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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Atlanta

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Lots of news Tuesday. For more details read below but here are the main points:
- Chris Kunitz will have abdominal surgery (Wednesday) and will be sidelined 4-6 weeks
- Luca Caputi was called up to Pittsburgh. He will skate with Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko and see action in front of the net with the top power-play unit
- Sergei Gonchar will not play against Atlanta. Gonchar, who missed the team's last two games, skated prior to Pittsburgh's morning skate
- Brent Johnson will get the start in goal for Pittsburgh

12:50 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room:

Sidney Crosby
On having high spirits Tuesday after Monday’s practice:
Yeah, I mean it wasn’t that bad.  I think probably more was made of it than it actually was.  As players, we knew we had to come and just try to get a good practice in.  We didn’t have a lot of chances, so the practice lasted a while.  We tried to take advantage of it, but it wasn’t grueling.  We tried to get focused on what we need to do and have a good game here tonight.
On the intensity level coming up in the opposing teams as the season progresses:
Oh yeah, I think it’s pretty typical at this time of the year for that to happen.  I mean, it’s getting to the second half and we’re starting to see some playoff races and get an idea of playoff pictures and things like that, so teams know that they don’t want to fall behind.  For teams that are ahead, they want to establish good positions, so I think it’s pretty typical that you’d see that around this time of year.
On there being another level for the Pens as the season progresses:
Yeah, I think there has to be.  I think all teams look to improve as they go on and we’re not any different.  We need to improve and make strides just like all the other teams and make sure we raise our game.
On his present relationship with Colby Armstrong:
Well, I guess you get used to it after the amount of times that we’ve played against him now.  But, yeah, we still keep in touch, and he’s a guy that’s going to bring the same thing every night, so you expect that.  He’s going to play hard, especially when playing against us.  There’s a little more motivation to it, so I think we always expect the same kind of game – a hard game, a gritty game.  I’m sure he’ll bring that tonight.
On Kunitz being out due to surgery:
He’s a gritty player himself, and he creates a lot.  He doesn’t always get to finish the play, but he’s the guy who can when he needs to and plays a really hard, physical game.  He’s tough for other guys to play against and makes good plays and is smart defensively.  So he’s a pretty complete player for us.  We’re going to have to make sure that we can play well in his absence.

Alex Goligoski

On defensive-zone coverage:
Obviously, defensively, probably first and foremost, we have enough talent on this team.  The goals should take care of themselves in the long run, but we’ve looked at the tape and we’ve gotten a little bit sloppy and we’ve missed some coverages and things like that, so I think I’m pretty confident that these are things that are fixable.
On how much of the success at the other end actually gets created in the defensive end:
We’re having a lot of success in the D-zone – we’re getting over there quickly and going on the offense.  So, good defense leads to a lot more offense off the rush and through the neutral zone.
On tweaking the power play:
With the last couple of games, we’re getting the opportunities.  They’re not going to the back of the net right now – they haven’t really all year, I guess.  But, we’re working on it - trying different things and seeing what happens.

Luca Caputi
On simplifying things and not getting out of his game:
Exactly – it’s consistency on a trip-to-trip basis, and this time around I’m looking to show them that I belong here, and I can play here for an extended period.
On the biggest thing that he has been working on to improve in his game:
Just that exactly – consistency - playing the same way every game.  Statistically, stuff isn’t going to go your way all of the time.  It’s just playing with that consistent foundation that you have and playing it well.  I think that’s what it is for the most part.
On getting eased in on the team, particularly in playing with Malkin or Crosby:
I think it’s a tremendous kind of honor just to be put in this situation to play with him.  He’s one of the best players in the world, and I’m looking forward to just playing my game, keeping it simple, and just going to the net and providing him with some space on the forecheck.
On how long it will take to get acclimated to Sidney and his style/tendencies:
Hopefully, it will come on the first shift, but you know, I can’t really say.  I’m just going to go out and play my game, and hopefully there’s a connection and a bond there right from the get-go.
On working the power play in Wilkes-Barre and doing the same in Pittsburgh:
Yeah, I basically just stay in front of the net and clean up the garbage – go to the net hard, try get my stick on pucks whenever I can and be solid in front, be hard to move in front of the net and just provide offense when I can.
On the power play experience coming from Wilkes-Barre:
That’s where all my offense comes from.  We had great players down there on the power play, and they have even better players up here so I’m looking forward to showing them what I can do.
On expecting the same power play system:
Yeah, it’s the exact same thing.  There’s no adjustment. That’s the nice thing.  It’s easy to ease in here because we play the exact same system down there, so I’m looking forward to 7:30 tonight.
On how much better of a hockey player he has become from a year ago:
I think it’s maturity-level more than anything.  I think skill-wise it’s something that you’re born with usually.  I just try to play consistently down there and prove that I can get a look up here, and hopefully I make the best fit.
On having butterflies:
The butterflies are always there, but I’d be scared if they weren’t.  So I’m just going to try to calm down before the game here and play my game, and hopefully everything takes care of itself.                                                                                                                          

