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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. NY Islanders

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Injury updates on Letang, Lovejoy and more (11:40 AM).
  • Sullivan returns (11:20 AM).
  • Verizon Game Day Report (1:02 PM).
  • Pens' lines (10:35 AM).
  • Pens' PP units (10:45 AM).
  • Malkin has Hart (9:50 AM).
  • Pens recall Despres/Strait (10:00 AM).
  • Pens welcome soldier (4:50 PM).
  • Lookback at Game 7 of ’09 Cup Final (10:05 AM).
  • What to watch for tonight (9:40 AM).
  • Coach Bylsma on Islanders, Despres more (12:50 PM).
  • Sullivan, Despres, Strait & Crosby spit knowledge (12:22 PM).
  • Pens pics (10:52 AM).
  • Isles pics (12:39 PM).
  • “You show the lights that stop me turn to stone…” (9:30 AM).

4:50 PM:
The Pens had a very special guest at the team's morning skate Tuesday: Patrick McIlvain

Tuesday marks the soldier’s third visit with the Penguins after being wounded while serving his country in Afghanistan. After being struck in the head by a bullet during a battle in the city of Kherwar in 2010, McIlvain has been on a long road to recovery from an injury that nearly took his life.

McIlvain still has limited speech and movement, but his visits with the Penguins have sparked improvement in his condition.

“It seems like being around the game and being around the players that he admired before he joined the army (have helped),” Fiano said. “I think it’s something familiar, so it just really brings a lot of joy to him.”

Full story here.

--Sam Kasan

1:02 PM:
Steve Mears wraps up all of the day's happenings on the Verizon Game Day Report. Take 'er away Mearsy.

--Sam Kasan

12:50 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On the Islanders:
We’re looking at a team with a very good top line. Love talking about Matt Moulson, 34 goals from him. One of my candidates for the Lady Byng. Unbelievable what he does around the net, on the power play and for that line. John Tavares has shown he’s an elite player with 75 points. I think he’s playing the best he’s ever played. PA Parenteau with 65 points on that line, I’ve known PA for a long time and 65 points is an outstanding year. A real talented group and a team that’s working real hard to be competitive and play in the offensive zone. They can be a tough team to handle and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. We also know their power play is sixth in the league, just over 19 percent. It’s something for our penalty kill to be aware of tonight. They’re very dangerous back there with those guys. They have other skilled players as well. They have a lot of young, skilled, talented players in (Kyle) Okposo and some other players, like Frans Nielsen. We’re looking to have continued success against them here tonight.

On the benefit and challenges of recalling Despres and Strait at this time of year:
First of all, we’ve talked about this within our room. Not going out and getting depth on defense is because of what we feel like we have in our organization with the seven defense that we’ve had here with Ben Lovejoy, but also with Brian Strait and Simon Despres and the way they’ve played for us this year and what they’ve shown they can do. Our guys are confident they can step in and play regardless of the situation. They’re both going to step in and play significant roles tonight for our team. Brian Strait is going to be paired up with Paul Martin. Paul is going to play the right side. They’re going to play together. Deryk Engelland is going to play with Simon Despres. Brooks Orpik and (Zbynek) Michalek are going to stay together as a pairing. They’ll probably get the top line for the majority of the night. Brian Strait is a guy who’s shown he can defend. He can skate. He can be quick and aggressive and physical in the way he plays. He’s done that in the few games he’s played for us, been the best, most steady defenseman down in Wilkes-Barre over the past two months and confident he can step in and do that tonight. Simon’s style is a little bit different. He’s going to play on the second power-play unit. He’s going to add puck-moving ability, but he can also defend. He’s a big guy and can skate real well, real confident sticking these two guys in our lineup. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is. We anticipate this being a playoff time of the year. If it was a playoff game, we’d feel confident putting those guys in and being able to contribute for our team.

On having confidence in Despres’ game:
It may have been Simon’s first game against Washington. In that game we were on the road playing against (Alex) Ovechkin and (Alexander) Semin. It’s a tough task to matchup against. We had three defensemen out of the lineup that night and Simon had to get out there and play against Ovechkin and Semin, in tough situations. That game showed he could defend and handle the skating and physicality against those guys. He certainly has shown that he can add offense, can read the play and jump into the play, move the puck. That game showed he could handle big stars, speed and players in a big-game situation. That game showed me that he could do that. He’s played another six or seven since then. He did it in the first game.

