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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Tampa Bay

by Caitlin Kasunich / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins will not have the services of Russian stars Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar. Following the morning skate, both players said they would not be in the lineup for Pittsburgh.

Although, Malkin did use the opportunity to joke around with the media a bit. As they swarmed his stall, Malkin pronounced, "I'll play tonight. I feel great." But then he followed that up with a wide smile, "That's just a joke, guys."

12:58 PM:

Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Sergei Gonchar will not be in the lineup tonight in the 7:30 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Malkin will miss his seventh game due to his foot injury, and Gonchar will miss his fourth straight game due to strep throat.

Both players acknowledged that they need to get healthy in preparation for the upcoming playoff season that commences in April.

“I’m still not 100 percent, so I have to make sure that I am,” Gonchar said. “I have to make sure that I’m in good shape to play. The playoffs are going to start for us very soon, so I have to make sure that when I start playing, I’m ready for it.”

Although he said that he is not quite ready to return to the ice tonight, Malkin acknowledged that he still feels much better than he did before.

“Everyday it's better,” he said. “I'm skating in full practice. My feet aren't sore today. I'm very excited.”

Malkin added that while it’s tough for him to watch the team play so many games without his help, he is working extra hard on and off the ice to get back to his game.

“I'm trying to work hard by working out in the gym and on the ice,” he said. “My body is in good shape. It's just my foot.”

Head coach Dan Bylsma agreed that the players need to regain their health before the end of the regular season.

“If this was a playoff game, would it be different? It probably would be, but we need to get healthy and be 100 percent,” he said. “We have able bodies that we can put in there. We’d like to see them both get back to 100 percent. We still have time to play some meaningful hockey games before we get into the playoffs.”

Although they will not join the Penguins on the ice in tonight’s game, both alternate captains said that they support their teammates and cannot wait to return to the lineup.

“I get nervous watching the games, but they're playing well,” Malkin said. “Sidney (Crosby) has played very well. I'm happy we've won the last two games. We're trying to beat Jersey and win (the division).”

12:39 PM:
The Tampa Bay Lightning held an optional morning skate at Mellon Arena today. Eight players and both goalies participated: former Penguin Ryan Malone, Todd Fedoruk, Brandon Bochenski, Zenon Konopka, Matt Smaby, Mark Parrish, Paul Szczechura, Vladimir Mihalik, Antero Niittymaki and Mike Smith.

Here are some pictures from their skate:

Ryan Malone (left), Rick Tocchet (right)


12:30 PM:
Sounds heard throughout the locker room:

Dan Bylsma
On facing Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos:
We talked about this the last time that we played him. The difference between the way that he is shooting the puck now and how he is a weapon on their power play and their five-on-five is even different from the beginning of the year when we saw him. He’s gone into the elite category in terms of being dangerous with the puck and being a guy who you have to circle and be very aware of on their power play. When you score that many goals, it says it all by itself. You can really see a difference in his game and how dangerous he is shooting that puck. We were aware of him last game and need to be again tonight.
On if Stamkos reminds him of any other player in the NHL:
For me and how much I’ve seen him, it’s tough to compare him to someone and feel real comfortable doing it. I don’t like putting a label on a person anyway. Right now, he’s gunning for more goals than our guys, so we’re going to try to keep him down and limit their power-play time and try to prohibit him from making a name for himself tonight.
On winning the division title this year:
We have talked about it. We know what it means and what’s at stake. I think that we’ve made it a motivation point for our team and our club in the last 10 games. We have that chance now.
On the team’s penalty kill:
I think that when you watch the penalty kills night after night, you see the group of guys going over to the boards uniformly and being aggressive and confident and forcing teams into situations where we can be aggressive. Time after time, that’s what it looks like on the video screen. I don’t like talking about it. It’s always the next game for the penalty kill. It’s always the next game for the power play. They do a great job. They have a great mentality. They hop over the boards with not only the mindset that they’re going to work hard and battle hard, but they’re all on the same page with being aggressive together. You can clearly see that.
On playing Tampa Bay:
When we played them last and going into tonight’s game, our big focus is special teams. Their power play is dangerous, as well as their shooters – not just with Stamkos, but they have several guys. We view them as a dangerous team. They have two guys who are in the top six in scoring in the league. They also have Lecavalier. They have a dangerous team. They have a hardworking team, and that’s what we’re going to be prepared for tonight. Our task is to get to our game and not take them lightly. It will be a challenge for us.

Sidney Crosby
On the penalty kill providing momentum:
That’s a big plus. If we get a good kill from our guys, that is something we can build off of and hopefully gain momentum as the game goes on.
On whether the PK is X’s and O’s or will:
I think it is both. You have to execute just like anything else you do out there. It takes a certain level of guts for sure. You are blocking shots. We see guys paying a price game after game. I think it is a combination of both.
On Stamkos:
He has proven he is a pretty good player this year. He has been really consistent. That is the key to anyone having success I think. You have to prove throughout the whole year that you can be.
On the jump Stamkos has taken:
I don’t think it is unusual when you have the skill that he has. He came into the league expecting to do well but that doesn’t always happen right away. When you have that amount of skill and the work ethic he has then you are going to get your goals eventually. He is playing with some skilled guys in Tampa. He is playing well and his skills are coming out.
On getting Malkin back:
Obviously the sooner the better. Anytime somebody is out you want them back. With Geno and Gonch, they are big parts of our team here.
On simplifying things without those two:
At this time of year that is what you have to do I think. Things get tight and you have to be able to score around the net. I think if anything you try to concentrate on details more because with those guys out you are missing guys like them who can just take over shifts. You have to make sure you simplify things and work on those details more.
On the year Dupuis is having:
He has played well all year. He has had an opportunity to play on the top two lines here the last little while. He has buried his chances and made the most of his opportunity. I think Doops is pretty reliable wherever you put him. He has proven that. He has done a great job on the penalty kill and up front he has done great.
On what took so long to get him in a shootout:
You have to ask the coach that one. We have a few guys who do pretty well at the shootout so I don’t think he minds taking a back seat at all as long as we are winning them.
On what 50 goals would mean to him:
It would be great if it happens. That is something that if it is going to happen, it’s going to happen. The main thing is to play the right way and maybe it will come. If it does happen it would be pretty rewarding for sure.
On how tough it is to score 50 goals:
Yes it is. You don’t get those chances too often. For me, I never thought I would be this close. It is something that would be great.
On battling the Devils keeping the team motivated:
You should be motivated at this time of year. The fact that we have that battle going on should help us and push us. We should be at our best.

10:55 AM:



10:45 AM:

Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Sergei Gonchar both practiced at today's morning skate. Their status for the game tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning is unknown at this time, but we will get an update from head coach Dan Bylsma after the skate.

Malkin worked with the line pairing Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Ruslan Fedotenko. Gonchar took shifts with Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik.

Malkin has missed six of the last seven games with a foot injury, and Gonchar has missed the past three games due to illness.

Gonchar (left), Malkin (right)

The forward combinations look like this:
Ponikarovsky - Crosby - Dupuis
Kunitz - Staal - Guerin
Cooke - Kennedy - Fedotenko/Malkin
Rupp - Talbot - Adams

The defensive pairings were:
Orpik - Letang/Gonchar
Eaton - Leopold
McKee - Goligoski
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