of the crime this morning and reenacted it. There were some differences of opinion on how everything went down. Maybe just setting the tone with that reenactment this morning for our game tonight.

On Matt Niskanen:
A lot of confidence in the way he’s played and defended for our team this year. He came in last year for our fans as probably a throw-in, not knowing much about Matt Niskanen as a defender. He had some very good hockey here in Dallas and that waned in the last couple years. He came to us and I thought fit in real well this year in particular coming in real strong from training camp on. He’s been in a lot of different roles – first power play, second power play and he’s been in our top four given our injuries. He’s maybe our best and most improved player from the start of the season. Playing for us, he’s defended real well and has been good with the puck. He added to our power play in the absence of Kris Letang, who was out for numerous games. So Matt has done a real good job for us this year. I think coming into camp and being real confident, he’s been assertive this year in a lot of different ways and been a strong performer for us.

On Niskanen being his most consistent defenseman:
You could say that. I think just how he’s played for our team, I don’t think anyone would have ever anticipated him being able to play in the top four. I think what he did for our power play in the absence of Letang is something I don’t think very many people anticipated him doing for our team. So as a result, I think he’s been a guy who’s been maybe the most consistent performer in adding to our team because he hasn’t missed any games and he has been in a lot of different spots. He’s been in a top four pairing. He’s played against other teams’ big players when guys have been out of the lineup. He’s really been asked to do a lot of different roles, and has consistently performed in those roles.

--Michelle Crechiolo

Today's Game Day Report is brought to you by our good friend Steve Mears, who's now en route to New York City to host NHL Live Thursday (5-6 p.m.) and Friday (5-7 p.m.). So make sure you tune in to those (or listen on Penguins Radio 24/7, as they'll be simulcast there)!!!

--Michelle Crechiolo

Head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed that Tyler Kennedy's participation in this morning's skate (his first practice with the team since being injured) was because he is cleared for practice and it is the next step in his rehab from a high-ankle sprain, not because of limited ice availability.

However, there has been no change in Sidney Crosby's status. He only skated with the team because he didn't want to skate alone. As Bylsma put it, "(Sidney) likes skating with people on the ice. So he skated with the team today because Tyler was going to be back on the ice with the team."

Bylsma added that his lineup will be a game-time decision save for Marc-Andre Fleury, who will start in goal. Arron Asham, who missed Sunday's game with an upper-body injury, will take warmups, but Bylsma wouldn't divulge if he will be playing.

--Michelle Crechiolo

As expected, Neal and Niskanen spoke after the morning skate about what it feels like to be back in their old stomping grounds for the first time since being traded...

James Neal

On being back in Dallas for the first time since the trade:
It’s obviously a little different. I was here for three years, so it was definitely a change walking by the normal room. I kind of got it out of the way when we played them (in Pittsburgh in November). It’s kind over with. I’m not thinking about it too much. It’ll be a fun night, though. I’m excited to play here and play against the old team.

On it being surreal:
Yeah, it’s hard to explain. It’s weird. It’s different. You’re used to doing your normal things that you did in the rink. Now you’re just walking out on the other side. It’ll be fun. I’m just excited to play tonight and it’ll be a big game and a big two points for us. They’re fighting for a playoff spot.

On facing Jamie Benn:
We continue to be good friends. He’s a great hockey player. He’s done well here and hopefully he continues to do well. He’s a guy that we have got to key on tonight and be physical with and try not to let him get to his game. He’s got a great shot, he’s fast. He’s an exciting young player.

Matt Niskanen

On being back in Dallas for the first time since the trade:
It’s a weird feeling just being on the other side of the hallway, I think. Seeing a lot of familiar things and familiar faces. It’s a little strange being here and being on the other side, but kind of exciting, too.

On the Stars’ recent surge:
They have been playing really well lately. They beat a couple good teams. They beat Vancouver the other day. They’re stingy. I think Kari Lehtonen has been playing really well for them. I think they lean on him quite a bit. But they’ve got some good players. Some veteran leadership, some guys that play hard. But their young players are up and coming and they’re dangerous there. They’re hungry and they’re always a tough team to play against.

On his favorite memories from his time in Dallas:
Lots of good ones. A few bad ones, too (laughs). But I think what sticks out the most is just my first year being here and having the success I did, both individually and then the run we made in the playoffs going to the Western Conference Finals. That was kind of the peak. That’s my best Dallas Stars memory.

--Michelle Crechiolo

Pens practice pics...

HC Bylsma blows the conch (left); The players assemble (right)

Homecoming for Niskanen (left) and Neal (right)

Injured Pens Kennedy (left) and Crosby (right) were on the ice for the morning skate

"Are you not entertained?!" (left); With no Johnson, Thiessen looks like the backup for tonight (right)

The Pens are on the ice for their morning skate. Crosby (concussion-like symptoms) and Kennedy (high-ankle sprain) are on the ice with the team. Though injured goalie Brent Johnson is not on the ice. The team used the following lines...


The seven defensemen rotated.

Note: Kennedy did not skate in line rushes.

It's Wednesday, so the time has come to shine that spotlight bright. And there is no better person to highlight these days than Evgeni Malkin.

We arrived at American Airlines Center pretty early so I took some time to get photos from around the arena. Here is a little taste of the 10-year-old barn.

A couple airplanes were flying above the concourse. I believe that is against FAA regulations (left); Everything is bigger in Texas. I guess that includes dawgs (right)

The archway of McDonalds. Not to be confused with the archway for MacDowells (left); The 2011 NBA Championship banner (right)

The rest of the photos can be seen later tonight in the in-game blog.

The Stars have won four straight coming into the game, including a dramatic come-from-behind overtime victory against Vancouver Sunday. Michelle Crechiolo has more on what to watch for in tonight's game between the Pens and Stars.

Good morning from Dallas! Tonight the Pens will play the the Dallas Stars in Big D. The game will start at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, but 6:30 p.m. local. The Stars are battling for their playoff lives and are playing great hockey lately. Meanwhile James Neal and Matt Niskanen will be playing in Dallas for the first time since last year's trade. Should be a fun game to watch.


Since we are in Dallas, I have to start the day with the band Texas is the Reason. The band's name and their song titles are inspired by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 at Dealey Plaza and the conspiracy theories that followed.

Even though the band's lyrics have nothing to do whatsoever with the assassination, they did title their songs from various events and references to that day in American history, such as "Magic Bullet Theory" and "Jack with One Eye."

Today, we'll open with the of the most memorable lines from the entire phenomenon, "Back and to the Left." Cue Kevin Costner: "Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Back and to the left."

Anyways, enjoy.

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