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The Inside Scoop: Game Day (Pens vs. Bolts)

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Good afternoon from Tampa, Florida hockey fans. Tonight the Pens will play against the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s another key matchup for the Pens as the Lightning are among the mix of team’s fighting for a playoff spot. Currently they hold the top Wild Card position with 48 points in the standings, that’s 2 points above the Pens.

A win tonight for the Pens could catapult them into a Wild Card position – depending on the outcome of the Carolina-Vancouver game.

The Bolts are trending up following a successful Western swing in which they finished 3-1. After dropping the opening contest in Calgary, Tampa ran off 3 straight wins at Edmonton, Vancouver and Colorado.

The Pens held two very hard practices on Wednesday and Thursday. So they made the morning skate today optional. But only 3 players took the option to stay off the ice: Chris Kunitz; Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

All other healthy players took part in the skate, including Evgeni Malkin, who was given off practice on Wednesday for maintenance.

“I thought (the practices) were great,” Sullivan said. “I loved our intensity . I thought we had a couple of spirited practices. Good pace to them. We worked on a few aspects of our game the last couple of days that we felt we needed to address in order to improve.”

The Pens know the where they place in the standings. They currently are 3 slots out of the final Wild Card spot. And at the end of the year, the Lightning will be one of the teams battling for those final positions.

So even though tonight’s game is just 1 of 82 in early January, these points will be crucial when March and April roll around.

“Every game at this time of year is important to get points,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “Playing against these guys are a good matchup for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

The Pens recalled forward Conor Sheary from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He will join the team tonight and could be in the lineup.

“He’s deserving (of the callup),” Sullivan said. “He’s helped this team win when he’s been up. He’s been one of the better players in Wilkes-Barre this year. He’s got a great demeanor about him and approach to the game.”

Sullivan pointed to Sheary’s attitude during his recent re-assignment as a testament of his character. Instead of sulking, he stepped up and produced for WBS. He leads WBS in scoring with 33 points (7G-26A) and ranks 5th in the AHL in scoring.

“That says something about a player and their character, their makeup and how they handle those situations,” Sullivan said. “We watch those circumstances close. He responded to that the right way. It’s a testament to the type of person he is and the maturity he brings to his job.”

USA Hockey announced the assistant coaching staff for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey Team and Sullivan is among the group.

Sullivan, who will be reunited with USA head coach John Tortorella, will be joined by fellow WBS alumnus John Hynes, Phil Housley, Jack Capuano and Scott Gordon.

“I’m excited. It’s always an honor to represent your country in these types of events,” Sullivan said. “They’re the pinnacle of the sport and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

For more on the Sullivan’s assignment, click here.
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