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Penguins Report: Odds and Ends

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins conducted an odd drill at Monday afternoon’s practice at Mellon Arena. It was a 20-versus-2 matchup. Goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Mathieu Garon both protected the same net while the rest of the team tried to score. The two netminders held their own but it was only a matter of time before a puck sailed into the goal.

The drill is one of many additions by interim head coach Dan Bylsma to keep his team loose. They even worked on shooting pucks into an empty net – the Penguins failed to score an empty-net goal in the past two games despite several opportunities. 

“We did some drills pertaining to the open net but it was in a good-hearted nature,” Bylsma said. “It’s not a concern. It does happen, will happen again but we’ll also bury some as well.”

There is a rhythm and reason for everything the team does at practice and each session can be very detailed. Last week, Bylsma had his players work on clearing the puck out of the defensive zone on their backhand from the corner. The team also practiced making saucer passes to teammates over a stationary stick. 

“When I was playing the coaches always wanted us to clear the puck out of the zone but we never once practiced it,” Bylsma said. “So we wanted to have ‘skill days’ where we work on specific skills like saucer passes.”

Whenever the Penguins have a few days between games, Bylsma likes to use the skill days instead of a normal practice for a change of pace.

“It’s great to get good practice time at this time of the year,” Sidney Crosby said. “We worked on a lot of skill stuff, keeping our feet moving, keeping the tempo up.”


Bylsma also implemented a shootout at the end of occasional practices where the last person to score is given a punishment – most often having to fetch Gatorade for the team (as Bylsma did once after losing the shootout contest), or in the case of Matt Cooke, growing a mustache.

“You’ll see Matt Cooke with a nice, big moustache for the next month,” Crosby said. “He (pulls it off) pretty well. It’s a lot better than some guys but it’s still a moustache.”

While the fun activities are brief reprieves of a monotonous practice, that doesn’t mean that the team has the day off.

“We’re not taking it easy,” Bylsma said. “We wanted to hone certain aspects of our game and anytime you make it a competition that makes the players want to bring their best.”

> With any new setting there is an adjustment period, especially when there’s a language barrier. But Matt Cooke, who is playing with new linemates Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora, believes the best way to adjustment is to not adjust.

“The biggest thing for me is to not adjust too much,” he said. “I want to bring a physical presence. I think the biggest thing I can do for them is let them know they can dump the puck and we’ll get it back. Instead of feeling like they have to beat two guys - put it behind them and I’ll go get it. That’s all I want to do. I need to play simple and bring the strengths in my game.”

Matt Cooke is a good player that plays hard and helps (his) linemates,” Malkin said. “I’ve played with Sykora (for) a long time and play with Matt Cooke now. We play aggressive now, more shooting (the) puck, lots of chances to score.”

And the language barrier?

“I speak English, it’s not a big deal,” Malkin said.

Besides, Sykora can act as the language liaison.

“(Malkin) says three or fours words to me,” Cooke said. “A lot of times the message comes through Petr. On the bench we translate.”

> The local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) nominated defenseman Mark Eaton as the Penguins’ nominee for the 2009 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who demonstrates perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

A dislocated wrist and torn ACL ended his first two seasons in Pittsburgh prematurely. However, Eaton underwent a rigorous and grueling rehab for his ACL and has been one of Pittsburgh’s better defensemen this season.

Eaton gave his teammates a scare Saturday afternoon after Colton Orr rammed his face into the boards. Eaton received stitches under his jaw and inside his nose. But a few stitches weren’t going to slow down Eaton.

“It’s not healed but it’s not an issue,” Eaton said. “The stitches are still in there. It’s just a nuisance to have dry blood and stitches inside your nose.”

While the scars and stitches will affect Eaton’s appearance, they won’t affect his performance.

“I don’t believe that Eaton was that good looking before,” Bylsma joked. “I don’t think a couple stitches in his nose is a reason for him to come out of the lineup.”

> Shattuck St. Mary’s of Minnesota, the hockey powerhouse that helped produce such NHL stars as Crosby, Zach Parise and Ryan Malone, will be one of 12 teams competing for the USA Hockey 18-and under National Championship April 1-5 at RMU Island Sports Center on Neville Island.

It’s pretty cool the way that worked out. It wasn’t that long ago that I was playing there. It’s pretty neat. Hopefully I get a chance to go say hi at least. I wish them all luck. - Sidney Crosby
“It’s pretty cool the way that worked out,” Crosby said. “It wasn’t that long ago that I was playing there. It’s pretty neat. Hopefully I get a chance to go say Hi at least. I wish them all luck.”

The Pittsburgh Hornets will be competing as the host team in the Tier I tournament, along with the Shattuck St. Mary’s, Detroit Little Caesar’s, the Boston Junior Bruins, the Philadelphia Junior Flyers and the Los Angeles Junior Kings.

> With their 1-0 win over the Hershey Bears on Sunday night, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have secured their seventh consecutive appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The win gives the Penguins 96 points on the season. The Philadelphia Phantoms, who hold down the fifth spot in the East Division, have 82 with seven games remaining, meaning even if they won all seven, the Phantoms would not be able to pass the Penguins in the division standings.

The Penguins have now advanced to the postseason eight times in the 10-year history of the club, and have made three appearances in the Calder Cup Finals (2001, 2004, 2008). The team has an all-time record of 56-51 in 107 playoff games.


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