Good afternoon from Columbus. Tonight the Pens will take on the Blue Jackets in a post-turkey Metro Division showdown.
The Pens are coming off of a 3-1 homestand against Western Conference teams, including impressive victories against playoff contenders Minnesota and St. Louis. Meanwhile, the Jackets are starting to play like the team everyone envisioned them to be. Following the Jackets’ 0-8 start, they’ve gone 9-6 and are 5-2 in their last 7 games.
MORNING SKATE The Pens had full attendance at the morning skate (minus Olli Maatta of course). It appears from the battle drill combos/D-pairs that the Pens will have the same lineup tonight as they did against St. Louis on Wednesday.
Marc-Andre Fleury was the first goalie off the ice. Looks like he’ll get the start tonight between the pipes and Jeff Zatkoff will go tomorrow night against the Edmonton Oilers in Pittsburgh.
As far as Maatta, head coach Mike Johnston had this to say, “He’s continuing to skate and workout. Things look fairly positive right now. We’ll have a better idea on the timeline at the beginning of next week.”
“4th LINE” Sidney Crosby may have scored two goals against the Blues on Wednesday, but the most impressive trio of the night was Plotnikov-Fehr-Cullen. Just make sure you don’t call them the fourth line.
“We don’t really see ourselves as a fourth line,” Eric Fehr said. “We’re just one of the lines.”
The entire team raved about them following the win against St. Louis, and rightly so. They may not have figured in on the scoresheet, but they made an impact in the game. They were relentless on the forecheck and out-muscled a very strong Blues team.
“You could see in their first couple of shifts that they had it going,” Johnston said. “They made St. Louis play down low below the circles. They engaged physically. They played a hard game down low. They created a lot of opportunities.”
Fehr and Matt Cullen had instant chemistry from their first shift together. But it’s been the play of left winger Sergei Plotnikov, who has been a healthy scratch at times this season, that has helped the line really gel. He’s finally starting to look comfortable with the transition to North American hockey and culture.
“’Plots’ has responded. He sat out for a while and has come back into the lineup,” Johnston said. “He’s getting more comfortable with our group. I think he’s really settling in personally to Pittsburgh, the language situation. I like the way he’s playing right now. He’s a heavy bodied guy in our lineup.”
They may not see themselves as a “fourth line,” but they aren’t ready to take the top spot just yet either.
“I wouldn’t say we are the first line either,” Fehr said with a smile.
ELLIE’S BIG MOMENT There was a great scene at the beginning of head coach John Tortorella’s press conference after his team’s morning skate.
A member of the Columbus media brought his young daughter, Ellie, to the press conference. Tortorella noticed her as he entered the media room.
“Hi Ellie,” Tortorella said. “You can have the first question. Do you want to ask me the first question? It will probably be the smartest question out of all of them, so I’ll go with you first.”
Young Ellie was up to the task. Sporting her Dalton Prout No. 47 jersey, she opened with, “Why isn’t Dalton Prout playing tonight?”
“Wow,” Tortorella responded to the tough question. He then went on to answer Ellie frankly. “He’s had a little bit of struggle within the game. He’s taken some bad penalties. I’ll tell you Ellie, he’s an easy guy to pull for because he works hard and is a great kid.”
*Scott Hartnell on playing the Pens: “It’s always fun against these guys. There are always scrums, sometimes fights, a lot of lead changes, a lot of goals. It’s exciting hockey playing these guys. You get up emotionally, which means you’re involved in the game. Those are my type of hockey games to play.”
*Nick Foligno on playing under Tortorella: “He’s been really matter of fact and frank, but I think that’s what we need in here. It’s time to reach our potential. He’s a guy that I feel is going to get us to that point.”
GAME INFO Where: CONSOL Energy Center When: 7 p.m. TV: ROOT Sports Radio: 105.9 the X, the Penguins Radio Network Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop