Good morning hockey fans. Tonight the Pens host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in home-and-home, back-to-back affair, beginning this evening in Pittsburgh.
MORNING SKATE DEETS The Pens held an optional morning skate. The only absent players from the skate were forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby.
DALEY FACING FIRST FORMER TEAM It’s hard to imagine that a player in his 12th NHL season would be facing a former team for the first time. But that is the case tonight with defenseman Trevor Daley, who will be facing his former Chicago teammates.
“I wasn’t there for very long, but they’re a very special team over there, a lot of great guys,” said Daley, who only suited up for 29 games with Chicago this season before being traded to Pittsburgh in exchange for Rob Scuderi. “In my short time there I had a really good experience.”
Daley began his career in the Dallas organization and was a Star for 11 seasons. But he hasn’t faced the Stars yet this year, so tonight will be his first career experience going against old teammates.
“When you come from a team you want to prove something,” Daley said. “The bigger picture is that we need the points. It’s going to be a tough task for us.
“There are four points on the line and we need them.”
Daley had an up close look at the Hawks organization and how they operate. His take on why they’ve been able to win three Cups in six years?
“Consistency. They’re a consistent team every night,” Daley said. “Every play you’re going to get the same thing from them. There is no quit. That was the biggest thing I took from that team is how consistent they were in every aspect of the game.”
Meanwhile, head coach Mike Sullivan was a member of the Blackhawks’ development staff last season. And he took away a lot from how the organization operates.
“When you spend time with an organization that’s had as much success as they’ve had it’s hard not to take something from it,” Sullivan said. “They’re a very professional group throughout the organization. They control everything within their power to give themselves a chance to be successful, from scouting to development to the on-ice product.”
STOPPING THE HAWKS Pens defenseman Ian Cole played four-plus seasons with the St. Louis Blues before being acquired by Pittsburgh last season. During that span Cole played in the same division as Chicago and knows firsthand how good the Blackhawks are.
“I’ve played them quite a few times and lost quite a few times,” Cole said. “What they’re good at is creating on the rush. They stretch guys out and then bring guys underneath with speed. Whether that’s Patrick Kane or (Marian) Hossa. That’s going to be a challenge for us to keep a decent gap and try to play those guys with a lot of speed.”
A key to the Pens’ defensive success will be the play of their forwards picking up those trailing Hawks players off the rush so that the Pittsburgh defensemen don’t get caught between gaps.
“It’s not easy because as a defensemen you don’t want to leave a guy behind you and you don’t know where he is,” Cole said. “If you have a guy coming with speed two zones below you and you’re gapped out and in no-man’s land. A lot of it falls on our forwards to take good angles on those guys coming with speed and slow them down. Then as best we can to hold a gap and slow them down by the time they get to our blue line.”
PATRICK’S DAY Shutting down the Blackhawks’ high-powered offense begin and ends with stopping one man: Patrick Kane.
The Hawks’ winger has an NHL-best 57 points and is second in the league with 23 goals. And, of course, we can’t forget his record-breaking 26-game scoring streak – which is the longest streak by an American-born NHLer and franchise mark.
“Patty Kane is one of the big reasons that team has been so successful over the years, his consistency and the way he is,” Daley said. “He’s had an amazing year and continues to have an amazing year. He’s going to be a guy that we’re going to have to shut down.”
But shutting down the NHL’s point leader is easier said that done. It isn’t just about taking away time and space, but also not allowing Kane, and the other Hawks’ talents, find soft spots in the zone.
“You try to take his time and space away and force him into bad areas,” Daley said. “He’s a guy that likes to find good ice. He’s made a career of finding good ice. He’s a good player. We have to get some luck on our side and a save here and there and we’ll be fine.”
LETANG STARS Pens defensemen Kris Letang was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week after posting 6 points (2G-4A) in 3 games to lead all league D-men.
“It’s fun to receive that award,” Letang said. “It means you had a good week.”