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Penguins Report: Game Day at Toronto

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Marty and Kennedy are back, Kunitz close (12:50 PM).
Crosby still has concussion symptoms (1:00 PM).
Injured player updates on Orpik, N.Johnson, Asham, Tangradi (2:06 PM).
Pens’ line combos (11:44 AM).
Coach Bylsma on Neal, Staal and Dancing with the Stars (3:22 PM).
Martin, Letestu and Kovalev spit knowledge (2:18 PM).
Kovalev is BlackBerry’s player to watch (3:24 PM).
Midnight Crew sets up the locker room (10:00 AM).
Around the ACC (3:42 PM).
Pens pics… (11:57 AM).
Leafs coach Wilson talks to the media (11:32 AM).
Leafs pics (10:58 AM).
“And the greatest of teachers won’t hesitate to leave you there by yourself chained to fate…” (9:30 AM).

3:42 PM:

3:24 PM:
The BlackBerry All Access Pregame Show selected Kovalev as its Player to Watch:

3:22 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On if Neal would play with Crosby or Malkin if they were healthy
Kunitz and Neal both play the majority of their time on the left wing, so is Neal a better fit than Chris Kunitz for Sidney Crosby? The last 35, 40 games or so those two were playing real well together. Ideally, next to one of those players, getting the puck in those situations, scoring goals, that’s where we see Neal in the future.

On if Staal and Malkin would be repaired:

With the emergence of Mark Letestu in the middle of the ice and playing well for us there, it wouldn’t necessarily be the case.

On Staal moving back with Cooke and Kennedy:
In the role he was in was somewhat depending on him in every situation and for everything. Maybe in that he lost a little focus and foundation of his game and what he brings. This is a more comfortable situation for him. We’ll still count on him to play a lot of minutes, a lot of situations, power-play time, four-on-four, first guy over the boards. He’ll play a lot of minutes, but more comfort and more in line with what he bring to our team.

On the stability of the Cooke-Staal-Kennedy line:
Throughout the year we’ve had some stability with Conner-Letestu-Kennedy for 25, 30 games. They were a real driving force for our team. That’s what Cooke-Staal-Kennedy has been for us for a number of years now. We really count on them against other team’s big players. People have called it a third line. That’s not really what it’s been for our team. We count on them for stability, the way we want to play, good defensively, but also playing in the offensive zone. That’s what we’re looking for from them in the next few games.

On puck management being stressed by peer pressure:
That’s a lot of what we’ve tried to do in a lot of the areas that we play the game. As a coach I can talk every day until I’m blue in the face. We want to build the culture that this is their team, this is how we play, this is the ownership into it. The guys in that room at this time of year do more talking than I do. With some new faces and new people the past couple weeks, it’s been back to building our identity and how we play with those guys. Also, the more it can come from the other players in how they play and what they say, that’s the kind of group dynamic we want in how we play the game. We have that belief and we know what it looks like. It comes from that room. That’s when we’ve played good hockey and can be successful.

On if he’d go on Dancing with the Stars:
I’ll have fun watching Hines.

On talking to Neal after practice:
If you didn’t see I talked to five other players to. It wasn’t just to talk to James. I talked to different players at different times. He’s in a situation now where he’s come to our team and wants to make a good impression. We like what he brings. We like the way he’s playing. He doesn’t have to go out and get three goals to be effective to make TSN think it was a good trade. He’s just bringing what he brings with speed, physicality, his game. I think he’s done a real good job of a pressure game for us. And he’s done a good job of getting acquainted with what we’re asking of him. Today he doesn’t need to feel like he has to get a goal to be effective for us, just keep going the way he’s going.

One-Man Wolfpack: Sam Kasan

2:18 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Paul Martin

On if he’s excited to be back in action tonight:
Yeah, that’s the plan tonight. It felt good the last couple of days, so I’m ready to go tonight.

On how to put forth a better defensive effort against Toronto tonight after allowing them to score five goals in their last meeting:
It’s pretty uncharacteristic of the way we’ve been playing. I don’t think we did anything different, I think it was just one of those games where there were a lot of goals. Hopefully tonight we can do a better job of not giving up as many chances for them.