On if he was concerned with Letang after his head hit:
His reaction on the ice immediately we weren’t going to put him back on the ice until we knew he was checked out and cleared and wasn’t having affects from the hit. He wanted to stay on the ice and play, but we weren’t going to do that at that time. We wouldn’t put him on the ice until a doctor looked at him given the way he reacted to that confrontation. That’s certainly a part of it. That’s why we sent him off the ice and why he had to go see a doctor. He wouldn’t go back given A) that hit; and B) his history.

On using different line combinations:
More and more in the next seven games you’ll see guys that will be playing with each other going forward. That ongoing campaign (of different combos) will continue.

--Sam Kasan

12:39 PM:
The Isles also held a morning skate at CONSOL Energy Center. Here's the evidence...

PA Parenteau ranks 7th in the NHL with 49 assists

John Tavares is averaging a point per game this season - 75 through 75

Evgeni Nabokov and Matt Moulson (left); Isles wait in line (right)

--Michelle Crechiolo

12:22 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Steve Sullivan

On if he’s feeling good:
Yeah, a couple days rest seems to have done wonders. I just needed to rest it a little bit. It just kind of came on pretty quick. I think instead of letting it linger, it was best to just give a couple days to rest. Kind of similar to the Dallas game.

On the frustration of sitting out:
You want to get back out there and help the hockey club however you can. Sitting on the sidelines is not something I enjoy doing. I’ve done it too much throughout my career. I think it was definitely the right play. A goal of mine was to play in all 82 games. It was a little hard to take not playing in that one, but 81 is fine.

On getting close to 82:
Yeah, exactly. It’s been a very healthy season for myself. I’m hoping to continue that.

On if he saw anything while watching Sunday’s game that will help him on the PP:
It’s not like we haven’t discussed things. If I’m playing or not playing, all 10-11 guys who are going to be called upon to do the power play go into the meetings and give their point of view. We’ve been discussing what we see the whole time. It’s not just the first unit. Everyone’s trying to score goals. So I’ll jump back in there and I’m going to do my best to help our team get some momentum off the power play.

On if he is definitely playing tonight:

Simon Despres

On getting the call-up:
I try to do what they ask me to do. I was able to defend pretty well and have a good first pass. I think they were happy with that.

On if he and Strait came to Pittsburgh together:
Yep, when we got called up (Monday).

On what they talked about on the way:
I slept the whole way, pretty much.

On how his game has developed:
I’ve gotten better in the defensive zone and being able to defend against men, which was a big step for me from last year. I’ve been developing a lot on that this year.

On if he’s done a lot of PP work in WBS:
Yeah, I’ve been working on the power play a lot over there and up here. It’s helping me a lot.

On if he’s glad he got his rookie prank out of the way so he doesn’t have to worry:
You’re never out of the way for those.

Brian Strait

On sensing he’ll get a call when guys go down in a game:
You hear that someone might have gotten injured the night before. It’s one of those things that you just kind of have to wait and see what happens. There’s a lot of anticipation for it. But if not, you just kind of go about your regular day.

On if call-ups are more exciting this time of year:
Yeah, definitely. It’s quite a team here. They’re playing some unbelievable hockey and trying to make a push to be the top team in the league. With only a few games left in the season, it’s that time of year where you’ve got to make strides and get your game going for the playoffs. I’m just excited to be here.

On how his game is progressing:
It’s always a different feeling. A lot of emotions go through you when you get sent down and you’re back up and sent down and back up. You just try to stay even keel and deal with the situation as if each game was your last. I’m just trying to get better every time I step on the ice.

Sidney Crosby

On the balance between protecting themselves and losing focus against opponents:
I think that should be pretty easy. We just need to focus on what we need to do. I think we do a pretty good job of consistently staying out of that stuff. There are times when your emotions get the best of you. But I think as a team, we’re pretty good at focusing on playing hockey. That shouldn’t really be a huge task for us. I think we always stress playing whistle to whistle and we want to keep playing the same way.

On their tough schedule down the stretch:
I think it’s good for everyone, for teams trying to get position in the standings and for the fans as well, seeing those rivalries and those good matchups for them. For us, we want to make sure we’re playing well down the stretch here. Playing divisional games kind of gets a little more rowdy, too. I think it’s a good thing.

