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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. St. Louis

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

1:15 PM:
Steve Mears has a voice that would make a wolverine purr. And suits so fine he makes Sinatra look like a hobo.

12:48 PM:
Blues pics...

12:47 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Steve Sullivan

On what makes St. Louis such a competitive team:
Their work ethic by far. They’re always a really tough team to play against. Anything you get you’re going to earn from them. They don’t give you anything, but that’s their motto. Just a hardworking hockey club and they’re very successful at it.

On facing a Ken Hitchcock coached team:
It’s very structured. Everyone has a job. Everyone knows their job and everyone needs to do their job if you’re going to play for him, no exceptions. That’s what makes him very successful. He sets up a game plan in place and everyone needs to adhere to it and they usually do and by doing so they have success. Definitely his structure is a big part of his winning ways.

On how a coaching change like St. Louis’ can help:
It does get you going. Unfortunately, I think it’s a little bit of guilt as players when your coach gets fired. He’s the first one to go usually because of the play of 22 or 23 guys in the room that’s insufficient, so he takes the fall for it. I think there’s a little bit of guilt there, so you want to come out and you don’t want to repeat it. I think it’s a wake up call for the players in the dressing room. It’s unfortunate it’s the coach that has to go, but it gets your players going sometimes when a change is made.

Zbynek Michalek

On playing in his 500th NHL game tonight against St. Louis:
It’s a big accomplishment definitely. I’m really proud of myself the way I got to the NHL undrafted and to play 500 games means a lot to me. I’m happy about it and it’s something I take really big pride in.

On if he has another 500 in him:
I would love to get 1,000 games in the NHL. 1,000 games in the NHL would be something special and maybe one day I can get there, but it’s all way ahead of me so I’m just looking forward to tonight’s game and go one by one. Hopefully like that I’ll get to 1,000.

On if he’s satisfied with his performance in his first game back on Monday night:
Hopefully I feel a little bit better. I was getting tired in the second half of the game maybe. I didn’t get much practice time with the team so it was expected. I just want to play my game. I don’t want to do anything fancy out there, just be reliable defensively and make good plays with the puck. Hopefully if I can contribute something offensively that’s always nice. I’m there for playing good defense and that’s what I’m going to try and do tonight.

Soul got happy: Justin Criado

12:41 PM:
Pens pics...

Roll call: Adams? Here. Asham? Here. Bueller?...Bueller?......Bueller? (left);  You can see coach Bylsma's mustache from outer space (right)

Vitale stretches it out (left); Dupuis surprises the goalie after army crawling to the net incognito (right)

Bylsma and Crosby reflect on the solidified nature of water (left); Niskanen action figure #McFarlaneToys

12:27 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On the Blues:
We are playing the Blues tonight. Their last seven games have been very good. They’re 4-1-2 in that stretch coming off a tough game with LA last night and traveling. We’re expecting a very hard working group. A group that will come at you with a lot of speed through the neutral zone, try to attack and play in the offensive zone. Also a very responsible, tough defense to play against. In the defensive zone, they’re a quick and physical group back there. That’s the mantra of their team the last seven games, playing that way, hard to play against, playing a quick game. The goaltending has improved. Elliott has great numbers right now with a save percentage close to .950 (.947). He’s playing really well at this point in time. Steen is a dangerous player on the point and power play. Shattenkirk is a skilled defenseman, bringing the puck up the ice. Russell has added speed to the backend. Backes and Oshie add to that skill and speed. They’re a dangerous group that we’ll be aware of.

On the Blues playing different under Hitchcock:
Systematically, not very much (change) at all. They’ve played very well defensively. I think they’re playing hard defensively. They’re harder to play against. They’ve given up a lot less. They’re quick, a fast team that plays a fast game. It allows them to use their skill and hard to deal with in the offensive zone. They’ve been very effective 5-on-5 playing that way. Special teams has been an area of concern for them and factor for us in the game tonight. Their 5-on-5 play, their numbers are better than ours. We’re going to have to do some good things with the puck and execute to play where we want to play, get to their defense and make them deal with our team.

On telling the players to enjoy themselves at Thanksgiving:
Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have said that for the last Thanksgiving, where we had a fair amount of American guys who celebrate Thanksgiving. I’m going to tell them to eat. I’m going to be eating. That’s what I’m doing. We’ll probably have a practice in the morning, but I’m going to tell them to eat, sleep it off and watch the Lions and the Packers play.