On that being partly attributed to the injuries to the Penguins’ blueliners after the forwards had been hit hard:
Yeah, exactly. That’s one of the areas that had been injury-free for us, the defensemen. We’ve been a full group for most of the year until lately when it comes to guys going out. Now we’ve got a little adversity on the back end, but hopefully I’ll be back in tonight and we look forward to getting (Brooks Orpik) back, who’s kind of our rock back there. And now we’ve just kind of got to do the best we can.

Mark Letestu

On how it seems that whenever a player returns to the lineup, another one gets injured:
It’s kind of tough. Definitely there have been times when we could have packed it in and said ‘We have too many injuries.’ But I think there’s a lot of character in this room. A lot of guys won a Stanley Cup in here and know what it takes. Even the young guys coming up, wanting to make an impact, I think has definitely lifted the energy in the room. We’re battling for points every night.

On building on his success from his first game back in the lineup:
I think even my dad joked with me when he said ‘It’s just one game.’ It’s something I definitely have to build on, but you know, there’s 18 games left here. We’re obviously battling for home ice. It’s something that down the middle, playing on the top line right now – we need production from us. It’s something I’m taking to heart and something I want to get done, and hopefully we have some instant chemistry tonight.

On what it’s like playing with Kovalev:
He’s world-class. His skill is top end. I grew up watching Montreal, so I’ve seen him play. I think the key, for me, is not to defer to him all night and not try to find him with the puck all night (and) play my own game. If I get a chance to shoot or make a play – make it, not always looking for him. We played together in overtime there, and things went well. The chemistry was there. So hopefully it transfers to five-on-five play.

Alex Kovalev

On his comfort level coming back to Pittsburgh:
It happened before – every time I come to this team, they give me confidence and I play the game they love to play. They give me some responsibility still, but still somehow I feel more freedom to play the game the way I play it. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain but it’s a different feeling.

On if it’s because Pittsburgh has always had a philosophy to let players like him play their game:
I think so. I think it’s one of the reasons. They let (players) with talent explore it. Some young kids that come here, they also have a chance to show what they can do and they’ve shown it. Letestu and the other guys – you can see how good they are for scoring goals and they’re playing well. So I think that, like you said, it’s that main reason that kids coming in here – they’re able to show their talent.

On if he feels the pressure to replace the offense gone with Crosby and Malkin:
You can’t replace those guys. I do the best I can, and fill in some of the holes they have. But those guys that they’ve built this team on, they’re important guys and this team really misses them. But like you said, my job is coming in here and feeling the same as I felt when I was playing here. And I feel that I can contribute a lot to this team in this role and whatever role they have for me. And with this group, we have to find a way to win games.

Assist: Michelle Crechiolo

2:06 PM:
Bylsma with a couple other injury updates.

"Brooks Orpik is still on the four-week time frame. He's weekly scheduled on progress to see how he's doing and where he's at.

"(Nick) Johnson, Asham and Tangradi are still with concussions."

1:00 PM:
Bylsma added that Sidney Crosby is "still with (concussion) symptoms."

12:50 PM:
Head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed that both Martin and Tyler Kennedy will be playing tonight. Bylsma also said that Chris Kunitz may play this weekend.

"Paul Martin and Tyler Kennedy will be back in the lineup tonight. Chris Kunitz, it was his second day of full practice today. He's progressing back to playing. it could be as soon as this weekend. It may be further than that. ... Physical contact, getting back to that is an important part of his comfort level."

12:22 PM:
Paul Martin confirmed that he will be in the lineup against Toronto.

"I'm ready to go tonight
," he said.

11:57 AM:
Pens' morning skate pics...

Martin (left) and Kennedy (right) are expected to return to the lineup tonight

Letestu, Kunitz and Conner (left); Fleury and Letang chat (right). I wonder if they're speaking French to each other. My guess: Hebrew.

Kovalev shoots pucks at the opposite goal while stretching. Lovejoy is clearly enjoying this (left).