Brent Johnson
On the importance of tonight’s game:
We just need a win to get back on track. That is the bottom line. It is going to take every one of us to rely on the guy beside us in the dressing room. We just need that one to get back on track.
On feeling more intensity in practice trying to get back on track:
The practices are very intense. If they are not then (head) coach (Dan Bylsma) calls us out on it right away. It is really important to go out there and work on the fundamentals. Being crisp with our passes and being good in the D-zone so that when it comes time for a game we do everything we do in a practice out there.
On trying to do too much to help the team win as a goalie:
Honestly it is going to be me playing a consistent game and trying to stop everything that is in front of me. The defense is going to clear out rebounds and we will start playing from the goal line out. Defense turns into offense. That is how we are going to get it done.
On what stands out to him about Atlanta:
They have great offensive weapons. Their goaltending is playing pretty well – they have all year. Their top line of forwards is pretty speedy and we have to be aware of who is out there on the ice.
On Atlanta’s production from the defense:
It is going to take a good third man coming back hard in the zone and going to the right guy, going to that trailer who is coming back. We have been preparing for that for a little while here and that is what we have to improve on. I think we will tonight.
On comparing Kovalchuk’s and Ovechkin’s shot:
The shots are totally different. They both try to use guys as screens and they both do it very well. They both kind of get a lot into it. They bring it back in their stance and shoot off their back foot very well. But when it comes down to it the speed of Kovalchuk coming down and shooting off his off-wing is pretty tricky to stop. We are going to have to be aware of that.
On picking up Kovalchuk’s shot:
It is not so much that. You know that he has other options besides that shot so you have to key in on that shot first but be aware of everything else.

Assists: Caitlin Kasunich and Jason Seidling

12:15 PM:

Left: The Thrashers morning skate. Right: Ilya Kovalchuk (far left) is one of the most dangerous players in the NHL.

Former Penguins invade the igloo in Johan Hedberg (left) and Colby Armstrong (right).

12:14 PM:
Head coach Dan Bylsma answered questions regarding Chris Kunitz's surgery, Maxime Talbot's shoulder progression, Sergei Gonchar's status and Luca Caputi's game at his post morning skate media session.

