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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Buffalo

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Mears brings you today's news (1:32 PM).
  • Malkin out for tonight's game (11:48 AM).
  • Malkin, Jeffrey, Orpik not at morning skate (10:31 AM).
  • Line combos (10:35 AM).
  • There will be a collection before the game for fallen officer Derek Kotecki (2:48 PM).
  • Bylsma discusses strategy vs. the Sabres (12:25 PM).
  • A few Sabres took the ice (12:20 PM).
  • Martin, Michalek and Kunitz take the time to talk to us (12:13 PM).
  • Orpik skated this a.m. by himself (12:02 PM).
  • Pens pics with guest captions from SK (11:18 AM).
  • MSU WINS! "On the banks of the Red Cedar…" (4:47 PM).

4:47 PM:
The Spartans thrashed the Wolverines, 28-14!!! That's four straight wins for MSU against U of's a great day to be a Spartan. Go Green! (And as my buddy Mike Prisuta over at DVE, also a Michigan State alumni, texted me back earlier: GO WHITE!)

This is the most fitting way I could think of to end my blog:

2:48 PM:
Alright guys, time for a serious post. I just wanted to note that local police officers will hold a collection before tonight's game to benefit the family of fallen officer Derek Kotecki, who was killed Wednesday in the line of duty while attempting to apprehend a suspect. Officer Kotecki, an 18-year police veteran, is survived by his wife and two young sons.

The fundraising effort is already off to a great start, as 84 Lumber and Nemacolin Woodlands announced today they were making a $10,000 contribution to the cause. Any contributions today from our amazing fans would be incredibly appreciated.

1:32 PM:
Steve Mears brings you today's Verizon Game Day Report. (Sam put this entry in, I'm disappointed he didn't add anything funny. -MC)

12:25 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On Steve Sullivan:
Power play-wise he’s been an asset that’s added an ability to bring the puck up the ice and have different looks. He reads the play real well bringing it up the ice. Back on the point, he’s adding a different look. Not a shooting aspect, though he has shot the puck when needed and when he’s supposed to. But he’s been able to move the puck around. Talking to the players and watching, there’s more of a shooting mentality from our power play, more attacking. I think part of it is that he’s able to add a breakdown in-zone to allow that to happen for other guys. Kris Letang is shooting the puck much better. James Neal and (Tyler) Kennedy who are shooting much better. I believe the game in Edmonton, we attempted 32 power-play shots. We didn’t hit the net with all of those, but that’s an enormous amount of pucks getting fired at the net. I think his presence there has added that on the blue line. In terms of 5-on-5, his board play has exceeded expectations. So far to this point he’s made plays for us, he’s added speed. He’s constantly trying to set up players rather than shooting more or managing the puck a little bit better, but he’s made some plays. It’s evident on the goal for Neal against Washington. Malkin made a great play as well, but Sullivan made the play across the ice. He’s added that as well. I think he’s still finding his way a little bit in terms of supporting his teammates and working with his teammates within the way we want to play. He’ll still get better in that regard.

On who will wear the “A” on the jersey:
Evgeni, Brooks Orpik and Jordan Staal are our alternate captains. If they were all healthy, Jordan and Brooks would share it on home and road. We didn’t have to decide that yet. We haven’t declared that yet. The way it will work is Brooks will be (an ‘A’) on the road and Jordan will be at home. That’s the way it’s set up right now. The other As are distributed after that.

