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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Phoenix

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

4:45 PM:
Don't forget that this Wednesday the Pens will be unveiling a Mario Lemieux statue at CONSOL Energy Center at the Trib Total Media Gate.

“Le Magnifique,” a spectacular statue honoring the career and achievements of Mario Lemieux, will be unveiled on Wednesday, March 7 at CONSOL Energy Center, the team announced.

The unveiling will take place at 12 noon in a ceremony open to the public. The statue will be located in the plaza just outside the Trib Total Media Gate at CONSOL Energy Center, near the intersection of Centre Avenue and Washington Place.

Full story.

A few banners have been hung in anticipation of the event.

12:55 PM:
Coachspeak with Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett...

On catching up with Dan Bylsma over the summer at the (U.S. National development) camp:
We had some laughs. That was a great experience as a coach. Very seldom do you get into a game where you can throw caution to the wind and try a lot of different things. We had some good laughs in it. I really like what the National Hockey League does there. They bring those young players in. You get a look at them. Dan (Bylsma) and I had a great time trying to find ways to concoct rules and try different things that might help the game. It was a great weekend. Any time you can spend more time around other coaches I think it benefits everybody.

On if Mike Smith is in goal tonight:
Yeah. I’ve always liked “Smitty” since I had him in Dallas. He’s a big goalie, great athlete, and tactically he’s sound. I thought the ability to have him come in here with getting the opportunity along with working with Sean Burke, who does a great job with our goalies, I thought that would be a good fit for our team. Smitty’s come in and he’s grabbed the opportunity. He’s really rounded. He’s probably been our most valuable player this year. He has really taken his career to another level.

On James Neal and his development from his rookie year:
He’s a good player. I’ve always liked “Nealer.” He has a great attitude. He was a young player that was really hungry to learn and enthusiastic to learn. It’s a situation where two teams were looking for different kinds of elements. There are a lot of players in this league that envy Nealer’s position because he’s a young player that grew and then he comes in and gets to play with (Evgeni) Malkin. That’s a great spot to be in. The thing that makes Nealer special is that there are a lot of players that get that opportunity, there aren’t many that take advantage of it. Nealer has really taken advantage of it. It’s good for him. He’s a good player, a good person and I enjoyed my time with Neal.

On working with Matt Niskanen in Dallas:
When I look at him as a player, he’s kind of what I call a “today’s game player” where he thinks the game very well and moves the puck well. I think the expectations, being a first-round pick in Dallas, maybe got a little out of whack after his early success. Sometimes a change like that brings out the best in a player. I’ve watched a lot of his games. He’s another player where I’m a fan of his. I think he’s a smart player. I don’t think he’s a frontline player for your defense, but a very good compliment player, just the way they play him here. He’s playing really well.

--Brittany Goncar

12:50 PM:
The best fill-in NHL Network anchor in the business, Steve Mears, brings you the Pens-Coyotes Game Day Report.

12:30 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On the Phoenix Coyotes:
We’re going to scratch the last two games off their record and know that we are playing a team who didn’t lose a game in February, going 11-0-1. They’re playing extremely well and contending for the lead in their division. They’re certainly playing really good hockey right now and we’re expecting that out of them. I know they’re coming off two losses where they don’t feel that they’ve played their best. And watching and reading about their team, they’re looking to rebound in their two road games starting with us. I always like watching their highlights to see Ray Whitney. I’m not sure of his age, but he certainly doesn’t play his age. He doesn’t play a day over 40. They’re led by him with his 59 points. (Radim) Vrbata has 30 goals this year. Our players probably don’t see a lot of this guy and he’s got 30 goals for them. Just watching Keith Yandle on the video their last two games, he, in addition to Oliver Ekman-Larsson – the skating back there is a real factor on the ice all over, both offensively, defensively and on the power play as well. We’re expecting a really well coached team tonight and a team we’re not familiar with, but a team that’s been playing very well.