On the fine line between going on the attack and being defensively responsible:
You can’t take unnecessary risks. You have to know the situation in the game and the score and that kind of thing. I think they go hand in hand. I think good defense is going to help produce offense, too. We can still do a lot better job in our own end and give ourselves even more of an opportunity to play offensively.

--Michelle Crechiolo

11:40 AM:
Head coach Dan Bylsma had a few injury updates...
  • Letang has lower-body injury, day-to-day
  • Lovejoy had knee surgery in the morning, out 3-4 weeks
  • Niskanen and Vitale skated this morning, both still day-to-day
  • Johnson continues to progress
"Ben Lovejoy had knee surgery this morning, 3-4 weeks," Bylsma said. "Kris Letang, lower-body injury, he is day-to-day at this point. Matt Niskanen and Joe Vitale both skated this morning and are day-to-day.

"Brent Johnson continues to practice and needs to progress in team practices where he sees a little bit more. He continues in his rehab and is showing good signs of progressing. We'll see him in a couple more practices and go from there."

--Sam Kasan

11:20 AM:
Steve Sullivan confirms that he will be in the lineup tonight.

--Sam Kasan

10:52 AM:
Pens pic...

Sid and Bylsma share a laugh and a smile (left); Sullivan back at practice (right)

Orpik airs out his hand (left); Johnson eyes up the goal (right)

Group shot (left); Despres is da man (right)

Cooke and Kunitz stretch out (left); Gronk (right)

--Sam Kasan

10:45 AM:
The Pens using Crosby and Sullivan on the points with Malkin, Neal and Kunitz up front on the top PP unit. For the second unit, Martin and Despres working the points with Cooke, Staal and Kennedy down low.

--Sam Kasan

10:35 AM:
The Pens are on the ice for their morning skate. Defensemen Kris Letang and Ben Lovejoy are absent. Below were the line combos...


Orpik, Engelland, Strait, Despres, Michalek and Martin rotated with each other.

--Sam Kasan

10:26 AM:
Sullivan hits the ice. Good sign as he missed the team's last game with a lower-body injury.

--Sam Kasan

10:05 AM:
Pens radio host Bob Grove looks back to June 12, 2009, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in Detroit. Grover recaps the most dramatic game in franchise history.

--Sam Kasan

10:00 AM:
With Matt Niskanen (upper body) and Ben Lovejoy (lower body) both being questionable for tonight's game, the Pens made moves yesterday for insurance. The team recalled two blueliners from WBS, Simon Despres and Brian Strait.

Full details here.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

9:50 AM:
Do you think Evgeni Malkin should win the NHL's Hart Trophy as league MVP? Michelle Crechiolo makes the case for Geno.

He has amassed 97 points, giving him a nine-point lead over Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and an 11-point advantage over Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux in the league scoring race.

But it’s not necessarily the number of points Malkin has that is eye-popping – it’s more so the number of games he reached it in. Malkin has played in 68 contests this season (six less than Stamkos, three less than Giroux) – meaning he’s averaging an unbelievable 1.42 points per game, surpassing his previous high of 1.38 – recorded in the 2008-09 season when he won the Art Ross trophy and Conn Smythe (as playoff MVP).

If Malkin maintains his current numbers, his average points per game would rank among the NHL’s top figures of the last seven years.

Full story here.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

9:40 AM:
The one constant through all of the Islanders’ struggles has been the play of their top line. Matt Moulson, John Tavares and PA Parenteau were paired together at the start of last season and have been shouldering New York’s offense ever since. The trio has accounted for 81 of the Islanders’ 173 goals (46 percent). For more details on the Islanders click here.

--Sam Kasan

9:30 AM:
Good morning from CONSOL Energy Center! Tonight the Pens face off against the New York Islanders in the first game of a home-and-home series. Pittsburgh continues its quest for the top spot in the Eastern Conference as they are one point behind that other New York team, the Rangers. Both teams have played 75 games, but the Pens will need to win outright on points as NY owns the tie-breaker.


We're going to open the day with a song that should get your energy flowing. Here is Bassnectar's remix of Ellie Goulding's "Lights." Enjoy.

And for fun, here is the original version.

--Sam Kasan
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