On how having a healthy squad opens up his playbook:
I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I’m still worried about the minutes Crosby is going to play and with playing four games in six nights, managing those minutes with our team. But yes, I think when it’s all said and done, Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are all going to be playing around 20 minutes. That means either the fourth-line center is not going to play at all or people are going to have to be moved in different situations where they’re on the ice at the same time. I would expect to see 87 with 71 like we have in the past in certain circumstances and probably more often than we have in the past, seeing 11 play center with 71 at the wing. Even entertained in the summertime was the possibility of 87 playing wing for a shift or two with 11 as a center. But with those things, I think we’re not totally there yet in terms of minutes for the players. We saw it last game where 87 played with 71 for two shifts in the third period. We’ll see that again. We’ll see other combinations. So I think for the other guys on the team, we’re still figuring out where the other minutes work and who’s going to be playing. Chris Kunitz played less minutes last game and he’s been a guy who’s been up in the 18-minute mark. Tyler Kennedy played less last game. Those guys are big parts of our team that are also going to play more minutes than they did last game. That’s going to play itself out.

On if he will sit down with Crosby about his ice time:
We have talked. There’s a good chance he probably felt better last game than he’s going to feel even in this game and maybe the next games he plays. I was hoping to keep him around 15 minutes when he was at seven in the first period. I was a little concerned that it was too high. There were power plays that dictated that. He, however, was saying he felt great, that he wanted to continue to play at that pace. He was saying, ‘I feel good right now,’ and even admitted last game that possibly, he’s not going to feel as good the next couple games, so let’s keep playing now. Players don’t do very good jobs at managing their ice time. We’re going to keep an eye on it. The situation will dictate it. I would still like to see him be under the 18-minute mark for the next couple of games. Don’t hold me to that promise. But playing four in six nights, that’s a lot of hockey being played back-to-back. There’s a concern about those situations. We’ll try to minimize them or make sure he stays relatively fresh when he’s on the ice.

Troubles so high: Michelle Crechiolo

12:16 PM:
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said that Brian Elliott will be in net, they'll get Chris Stewart back after his suspension and T.J. Oshie is fine after getting hit hard last night.

"Everyone’s good. We’re good to go. (Chris) Stewart comes in off his holiday. Everything else is the same. Stewart with (Matt) D’ Agostini and (Patrick) Berglund back to that line, we’re good to go. (Brian) Elliot’s playing in net. (David) Perron’s feeling good. He’s about to get beat on again."

12:12 PM:
It's a historic day in Pens' history as Sidney Crosby will play his SECOND game after returning from a concussion. He talked to the media about it.

On his encore from Tuesday:
It’s pretty hard to match that. I’m looking forward to getting out there again. We don’t see St. Louis a lot so it will be a good test for us, a good challenge. I want to keep going.

On increasing his playing time:
That’ll be up to Dan (Bylsma). We’ll see how the game goes. Hopefully with each game it will get a little bit easier to get more minutes. It really depends on the game. I would hope the minutes go up with each game.

On the decision to come back:
At that point it was the doctors. I thought a week or two before that I felt I wasn’t going to get anything more out of practice. It was more a matter of making sure everyone was on the same page as far as being ready to come back. It wasn’t predetermined or anything like that. I was happy with the first game, but it doesn’t get any easier. That game was nice, but there are still a lot of things I have to work on.

On a specific day that he felt normal:
No, with each day and the two, three weeks leading up I felt things were getting a little bit easier. With the more contact I did I felt better. That was more or less a big step.

On his expectations each night:
Just to get better, details that aren’t going to be there because I haven’t played in so long. I’m just making sure I iron those out as soon as I can. At the end of the day you’ll always make mistakes, even if you’ve played every game or missed 10 months. Your preparation and attention for that stuff has to be a little bit more when you’ve missed this much time. That’s really your mindset.

On aspects of his game he’s unhappy with:
The conditioning part. The more you can play, the better. I don’t fault myself for that. You can’t get into game shape unless you play a game. I did my best to be ready as far as conditioning went. That’s something that I hope gets better sooner.

12:01 PM:
Pens coach Dan Bylsma said that Fleury will be in net. Crosby in the lineup and everything else a game-time decision.

10:58 AM:
St. Louis Blues TV color analyst Darren Pang is in the house!! He chatted with Steve Mears on "Penguins Live" on Penguins 24/7 Radio.

10:33 AM:
Pens on the ice for the morning skate. Here are the line combos:

(Vitale, MacIntyre)

The six D rotated with three at each end of the ice.

10:20 AM:
The Pens will battle the Blues tonight. Justin Criado scouts out St. Louis, while Michelle Crechiolo gives you the cliff notes in the below video.

10:10 AM:
Before we turn the page on Crosby's comeback game, let's take one final behind-the-scenes look at Crosby's return to the lineup.

And here are fan reactions to Crosby return. Spoiler: they are quite gleeful.

10:00 AM:
Good morning from CONSOL Energy Center! Tonight the Pens take on the St. Louis Blues. The Blues played Tuesday night, a 3-2 setback to the Los Angeles Kings in St. Louis. Goalie Jaroslav Halak played in that contest. We'll see if the Blues go with him or Brian Elliott in the back-to-back games.


Since the Pens are taking on the Blues, we'll open the day with "Natural Blues" by Moby. Enjoy.

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