On the difference between him and Dave Tippett’s coaching philosophies:
It’s always interesting because the tender of most conversations when it comes to their team is that their team plays on the other side of the puck. When you read their clippings and their articles, they tend to talk about the defensive side. If you read ours, you probably tend to talk about the other side. But I know they’re cognizant of the other side of the puck as well. They’re a very aggressive team, both on their forecheck and in the neutral zone. It’s not sit back and play defense or trap and wait for the other team to come at you. They’re a very aggressive team. While they do talk about the other side of the puck more than our team does, they are a very aggressive team and are going to come at you both forechecking-wise and in the neutral zone. I think it’s a key to how they play the game, very similar to the way we play the game, being aggressive and coming at you. There are some similarities there, but it’s always interesting to see that they are talking more on that side of the puck and we’re talking more about going the other way. I know this summer in the (United States) development camp both of us tried some interesting things. I don’t think we’ll see any of those things tonight in the game. (Tippett) did do some interesting things, but I’m not sure I’ve seen any of it in the two full games I’ve watched of his team. That was more experimenting than anything.

On Michalek and Martin picking up their play since being separated:
I think sometimes a change is a good thing. There were times when those two guys together had played really good games. Then the second a puck drops out of the sky and bounces in the net on them, they end up minus in the game and at times, that wasn’t a great indication of how they both were playing or what they were doing for our team. With them in our lineup and plying together, we’re a .700 hockey club. They play well together. But I do think having been separated a little bit – they still play a handful of shifts together throughout a game and at different times of the game – has been good for them both. ‘Marty’ played real well with Kris Letang and played a real strong game in Colorado as well with Deryk Engelland. Tonight, he’s going to be paired up mostly with Matt Niskanen. They both have played real well. They both have done some good things and we need them to. They’re great players for us. They defend well and we don’t give up a lot when they play the way they’ve played recently. We kind of joked a few times last game when they did get a few shifts together that they made it through.

On the defensive depth throughout the organization:
I think over the last couple years, you’ve seen the depth throughout our organization. Not only from the numbers and the quality of the players, but the development of the players. Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy are testaments to that. Brian Strait is a guy who has been in our organization for a number of years now and is a really confident and sturdy defender, a physical defender. You see a little bit of Rob Scuderi in the way Brian Strait plays. We have Simon Despres as well, who is different in a lot of ways – different in his mobility, different in his offensive ability and more of a second power-play guy. Not quite as talented in the offensive category as Kris Letang, but really a guy who can play offensively and skates well defensively.  So a little bit different. We have Alex Picard as well, who plays a different type of role as well. You see that coming down the road in different defensemen as well. For our team, to be able to bring in Brian Strait tonight to play, I think there’s a lot of confidence that he’s going to come up and play a real solid game and know how to execute and know what our standard is with and without the puck. He’s going to add to our game tonight and that’s a strength to be able to have, whether it is Deryk Engelland going out or Kris Letang.

On having players like Michalek provide a scouting report of their old team:
We did exactly that in Dallas with both Matt Niskanen and James Neal on their players. They have a new coach this year, so there were some different tendencies from their team. “Z” is the best person who is going to be able to add that, both this morning when we talk about their team and tonight when he may get called upon to add a little bit to our scouting and knowing what we can expect both against the Dave Tippett Coyotes team and some of their players.

--Michelle Crechiolo

12:08 PM:
Coyotes pics...

12:06 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Marc-Andre Fleury

On playing Phoenix:
They’ve got some big guys on the team, but they play hard. They are going to be coming hard at us tonight. It will be a good challenge for us tonight. 

On playing a team that’s battling for a playoff spot:
Yeah, I think most of the teams right now are trying to make the playoffs or actually are in the playoffs. I can tell by the standings, I think those games are definitely a little more intense and physical.

On the Penguins’ success against the Western Conference:
It’s been going all right. Every time we’ve played them, we don’t know as much about those teams, we try to come out and play our game the way we can and it’s been working well.

On how tough it is for a goalie to go on a streak:
I think if the team plays well in front of you, you can win those games. I think you just have to get in the groove, get comfortable in the net.  I always try to reach that point when you are a goalie. 

Zbynek Michalek

On playing Phoenix:
Probably, this time of the year the activity picks up and definitely for the teams that in the bubble. They are playing for their lives and it’s hard for them already. We have to make sure we are ready for it and have the same mentality.

