Good afternoon hockey fans. Tonight the Pens will battle the Boston Bruins at TD Garden for the final time this season. The last time these two teams met, Boston skated to a 3-0 victory on Dec. 16. However, that was only the Pens’ second game under new head coach Mike Sullivan.
After losing their first 4 games under Sullivan, the Pens figured it out. Since Dec. 21 Pittsburgh is 15-6-5 and is a new team.
“We are a very different team today than we were then,” Sullivan said. “Our mindset has changed. We’ve evolved.”
As usual, tonight’s game will have important ramifications for the playoffs. The Bruins hold the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with 70 points. The Pens hold the final WC spot with 68 points, but they have New Jersey (67 points), Carolina (66), Ottawa (64) and Philadelphia (63) right on their backs.
Although the Pens do have a few games in hand on all of those teams, it’s what they do with those games in hand that is important. And tonight they can help solidify their own playoff positioning while cutting down a team with which they are competing.
The Pens had a highly attended morning skate. All of the team’s healthy players were present, except for recently recalled defenseman Steve Oleksy (more on him later). Injured centermen Evgeni Malkin (lower-body, 9 games) and Nick Bonino (hand, 16) were also on the ice. Malkin even took part in some rushes as a Dman.
The Pens used the following workflow…
A few Pens have ties to the Boston area. And as expected, they’re always excited to play in TD Garden.
Brian Dumoulin (Boston College): “It’s always nice coming home. You see friends and family and they get to watch you play. At this level you don’t get that too often. There is a lot of travel. I’m excited to play. It not being my first (game in Boston), I’m more focused on the game.”
Conor Sheary (Winchester, MA native; UMass-Amherst): played his first career NHL game in Boston on Dec. 16: “It was my first game so it was pretty cool. I had a lot of friends and family in the crowd. It made me feel more comfortable. Like a home game. It was a great experience.”
Scott Wilson (UMass-Lowell): “It’s special to be back here. Living here for three years was a significant part of my life. I love Boston. The fans are really passionate about their sports, which makes it a lot more fun to play here.”
With defenseman Ben Lovejoy out “longer term” due to an upper-body injury, according to Sullivan, the team recalled blueliner Steve Oleksy from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this morning.
Oleksy wasn’t at the team’s morning skate, but will arrive later today and will be available to play tonight if needed.
“He brings great character,” Sullivan said. “He’s a very competitive person. He’s done a tremendous job in Wilkes-Barre helping that team win with his compete level. He’s hard to play against. He’s an abrasive guy. He’s tough as nails.”
Oleksy, 30, has solid size (6-foot, 190 pounds) and likes to play physical. He’ll throw around his body and do the dirty work on the back end. He leads WBS with 78 penalty minutes in 44 games. Oleksy is also reliable in his own end, evidenced by his plus-13.
Oleksy has played for WBS all season long. This is his first recall of the season to Pittsburgh.