11:44 AM:
Here were the Pens' line combos from the morning skate...


The defensemen rotated throughout.

11:32 AM:
Leafs coach Ron Wilson talks to the media after their morning skate.

10:58 AM:
The Leafs are on the ice for their morning skate at Air Canada Centre (or the ACC as the locals call it).

10:00 AM:
The Midnight Crew was hard at work last night. The Crew had to wait until after the Toronto Raptors finished their game at Air Canada Centre to set up all the equipment in the locker room. But after the NBA contest, the Crew rolled into the ACC and made all the necessary preparations.

Coaches' gear

The fitness and nutrient bar (left); trainer's kit (right)

9:30 AM:
Good morning from Toronto (or afternoon depending on when you read this). For some strange reasons it feels like we were just in this city. Maybe that’s because only a few days ago we were in this city. Déjà vu all over again as the Pens battle the Leafs.

In the last meeting between these two teams in Toronto – you’ll have to think way back to last Saturday – the Pens claimed a 6-5 victory in a shootout thanks to Alex Kovalev’s brilliance.

Today the Pens will get a boost to the lineup as Paul Martin and Tyler Kennedy are set to rejoin the team. Martin has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury, while Kennedy sat out last Saturday’s win against the Leafs with a lower-body injury.

We’re going to open the day with one of my favorite bands from the 90s – Live. The York, Pa. band released their first album Mental Jewelry in 1991 (or ’92?), but it was their follow up LP – Throwing Copper – that thrust them into the spotlight.

Throwing Copper’s first release, “Selling the Drama” was a good song, but it was “I Alone” that really launched the band into the upper echelon of 90s bands. The mainstream success of “Lightning Crashes” only further solidified their perch.

Live did go on to produce a number of great songs afterwards – “Lakini’s Juice,” “Dolphin’s Cry,” “Overcome” – but was never able to recapture the magic of Throwing Copper on a full length album.

“I Alone” is still an amazing song (and the one we will start with today). The irony is that as good as the song I Alone is, the video is plain awful – although hysterically awful. It’s not 80s status awful, but looking back now I can see just how terrible this video truly is.

As we sometimes do, let’s breakdown the hilarity of the video:

  • The entire video takes place in the same room. Was the budget really so low that a green screen backdrop and a fake tree is all the record company could afford?
  • The major special effect is turning off the lights and adding a purple glow. It takes a true visionary to come up with that idea.
  • Can someone politely ask singer Ed Kowalczyk to please put on a shirt? Seriously. Infants have more muscle definition.
  • And what’s up with Kowalczyk’s bald head/pony tail combo? Was he trying to bring back the Tibetan Buddhist look? Did he watch Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child on late night cable TV and felt inspired?
  • And what’s up with Kowalczyk’s facial contortions and wide-eyed glares? Is he doing his best Brooks Orpik impersonation? Not a flattering view.
  • Where is the drum kit? Did UPS forget to deliver it? I mean, all the poor drummer can do is awkwardly stalk around in the background. It’s like he if filled with nervous energy and no way of releasing it. It’s very comical watching him hop around.
  • I love when the drummer tries to get some face time with the camera. He hovers over Kowalczyk’s shoulder with a confused look on his face – a look of “How did I end up in front of the camera? Weird.” Watching him run up to the camera and slowly back away is pure entertainment.
  • Coolest person in the video hands down is the bassist. He just hangs out rocking in the background. I don’t even know if he’s aware that a camera is in the room filming him. All he’s worried about his jamming on the bass.
  • I never quite picked up the theme of the video. Maybe it’s alluding to the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Knowledge and the treacherous snake. Live was a deeply religious band (in the beginning of their tenure anyway). My best guess? Judging by the frugalness of the video, I’ll bet a tree and snake was all they could afford for props. But I could be wrong.

Regardless of the video, the song still rocks. Put on your flannel, clip on the chain wallet and rock your head to I Alone. Enjoy.

BONUS! Here is an acoustic recording of “Selling the Drama” from MTV’s Unplugged.

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