On the Sabres:
Watching the Sabres this year I don’t see a lot of change in how they play. It does allow the team to play more aggressively and enhances the quality of players and a few more players that fit into that. The defensemen are real active participants in every zone. Down the wall in the offense zone, keeping pucks in, on the rush, coming out of D zone – the D are active participants with the addition of (Christian) Ehrhoff. It’s another piece to that puzzle. You see (Andrej) Sekera and (Tyler) Myers up the ice, joining the rush and joining the play down the offensive zone like they have been in the past. It’s made them a very dangerous team all over the ice. We haven’t played against (Brad) Boyes yet. I think there is more depth there. There’s a little more skill. You see (Tyler) Ennis and (Nathan) Gerbe darting in and out. In addition to having those D in there, they’re a dangerous, speed team. They have skill in and throughout their lineup, especially the top three lines now – a little more dangerous than they did before. They’re a dangerous team. Power play has always been a strong point for them. They’re a very dangerous group. They do a lot of different looks and different things with their power play. Now you’re adding Ehrhoff back there and (Marc-Andre Gragnani) is another look for that mix of defensemen. It’s a dangerous team. I think it’s very similar to the way they’ve played in the past; it’s just different pieces and parts to the puzzle. You have to be aware of their speed and skill and how much pressure they put on you offensively.

On if his PKers will try to score against Buffalo:
We don’t talk a lot about taking chances or going for offense, but there are situations, especially when you’re playing a team that does a 1-3-1 set, which a lot of teams in the NHL do. You’ll see that look from the Sabres tonight. When you beat the guy on the half wall with the puck, it’s just one guy back. If you’re playing a team that has four forwards or are in the 1-3-1, when you beat him then you have one defenseman back. That’s what happened for us so far this year getting one of our shorthanded goals; the other was a forecheck goal. It’s a situation as a 1-3-1 team that you have to be aware of when you do turn over the puck. Our forwards have turned that into offense. It’s not something we talk about, but we are aware of that set from a team. If you win that wall play or get a turnover or a loose puck, it’s out of the zone. You don’t even need to make a play if you get it into the neutral zone – you create foot races. That was the case last night against Buffalo. I know they’re disappointed and is something they’re aware of.

On turning zone time into goals:
One of the things we thought we could improve on last year with offensive zone play was getting dirty goals. Every coach talks about dirty goals and going to the net. It doesn’t always translate into getting more goals. We worked hard this summer trying to find ways to score more dirty goals. Some of it is individual skill development around the net. A lot was going to areas on the ice that you’ll have a chance with rebounds. We did some homework and worked it into our practices this year differently than we have in the past. We’ve already scored goals this year with some of that mindset. It didn’t work out last game because there were lots of rebounds and opportunities to bang in some goals. We are still honing our work on that and getting that into our practices so we can get more goals around the net.

Team player: Sam Kasan

12:20 PM:
The Sabres played Friday night in Buffalo, but still held an (optional) morning skate here in Pittsburgh. Here's the evidence...

The pride and joy of East Lansing, Michigan (left); Jhonas Enroth was first off the ice, so it looks like he'll get the start (right)

12:13 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Paul Martin

On former college teammate Thomas Vanek:
He’s just really good around the net. He’s got such great hands and net front presence.  He’s always had that touch. He’s tough around those areas and you have to go there if you want to score any goals.

On how to stop him:
You try to get into him before the pucks come to the net. You have to be physical with him and try to demand the puck.

On their deep forward lineup:
They do have a good team and it’s similar to ours. We feel comfortable with any lineup on the ice, so it should be a good matchup tonight.

Chris Kunitz

On how to handle the way Buffalo activates their defensemen:
You have to make sure the puck is deep, finish your checks and make it tough for them to get up the ice to join the play and turn pucks over. They’re great on rushes, so you’ve got to make sure the puck is behind them, finish your checks and keep them kind of in front of you. They’re going to go anyways. We know that’s going to happen.

On what is going to be tough about them tonight:
They definitely added some veteran defense presence. We’ve got to get in the zone early and get some of their defense pairings. They just give those guys a good veteran presence. These guys have been decent in the playoffs, so you just have to go out there and try to be better than the guy across from you. That’s all it comes down to. We have to take advantage of them playing last night.

Zbynek Michalek

On newly-appointed Sabres captain Jason Pominville:
I remember when we were in juniors that he is a well-spoken guy and he’s respected because he plays the game hard. Maybe he’s not the most vocal guy in the locker room, but he’s a leader on the team on the ice. They probably had a good reason to pick him as captain and I think he’s done a good job.