On what Phoenix has gone through:
I’m not really surprised because the last three years they built a team well together. I’m sure they are getting what they deserve. They’re a good team, they are a hard-working team and they play the systems, so they are a tough team to play against. This is the third year in a row they are in the playoff position.

--Brittany Goncar

11:58 AM:
Tyler Kennedy spoke to the media following the morning skate...

On if he’ll play tonight:
I feel good, so we’ll see if coach puts me in or not.

On if there are any lingering issues:
No, it’s just a matter of feeling good right now.

On if he’s ready to go:
Yeah, I hope so. I’m going to hopefully play well if I play.

On if he thinks about the injury when he skates or if he’s past that:
It’s past that part. Every time I skate I feel good.

On the frustration of sitting out:
I’ve been out I think four weeks now. The first couple shifts I’m going to try and get out and try to set a tone with my play.

On if he’ll be back at the same speed he was before he got hurt:
I’m definitely hoping so, but we’ll see what happens.

On the rehab being more difficult than he expected:
I haven’t had this injury before, it’s my first one. I talked to guys and they said it’s always going to feel a little different than usual. But it’s one of the things you’ve got to kind of fight through a little bit. We’ll see what happens.

On pain being the biggest thing he has to fight through:
No, not really. It’s just a little weak, but not much.

--Michelle Crechiolo

11:38 AM:
Pens coach Dan Bylsma had some info on a few players...
  • Kennedy will be a game-time decision
  • Engelland is day-to-day with lower-body injury
  • Strait will play tonight in place of Engelland
  • No update on Letang, he is being re-evaluated by doctors
  • Jeffrey missed the morning skate with an illness
  • Fleury will start in goal

"Tyler Kennedy was on the ice today and will be game time for tonight," Bylsma said. "Deryk Engelland was not on the ice. He’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury. We’ve recalled Brian Strait to play this evening. Our goaltender tonight will be Marc-Andre Fleury."

10:57 AM:
Pens pics...

Sullivan is riding a 7-game point streak with 3 goals and 8 assists (left); The former 'Yote Michalek (right)

Thiessen and Fleury discuss goalie things (left); Sullivan and HC Bylsma listen to the voice of God (right)

Staal's hair continues to grow (left); Kunitz and Neal synchronized stretching (right)

Vitale gets his hair cut (left); Casual skate amongst friends (right)

10:35 AM:
Missing Pens from the morning skate are Crosby, Jeffrey, Letang, Engelland and Johnson. Crosby and Johnson skated earlier in the morning before the skate.


The defensemen rotated.

10:25 AM:
The Pens make an early morning roster move, recalling defenseman Brian Strait from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Strait, 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, has played the majority of the season with WBS, where he has posted 12 points (3G-9A) and a plus-2 rating in 34 games. A native of Boston, Mass., Strait has played in 187 career AHL regular-season contests in two-plus seasons with WBS, collecting 36 points (7G-29A) and a plus-46 rating. He’s added five points (1G-4A) in 16 postseason games.

Full story here.

(Getty Images)

10:00 AM:
It's Monday, so we'll sneak a peek into Mike Lange's Journal. In today's edition, the Hall of Fame broadcaster discusses the impact of Ronnie "Franchise" on the Penguins, uh, franchise. Take 'er away Mikey.

9:50 AM:
Before we jump into this new week, let's take a look back at the top plays from last week.

9:40 AM:
The Coyotes have lost their last two games, but don't let that stumble fool you. Before that the squad ran off a 12-game unbeaten streak with an 11-0-1 run. Goalie Mike Smith won 11 straight during that streak. Michelle Crechiolo has more on what to watch for in tonight's matchup.

9:30 AM:
Good morning from CONSOL Energy Center! The Pens will hit the ice at 10:30 a.m. for their morning skate. Tonight they'll battle the Phoenix Coyotes at 7 p.m.


We'll open the day with a song from my favorite band from high school - AFI. Since we are playing Phoenix, it would be fitting to kick off the day with the song "The Days of the Phoenix." Though I don't think lead singer Davey Havok was writing about the NHL's Coyotes, it's still a good play of words.

Anyways, enjoy.

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