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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Ottawa

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Quick hits from the morning skate (lots of injury updates):
- Eric Godard will miss 4-6 weeks with a groin injury (see 11:49 AM entry)
- Bill Guerin will play against the Senators. Tyler Kennedy and Alex Goligoski will not play (see 11:56 AM entry)
- Chris Kunitz practiced for the first time since having surgery. Kennedy and Goligoski practiced before the morning skate. None of the three are available tonight (see 10:42 AM entry)
- The Penguins recalled Nick Johnson (see 11:21 AM entry)
- Pittsburgh shuffled the combinations (see 11:56 AM entry)

2:00 PM:
Justin Lubash met with Sidney Crosby and Dan Bylsma after the Penguins' morning skate. Lubash was injured in Afghanistan and lost two precious items during the attack - a Sidney Crosby jersey and a Penguins Stanley Cup championship banner. The Penguins happily replaced those items. Click here for more details.


1:51 PM:

Here are some pictures from the Ottawa Senators' morning skate:

Former Penguin Alex Kovalev

Senators star Jason Spezza (in white)

1:18 PM:

Prior to the Penguins' morning skate,team owner Mario Lemieux skated with Make-a-Wish recipient Michael Saikali, 11, who is diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. For more details, click here.


12:49 PM:

Sounds heard around the locker room:

Dan Bylsma
On what’s different about Ottawa (aside from health):
Watching their last two games, you see a team that does a very good job of controlling the puck in the offensive zone. They’re there a lot. Their defensemen are keeping pucks in down on the wall. They pinch down, keeping pucks. They have a real responsible F3, and they keep plays alive. They really had long periods of time of momentum, which means they draw more power plays. They’re wearing teams down. As you watch those games, especially with film, it’s inevitable that they’re eventually going to score the way they’ve played the last couple of games. They’ve been very good at playing defense, getting pucks, getting back to the defensive zone and then holding onto the puck there. That’s been, at least in the last few wins, a big part of their success. It’s something that we’re well aware of. Puck retrievals, coming out of D-zone coverage – we have to be very good at tonight – preventing them from getting that zone time. We have to be very good at our game, which is getting into the offensive zone. So, that will be the plan going into tonight.
On having to do something special while playing Spezza, Michalek and Alfredsson:
It’s a very dangerous one-on-one skill if you give Spezza the time and space and speed to make a play. He’ll definitely probably try. He can be dangerous, especially skill-wise one-on-one. You’ll see him do a number of fancy things if you let him do that. That’s time and space and speed they need, and we need to be able to take that away with a good gap from our defense. But, a good gap doesn’t happen unless you have a good forward group coming back and pushing from behind. We definitely need that. The quicker you can force them to have to give the puck up, the less you’ll see that freelancing. That’ll be the key against playing against them. Coming out of D-zone is a really important part. They’re going to get there, and they’re going to have shifts. They’re going to start off faceoffs. The first touch is real important in getting out of D-zone, and not just shooting it out, but letting it come back in – forcing them to get to the offensive zone. A lot of times the first 10-15 seconds are very important, because if you can get to the offensive zone and grind them down and make them play defense the first 15-20 seconds, they have less energy to get to the offensive zone, as well. Those are keys to playing against skilled players.
On having more player movement in the Penguins’ power play:
They have more freedom than they think and sometimes more freedom than they take. That’s what we’re trying to encourage. We don’t want to just be stationary within a 10-foot area of ice and not move and just pass the puck around and look for a shot that way. We want to attack, and we want other teams to have to fear our skilled players attacking in different areas. So when they stand in one spot, it’s more of a comfortable feeling for a penalty killer. Even last game against them is a great example – we scored some power-play goals. It was Evgeni Malkin getting that backdoor pass from Sidney Crosby, but Sid comes in and attacks the seam, fakes a shot. Their defense and their goalie react. There are two different mentalities there, and we’re trying to get that attacking movement, so we can force them to start to play defense against our players and other things open up behind them. So far in the last 10 games or so, we’ve been much better at forcing teams to deal with our guys in the attack mode. That’s a hard thing to do with 71 and 87.
On Ottawa’s goalie Brian Elliott being their best penalty killer:
They’ve done a good job at actually limiting other teams’ power plays, because they haven’t given up a lot of power play chances. Their goaltender has been very good. Just looking at how their goaltending situation has shaken out, I think their getting it from different spots. The goaltender has been very good, but I also think they’re a real good group at limiting your zone time. They do a good job of being aggressive right-away, but in the zone they’re a pass group, a tight group. If you just look for a shot, you’re going to have to go through a lot of people, including the goalie, to get there. It’s something we need to be aware of – attacking and forcing them to play defense against their guys versus just taking away shooting lanes and us trying to shoot through shin pads and net-front presence and the goalie.
On if this is an important stretch of games for the team:
I see it as a stretch, but we really should be ramping up our focus. Throughout the league, you talk about the number of games and the fewer number of days. We shouldn’t be thinking about getting these eight over and getting to a break. We should be focused on these eight games as a challenge and a focus to really get to our game, pay attention to detail and set ourselves up for the last 20 games. That’s been our focus for the last four as well. We had 12 before the break after that road-trip. Those 12 have been up on our board every day, and we know we have eight left. Hopefully, that focus is there and that brings the attention to detail and getting to our game that we need to have success here in the days before the break.