On when Kunitz started having problems with his abdomen and what they’ll miss from him being out:
Vaguely I can say about three-and-a-half months ago. The skating presence, the physical presence, the guy driving to the net, the goal from Billy Guerin in Tampa Bay with Kunitz driving to the net and taking two guys with him and Billy getting the rebound is an example of what you’ll miss. A net-front presence, a physical presence and an edge that he brings is something that the guy behind him is going to have to replace.
On why the surgery wasn’t done sooner:
When it comes to medical reasons about these things, I try to stick to hockey. It’s the natural progress of having an injury like he’s had. You treat it like you do and you see doctors and the doctors recommend certain things, the progression. That’s what we’ve done with Chris Kunitz. That’s what has been done in past history with similar injuries of Chris’. It got to the point where surgery is the best thing for Chris.
On the advancement of recovery in today’s game:
Part of the length of the recovery process, four-to-six (weeks) is due to what type of surgery happens when they get in there. Again, I can answer the coaching questions. The medical ones are better left for someone else. Hopefully he’ll have a good surgery and can start rehabbing quickly. It’s going to put him somewhere, I haven’t done the math exactly, somewhere in the Olympic break. The Olympic break would be a good time for Chris to rehab and get back skating hopefully.
On Gonchar’s status:
He was much better today and progressed. He’s not going to be available for tonight. It was much better today and getting on the ice. He was out there for about 40 minutes with us and on his own. He’s much better and hopefully tomorrow and the next day he’ll be even better yet.
On what he wants to see from Luca Capuit:
I would like to see a net-front presence. I would like to see down-low battles, offensive zone time. He’s a guy that isn’t the prettiest in the world but he gets around the net. He has a real knack around that cage. His first shift in the National Hockey League is evidence of that. It wasn’t pretty but he found a way at the net to get there and poke in and get his first goal in Montreal. He’s been consistent this year and being there on the power play, in the offensive zone for his line, picking up goals. He’s the leading goal scorer in Wilkes-Barre and for a while now he’s been right there on the edge of being a guy to get a call up and do that for our team. He’s learned the game a little bit: responsibility defensively, managing the puck and hopefully that will give him a chance to get in the offensive zone and show us what he can do around the net.
On Talbot progressing after returning from shoulder surgery:
I wouldn’t recommend getting a shoulder surgery if you need to rehab. It’s long and it’s hard. You deal with a lot of pains even when you know you’re healthy, even when the doctor says you’re healthy. That’s the progression that shoulder surgeries go through. Even when he’s come back, he’s continuing to strengthen that and deal with that. It’s probably been in the back of his mind in terms of him getting to his game and having that edge, that grit that he plays with. You need to keep on the progress of strengthening and practice. Some of it’s testing it in games. Some of it is just getting stronger. It’s natural but that’s also a hard thing because he didn’t have a training camp. He didn’t go through the same workouts and regiment that everyone else did, getting up to speed. He had to get up to speed in the middle of the season. He’ll continue to work on that on and off the ice. We’ll continue to work with him and getting him back to his game and bringing that grit factor, that determined guy who drives our team at times both in practice and in games. That’s a place we need to keep working to get Max back to.
On if playing so many games interferes with getting Talbot back to his game:
I think the work away from the rink and rehabbing it has been missed more than anything with the number of games that we play, with the schedules of back-to-back. It’s a tough time to manage the proper amount of workouts, rehab and strengthening that you’d like to have and while playing the game. That’s been a part of it as well.
On if he’s surprised by the lack of goal scoring from the team’s defensemen:
I think lately we haven’t gotten that. But if you look at the games it’s not a matter of our players not having the skill or the players that we have back there. It’s how we’ve played the game as a group hasn’t allowed our team to get to the offensive end with our defensemen being a factor, and staying there for long periods of time for our defensemen to be a factor. A lot of the production that we got earlier in the season was not necessarily our D being individually great. It was them being a part of the team offense that added those points and production. That’s what we’ve been lacking in the last 10 games or so, quick in D zone, quick out of D zone, allowing our D to join the play, getting to the offensive zone and staying there allows your D and the skill of your D to be bigger factors in the game. That’s an area where we need to be better at.
On assistant coach Mike Yeo’s condition:
There was another test that the doctors wanted to do. That test was not able to be done until this morning. Mike is currently awaiting the results of those tests right now. That’s where Mike is at.
On Atlanta’s D providing goals:
One of the things that they do really well, they do activate their D, but their forwards pull up once they get into the zone and look for the late guys for the second wave to the rush. You’ll see Kovalchuk pull up and their other players will pull up and get that late guy. Our D needs to have a good gap on the initial rush, not allowing them to have that space and our forwards tracking back into the D zone, we have to be real certain of where those guys are at, eliminating that second wave of rush. That’s a real dangerous part of their team.

11:00 AM:

Recently called up Luca Caputi works the front of the net for the Penguins' power play.

Mike Rupp (right) was hit in the face with a puck at Monday's practice and received seven stitches.


10:45 AM:
Caputi has played well for the Baby Penguins power-play unit, evidenced by his team-leading seven power-play goals. It looks like he will get a shot with Pittsburgh's power play as he worked in front of the net with the top unit at the morning skate.

The Penguins five-on-three unit featured Malkin and Letang at the points, Crosby and Guerin down low with Staal in front of the net.

10:35 AM:
With Kunitz out and Caputi up, the Penguins forward units at their Tuesday morning skate looked as follows:


10:27 AM:
The Penguins suffered a huge blow when it was learned that forward Chris Kunitz will undergo abdominal surgery. The Pittsburgh forward will be sidelined for the next 4 to 6 weeks, giving Caputi a chance to really make his mark with the club.

10:24 AM:
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar skated prior to the team's morning skate. Gonchar has missed the team's last two games with an undisclosed injury and his status for tonight's showdown with the Atlanta Thrashers at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m. is unknown.


9:48 AM:
The Penguins have made a roster move, calling up forward Luca Caputi from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The 6-foot-2, 184-pound forward is currently the leading goal scorer for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 13 tallies, and ranks third on the club in points (26) through 36 contests. He also has a team-high 121 shots on goal.

Our own Jason Seidling spoke with Caputi about his newest attempt to make an impression on the parent club.
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