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

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Good afternoon from Montreal. Tonight the Pens will face the Canadiens at Bell Centre.

Judging from the Pens’ morning skate, it appears that a couple of WBS players will get a shot in the lineup tonight. The team used the following workflow…



The Pens’ lineup will have a different look tonight as they hope some new blood can give the bottom-6 a jolt of life.

Pittsburgh recalled forwards Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Thursday, and re-assigned Scott Wilson and Conor Sheary. Kuhnhackl and Rust skated with center Nick Bonino.

“’Rusty’ can really skate so he’s going to bring a lot of speed and energy to the line,” Sullivan said. “Tommy is a guy that is a reliable player. He’s good on the wall. He’s going to help in puck possession in the offensive zone underneath the hash marks. I’m hoping they’ll be complimentary skill sets there.”

While Rust has played in his fair share of NHL contests – 19 career games – Kuhnhackl is looking to make his NHL debut. As expected, he was thrilled to get the news about his recall.

“I was pretty excited, it was my first call up,” Kuhnhackl said. “I’m a little nervous and excited at the same time. My mom and brother were still in Wilkes-Barre. When I told them the news they were excited.”

Unfortunately Kuhnhackl’s father – the legendary German player and IIHF Hall of Famer Erich Kuhnhackl – had to wait to find out the good news.

“I couldn’t (call him) because he was on his way back to Germany and lost his phone,” Tom laughed.

Thankfully, the word did reach his father.

Kuhnhackl, 23, has 15 points (7G-8A) and a plus-10 in 23 AHL games this season. It’s his fourth pro year, though several injuries, including one to his shoulder, have derailed his development. But the 2010 fourth-round pick (110th overall) is healthy and enjoying his best career start.

“The injuries held me back, but I kept working hard,” he said. “I got the call up so it is very special.”

Kuhnhackl has transitioned his game from a high scoring winger into a physical grinder since arriving in North America. And that’s the game that he will showcase when he gets in the lineup.

“I’m just going to play my game up here,” Kuhnhackl said. “I’ll be more physical, finish my hits, get pucks in deep, keep it a simple game and put pucks on the net and maybe something good will happen.”

Sullivan saw firsthand what Kuhnhackl brings to the lineup while he was coaching WBS earlier this season. And he expects a seamless transition for the rookie winger.

“I think (Kuhnhackl’s) game is very transferable because I think he’ll do the same thing at this level that he does in Wilkes-Barre,” Sullivan said. “His game is not going to wow anybody. But he’s very good on the boards, he’s a reliable player, he’s a good penalty killer, a great shot blocker. He goes to the net in the offensive zone and makes the goalie’s job difficult.

“There are a lot of subtleties to his game that I think help teams win.”

The Montreal Canadiens are a speed team that thrives on turnovers, especially those made in the neutral zone. For the Pens to be successful against the Habs, they’ll have to be extra careful with their puck management.

“My experience playing counter-attack teams is if you aren’t diligent in those areas of the rink then you’re playing to their strengths,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to make sure it starts with our own puck management, making good decisions.”

The Pens are still trying to find the balance between letting their talented star players use their creativity and God-given ability and making smart decisions with the puck.  

“I’ve said this on a number of occasions, I think that is part of this team identity,” Sullivan said. “We have players that want to make plays and play with the puck. We certainly don’t want to discourage that. We just want to make sure we recognize the circumstances and make the right decisions at the right times.”

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