Goaltender Matt Murray and forwards Conor Sheary and Kevin Porter, all recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday, were on the ice for morning skate on Wednesday at TD Garden heading into the Pens' matchup with the Bruins – as was defenseman Trevor Daley, acquired from Chicago for Rob Scuderi on Monday.
“Obviously pretty excited to be here,” said Daley, who arrived in Boston on Tuesday afternoon. “I know a lot of these guys are excited to have new faces around too. Looking forward to (my Pens debut). Makes it a lot more exciting when you win. Tonight’s a good night to start.”
Daley skated on a pairing with Olli Maatta and also worked the center point on the second power-play unit. Daley told me what stands out to him the most about the Pens' style of play is that they want to get the puck up the ice as quick as possible.
“Most teams are like that. The group I came from, the D were always up in the play and joining the attack,” Daley said. “You need as many guys in the offense as possible to try to score and then vice versa. You need everybody in the defensive zone to help out.”
Mike Sullivan hasn't talked to Daley much going into his Penguins debut, which the head coach said is by design.
“I don’t want to fill his head with thoughts. I want him to play inspired hockey and do what he does best,” Sullivan said. “What I spoke to him about is just being himself. Playing with confidence. Playing with energy.
"We’re excited to have him. We’re thrilled to have him. We know he’s going to make us a better team. As he gets more acclimated with our group we’ll spend more time with him as far as defining expectations and understanding the details of how we play. But for now, I just want him to be himself and to play inspired hockey.”
After practice, Maatta marveled at Daley’s speed, and Sullivan said that’s one of his biggest assets.
“I think he’ll help us get out of our end zone more efficiently, more effectively, hopefully with the puck,” said Sullivan of the 32-year-old, who ranked fifth among all NHL blueliners with 16 goals last season.
“But certainly I think that will be an area where we hope he’ll have a major impact. I think he’ll help us on the power play. So we really like his mobility. We like his puck-moving ability.”
Sidney Crosby told me he knows Daley from training with him in Vail, Colorado during the summer. And while Daley said the captain is the only guy in the locker room he already has a prior relationship with, the new Pen said it won’t be a problem getting acclimated.
“It’s so easy. The day you show up to a hockey dressing room, you have 22 new friends,” Daley smiled. “The guys have been great. I’ve only been here for a few hours and it’s been good.”
FORWARD SITUATION Nick Bonino was the only expected player absent from morning skate. Sullivan said the forward woke up this morning and didn’t feel well, so they kept him back at the hotel and he will be a game-time decision.
With Bonino missing, the Pens used the following combinations at morning skate…
If Sheary is to get in the lineup tonight, it would mark his NHL debut. That in itself would obviously be a special experience, but to do it in his hometown would make it even more amazing for the Massachusetts native.
“There’s a lot of emotions going through me right now,” Sheary admitted. “All through the day yesterday just driving here, especially into my own city. It’s pretty crazy. I had family and friends texting me all day yesterday and just to be in Boston is pretty cool.”
He told me that his whole family will be in town – his parents and two sisters – along with his girlfriend, college roommates and a few high school buddies.
“I’ve got just a few people,” Sheary joked.
The 23-year-old, who currently ranks tied for fourth in the AHL scoring race alongside teammate Dominik Simon with 25 points (6G-19A) in 24 games, spent the majority of the year playing under Sullivan down in WBS and said his style is “awesome." Especially for the forwards, as he explained the coach gives guys freedom to do their thing.
And Sullivan was equally complimentary of Sheary, who's not the biggest guy at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds but can make plays offensively and be consistent in his own end.
“Conor’s been a terrific player at the American League level for a number of years now,” Sullivan said. “For me, when he was there, he was a point-a-game guy. he was really good on the power play. For me, he’s an NHL-caliber player. He’s got great quickness. He’s elusive in tight space. He’s got a high hockey IQ.”
The coach believes that both him and Porter, who notched one assist in eight games earlier in the season with Pittsburgh, will provide a spark.
“They’re both going to add something to the mix,” Sullivan said. “I know that they’ll come in and they’ll bring us a ton of energy and enthusiasm.”
POWER-PLAY UNITS The Pens used the following PP units with Bonino absent…
1) Malkin at the center point, Crosby and Warsofsky on the walls and Perron and Kunitz at the net. 2) Daley at the center point, Kessel and Maatta on the walls and Hornqvist and Sheary at the net.
"I’m in a different position on the power play than when I was in Wilkes," Sheary said. "I’m now in the middle. It’s a little bit different role, but I learned it a bit this morning and I’ve played there before, so hopefully that will work out for me and hopefully I can play that well."
GOALIE SITUATION With Marc-Andre Fleury out with a concussion, the net is Jeff Zatkoff’s for now.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” said Zatkoff, who is 2-1-1 in five appearances this year with a .936 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average. “This is the first time I’ve been in this situation where I’ve had a chance to start here and hopefully maybe get a few in a row. I’m excited. I think guys are ready to go and it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Though Zatkoff has only played sporadically up to this point, he said he has zero concerns about his stamina and conditioning.
"I’ll be fine," he said. "I’ve played many games in my career and though I haven’t played a lot this year, I’ve had a lot of tough practices so I think the practices are the more challenging part. The games are the easy part.
"We’ll just play it day by day. We’ll start with tonight and then see the way the schedule works itself out going into the weekend and to Monday. Right now, I’m just focused on tonight and I’ll deal with the rest of the stuff after as it comes along."
The 28-year-old spent all of last season with Murray, and the two of them combined to allow the fewest goals against in the AHL.
Zatkoff smiled and said it was "pretty crazy" that the duo has now gone from riding buses together in WBS to teaming up in Pittsburgh, and he's thrilled to see the 21-year-old get the call-up.
“I’m happy for him,” Zatkoff said. “He definitely deserves an opportunity to get up here and see what it’s like. He’s played really well. It’s always exciting. I remember my first call-up three years ago. I didn’t get a chance to play, but just to be around the guys, to travel with the team and take part in practice, it’s an experience that you learn from and one you’ll never forget and just gives you that extra motivation just to get there even faster.”
Despite all of Murray's success in his pro career thus far -- he's the reigning AHL goaltender and rookie of the year and currently ranks first (tied) in the league in shutouts, second in save percentage, third in goals-against average and fourth in victories -- this marks his first call-up as he's still a young guy.
When I asked him to put into words what his emotions were right now, he had trouble articulating it.
"It's pretty exciting. It's pretty overwhelming at the same time," he said. "I don't really know what to feel, it hasn't really sunk in yet. Kind of been non-stop since I got the call. But once I get a second to take it in and really realize what happened, I'll be able to relax a little bit and be a little bit more comfortable."