Sidney Crosby
On the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players all playing a role in the games that they’ve played in:
It’s really important for any team’s success. You’re going to run into injuries, and you’re going to need those guys to come in and step up. They’ve done that, and we’ve kind of been through that for the last few years where guys have had to come from Wilkes-Barre and really play well. They’ve done that for us. It’s not easy – a lot of times they’re being called up, sent down, playing there, coming back and playing. It’s not easy. They always come here and play really well.  It’s a perfect example and a great story with Chris (Conner) coming and playing for us.
On Ottawa:
It’s a great challenge for us, and they’re playing some really good hockey. We’re going to see a lot of the teams raising their level of play here with the playoffs creeping up on us. Everyone’s kind of jockeying for positions. You see teams set their game up, and they’ve done that here. 
On this time being an important stretch for the team before the Olympic break:
You have to take advantage of that, and we’ve done well in some of the tougher trips – the West coast trip and things like that. To make that really have an impact, we have to make sure that we play well here and make the most of it. We’ve got a great opportunity, and we don’t have to travel that much, so we want to be strong, and this is a great opportunity to play well and hopefully gain some ground.
On the challenges that opposing goalies bring:
You can’t really control the things the opposing goalie does. You have to do the things that you know will be successful and the things that allow you to score goals. If the goalie’s hot, he’s hot. He makes some big saves, but you have to find ways to score. That’s your job. I don’t think you want to change a whole lot except for the fact that you need to be aware of who you’re playing and what you have to do.

Brooks Orpik
On Ottawa:
They had a lot of injuries like we did. They kind of stayed right on the .500 mark and then they got these guys back, and they’ve won seven in a row now. We’ll definitely have our hands full tonight.
On if he can tell that Ottawa is a different team now:
Well, I haven’t seen them play much, so anytime you win seven in a row, you’re doing something right. It’s always nice when you get everyone back. They had a lot of injuries up front to their major guys. It weathered their storm there. They stayed around .500, and then they really spring-boarded when they came back. 
On how nice it is to have Conner coming up and helping out:
The last couple of years, it’s been huge for us with all the injuries that we’ve had. The guys in here have stepped in, and the guys who came up didn’t miss a beat either. That’s just attributed to their hard work down there and probably the coaching they get down there. Every year you have to face some adversary with injuries, and these guys did a good job for us.

Chris Conner
On his mindset going into tonight’s game:
Bring some speed and keep it simple and have fun out there.
On the travel between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton:
It’s not too bad of a travel. It’s something that you always want to do.
On getting more attention with his recent goals:
You kind of go out there and play and bring whatever you can to help the team win.
On what it’s like playing with Crosby:
Obviously, it went well. We had a big win (in New York). It’s always great playing with the top players in the game.
On what position he’s played in his career:
Always wing – never center.
On having a good feel for the positions:
I just go out there and play and make sure that I communicate and have a good time.
On his strengths, including being able to read other players:
I think I bring some speed to the table, too. That’s probably another one of them.
On the difficulty of coming up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and going back down:
It’s not too bad. I’m kind of used to it. It’s something that you learn to adapt to. It hasn’t been too bad.

Assist Caitlin Kasunich

11:56 AM:
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had a lot to say at his post-morning skate media session. He gave an update to all the injury situations and revealed the plan for tonight's forward combinations:

On Godard: "Eric Godard is 4-6 weeks with a groin injury. He's still being evaluated with where he is at with that. It will be long term."

On Kunitz: "Chris Kunitz is progressing. He's back in practice with the group for the first time. He is in the 1-, 2-week range, but he's doing well."

On Guerin: "He'll be playing tonight."

Kennedy and Goligoski are "day-to-day but will not be available for tonight's game."

On the lineup, Bylsma said that Nick Johnson will start the game with Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko. A few players will rotate into Kennedy's vacant spot alongside Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke. Those that will fill the role are Chris Conner, Mike Rupp and Craig Adams.

Pittsburgh will open the game with the following combinations:


11:49 AM:
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma announced that Eric Godard will miss 4-6 weeks with a groin injury. Click here for details.

11:23 AM:

Tyler Kennedy (left) and Alex Goligoski (right) skated prior to the team's morning skate. Their status for the game is currently unknown.

11:21 AM:
The Penguins just announced that they've recalled forward Nick Johnson from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Johnson played three games with Pittsburgh. He made his NHL debut and scored his first goal against Washington Jan. 21.

11:16 AM:

Chris Kunitz (left) practiced for the first time since having abdominal surgery in eary December.

Max Talbot (left) will play against the Senators, while the status of Bill Guerin (right) is unknown.

10:42 AM:
The Penguins took the ice for their morning skate without injured players Tyler Kennedy, Eric Godard and Alex Goligoski. Kennedy and Goligoski skated prior to practice with strength & conditioning coach Mike Kadar, but neither stayed for the scheduled morning skate session.

Forward Chris Kunitz, who has been sidelined since having abdominal surgery in early December, was on the ice for the morning skate and took part in team drills.

The forward mixture looked like this:


With Kunitz unable to play, the Penguins will likely recall another player from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

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