On Steve Sullivan:
Smaller guys, like him, are so quick. For bigger guys, he is so hard to defend. He seems to always be moving with speed. When he gets the puck it seems like he gets even faster. He’s hard to defend even though he’s not our biggest and strongest guy.

On the Neal-Malkin-Sullivan line:
When ‘Geno,’ ‘Sully,’ and Neal are on the ice together they enjoy every single shift and they create so many chances and plays. It can be a dangerous line definitely.

Game face on: Kaitlin Zurawsky

12:02 PM:
We were on hand to get some pictorial evidence of Brooks skating this morning. Here it is...

11:48 AM:
Pens head coach Dan Bylsma gave some injury updates at his media conference. The most important one was that Evgeni Malkin, who did not participate in morning skate, is out for tonight's game:

"Malkin was not on the ice this morning and he will not be in the game tonight.

"Brooks skated today. He was pushing it pretty hard today by himself. I haven't gotten an update on him. He's improving and doing better. Hopefully soon we'll see him with the group. I don't have an update on how his progress was today.

"Jeffrey continues to skate and is getting better and better, stronger and stronger."

11:18 AM:
Hello masses, Sam Kasan here checking in. Michelle asked me to "guest appear" in her Pens Report today. What that means is that I'll be writing the pic captions in this entry. That's a lot of pressure and I hope not to disappoint. And if I do disappoint, don't tell me. I'm sensitive.

Sidney "Let's Get Physical" Crosby (left); Speaking of, Crosby stares at Johnson. The goalie turns his head bashfully (right)

Look to the right of this pic to see that whale washed up on shore (left); Sullivan whispers, "2 peanuts walk down a road, one was assaulted." Dupuis laughs (right)

Because scoring on his feet is too easy these days, Neal practices on his knees (left); Vitale questions the morality of penguins (right)

Everyone gangs up against Johnson (left); Lesson time! (right)

Duper and Engelland are too close for comfort (left); Fleury lookin awesome in blue (right)

That's all I got for ya! -SK

10:35 AM:
Here are the combinations:


Letestu and MacIntyre are not skating in lines.

10:31 AM:
Pens are on the ice for their morning skate. Malkin, Jeffrey and Orpik are not skating with the team. They're the only ones missing.

10:00 AM:
Good morning everyone and welcome to the first weekend game day for the Penguins here at CONSOL Energy Center!

The Penguins are taking on the Buffalo Sabres, who have put together a surprisingly deep, competitive squad that seems poised to make quite a run this year. They’ve got three scoring lines, a high-flying D corps and elite goaltending in the form of Ryan Miller (although my Spartan brethren doesn’t tend to do very well against us).

But before we turn our attention fully to hockey, I have something to get off my chest. As some of you may or may not know, I’m a recent graduate of the great Michigan State University, meaning I’m a proud member of the Spartan nation and I bleed green. And today, the Michigan State football team is taking on our ultimate rival at Spartan Stadium – the Michigan Wolverines.

You don’t have to be a fan of either team to understand how legendary this rivalry is – and right now, the Spartans own the Wolverines. After Mike Hart’s “little brother” comment in 2007, MSU went on to beat U of M three-straight years. The Paul Bunyan Trophy is quite comfortable in East Lansing, and hopefully it stays there for another 365 days. I've got friendly bets going with quite a few people here in Pittsburgh that my team wins, so cross your fingers for me.

In honor of my school, I’m starting the blog with a song produced by former Michigan State basketball player Maurice Ager that’s played before all home games. I know most of you aren’t MSU fans, and I’m sorry. Please bear with me!!!

I’ve also got to wish good luck to both the Pitt Panthers and the Penn State Nittany Lions, who are both playing home games today at noon. I actually got stuck behind the Utah team busses for quite some time when I was trying to get coffee this morning – not cool. That makes me cheer for Pitt even harder.
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