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

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Though all expected players (minus the ones on injured reserve) were present at morning skate, head coach Mike Sullivan said his lineup could look different tonight against the Washington Capitals.

“We’re going to have to make some game-time decisions tonight,” Sullivan said.

He said that winger Conor Sheary, who participated in the practice after leaving Tuesday’s game against Ottawa midway through the third period when he took a stick up high on a follow-through, will be one of them.

While Sheary’s right eye certainly looks worse for wear, the winger said he’s feeling fine and could play tonight.

“It looks worse than it is,” Sheary smiled. “It doesn’t hurt too bad actually.”

Forward Tom Sestito, who was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this morning, was also in attendance at the game-day skate and rotated with Sheary on the fourth line.

The big winger played in two games with Pittsburgh last month, recording two penalty minutes during his first stint with the team, and could get his third tonight.

“He brings a dimension and I think he can help us win games,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got a couple of decisions that we have to make from an injury standpoint and he’s one guy that has played NHL games.

“Tommy’s a good player. He’s strong on the boards. He understands what his role is. He plays within himself. And so he’s another guy that’s part of our group here that we think can help us win if we choose to put him in the lineup.”

MORE UPDATES

Sullivan had a number of injury updates following Pittsburgh’s morning skate on Thursday at Verizon Center heading into their game against Washington.

He said that center Evgeni Malkin (13 games missed; upper-body), winger Bryan Rust (4 games missed, lower-body) and defenseman Olli Maatta (7 games missed; lower-body) will be out for Pittsburgh’s final two regular-season games.

Nothing has changed from the players’ original statuses – now it’s just something where the media won’t have to ask for updates every day this week.

As Sullivan joked to reporters, “You always ask me, so I’m getting out ahead of it.”

In addition, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is still day-to-day after missing the last three games with a concussion, but is making progress.

“He’s making significant progress so we’re certainly encouraged by that,” Sullivan said. “He’s an important part of this team. He’s won a lot of games for us this year. He’s an elite goalie. He’s a very good goalie. The more guys that we can get healthy and get back into our lineup, we think it makes us a more competitive team.”

Matt Murray was the first goaltender off the ice following morning skate.

FEHR RETURNS

Eric Fehr is finally getting to play at his former home for the first time this season.

Fehr, a 2003 first-round draft pick of the Capitals who had spent nine of his first 10 seasons with Washington before signing a three-year contract with the Pens this offseason, missed each of the previous two matchups at Verizon Center due to injury.

“It’s good to be back and it’s good to be back actually playing this time,” he said. “Came here at the beginning of the year and watched it from the press box, but it’ll be nice to be back on the ice.”

Though Pittsburgh and Washington have already clinched playoff spots, both still have something to play for tonight.

If the Penguins win, it would be their eighth straight and would clinch home-ice advantage in the first round – as well as continue to build their confidence heading into the postseason.

“We want to keep our momentum going,” Fehr said. “I don’t think that was our best game in Ottawa but we managed to get the win. I think hockey’s a big game of confidence and we want to have that going into the playoffs, so I think today is a tough team, a tough challenge and we’re going to hope to keep the confidence really high.”

If the Capitals win, it would be Braden Holtby’s 48th – tying Martin Brodeur’s NHL record for most victories in a season by a netminder.

“He’s a real competitor,” Fehr said. “He tries just as hard in practice as he does in games and he’s always been like that. He’s a really good goalie and obviously having a great year. It’s great to see for him.”

Fehr stopped and added with a grin, “He’s one of my good friends, but hopefully we can manage to hold him off for another game.”

He knows the Capitals, who clinched the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team a while back, will be fighting to get that record for their teammate.

“I’m sure they want to get the win pretty bad,” Fehr said. “It’s our job to make sure it’s difficult for him and we’ve done a pretty good job of getting shots to the net but we’re going to have to continue that against this team. They play a pretty good defensive structure so we’re going to have to be strong.”

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