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

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Recently-acquired defenseman Justin Schultz participated in Thursday’s morning skate heading into the Pens’ game against the Rangers, but head coach Mike Sullivan said they will wait to play him until he has a practice with the team.

“He hasn’t skated in a few days (and) he really hasn’t had an opportunity to spend any time with us as far as understanding how we’re going to play,” Sullivan said. “We thought it made the most sense in order to put him in a position to be successful that he has an opportunity to practice with us before we put him in.”

Though the Pens acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers for a 2016 third-round draft pick on Saturday, Schultz didn’t arrive in Pittsburgh until Wednesday because of immigration protocol.

He took the ice that day for a solo skate and went to dinner with a few of his new teammates that night before meeting the rest of the guys at the rink this morning.

“It’s been busy; lots I have to figure out,” he said of his last few days. “But it’s nice to finally get here. Got here yesterday, got on the ice. It’s nice to meet the guys and get comfortable here.”

Looking around the room, Schultz can’t wait to get started with the guys who are in there.

“It’s funny, just being around guys like ‘Sid’ and ‘Geno’ gives you a little confidence that you know they’re on your team and they’re going to be out there and have your back,” he said. “Once I give them the puck, they’ll do something special with it. So it’s exciting”

Schultz said speed is his biggest takeaway from how the Pens want to play. He learned that firsthand in Edmonton’s 3-2 shootout win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 28 – his first game back after missing more than a month due to injury.

“I remember this year, my first game back from my injury was against the Pens,” he said. “I was out there; I’d missed like a month. And I was like ‘holy crap, this is fast.’ They’ve just got so much skill up front and on the back end, so it’s going to be exciting to play with.”

The 25-year-old is a gifted offensive blueliner whose talents should be a perfect fit under Sullivan’s system, the crux of which is built on speed and strong breakouts of the defensive zone.

“Hopefully I can add to that speed and get the puck up to the forwards,” Schultz said. “With the skill they have here, I think I’ll fit in nicely and hopefully rejuvenate my career a little bit. I know I can help this team, so it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”

LINE RUSHES

The Pens switched up their bottom-six, flipping Porter and Rust. The lines looked like this…

Kunitz-Crosby-Hornqvist

Hagelin-Malkin-Kessel

Wilson-Bonino-Rust

Kuhnhackl-Cullen-Porter

“We’re obviously making subtle tweaks to our line combinations to see if we can get more,” Sullivan said. “Our bottom-six guys I think have brought us a lot. They bring us energy, they’re hard to play against. They’ve chipped in offensively. I think they generate a fair amount of scoring chances. It’s just the coaching staff making some tweaks to see if we can get more.”

RANGER RANTS

The Rangers have been dominant defensively against the Pens, and the biggest reason for that has been their goaltender – who pitched a 34-save shutout against Pittsburgh when they came here on Feb. 10.

“(Henrik) Lundqvist plays some of his best games against the Penguins, that’s for sure,” Carl Hagelin said.

Hagelin knows the Rangers better than anyone in the Pens dressing room, as he spent the previous four seasons there after being drafted by the organization back in 2010. And he’s itching to score on his friend, former teammate and countryman.

“It’s time for me to get a goal on him, that’s for sure,” Hagelin smiled. “He’s a very competitive guy and obviously we’re good friends playing together for so many years. That’s key to us tonight. We need to get to him. We need to get some goals. He usually plays well in this building.”

They’re certainly a much more dangerous team following the acquisition of Eric Staal, but Hagelin said their focus can’t be on him.

“He’s been in the league for a while and knows how to score goals,” Hagelin said. “He’s really good at using behind the net to wrap pucks and find pucks around that area and that’s been one of the things they’ve been lacking as of late.

“For us, we can’t focus too much on what they’ve got offensively. We got to play our game. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right things around the blue lines and get pucks deep and spend as much time as possible in their end.

WORLD CUP

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey is still six months away. But on Wednesday preliminary rosters for the eight participating teams were released and 4 Penguins discovered they’d be dawning their national colors in September.

Sidney Crosby (Canada), Evgeni Malkin (Russia), Olli Maatta (Finland) and Matt Murray (Team North America) were all selected.

“Being able to represent your country and having that opportunity is special,” Crosby said. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Crosby is just one of 26 players with Triple Gold Club status having earned a Stanley Cup and gold medals in both the Olympics and World Cup. 

Malkin will be representing his country for the 16th time at a major international tournament.

Defenseman Olli Maatta, 21, was also called upon to play for his country for the tournament. In the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Maatta led Finnish defenders with five points (3G-2A) on their way to bronze in Sochi, Russia.

“You don't have a lot of time to prepare with the team,” Maatta said. “You have be able to come together in a short amount of time.

“But us Fins already know each other pretty well. We’ve played with each other for a long time and I don't think that’s ever been a problem for us. It’ll take a couple strong sessions and we’ll be good.”

Murray was the only Pittsburgh player named to Team North America, which is comprised of players from the United States and Canada under 23. Coming off a strong showing against the Washington Capitals, his fifth start of the season, Murray learned of his future.

“I didn't know they were going to announce the team yesterday because it came out of nowhere,” Murray said. “I got a call in the morning from Peter Charelli and he explained to me what the deal was, and invited me to the team. Of course I accepted immediately.

“Before the season, I thought I was on the outside looking in. I knew about the team and one of my goals was to play my way onto the team. So I’m pretty happy about it for sure.”

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