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

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

After a day off on Monday, there was near-perfect attendance at Pittsburgh’s morning skate on Tuesday heading into their game against Buffalo.

Brian Dumoulin, who was injured in Saturday’s 7-2 win over Detroit, was the only expected player missing and head coach Mike Sullivan said he remains day-to-day.

“Nothing substantive other than he’s making progress,” Sullivan said of his status.

With Dumoulin still out and Olli Maatta week-to-week with an lower-body injury, during practice the Pens used the same D-pairs they did over the weekend: Trevor Daley with Kris Letang, Derrick Pouliot with Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole with Justin Schultz.

Letang and Daley, who play similar offensive, swift styles, logged a lot of minutes in those games. Letang skated a total of 61:37 and collected 3 points (1G-2A), while Daley was out for 55:53 and notched a pair of helpers.

With the amount of ice time both guys get, they do see different partners throughout the course of a game. But when they’re together, Sullivan likes their mobility.

“They both can advance the puck,” Sullivan said. “They both can join the rush. If and when they do join the rush and a turnover takes place, they have the ability to recover because they skate so well. So those are just some things we think about when we put that pair together.”

The Pens' lines also did not change...

That group of six defensemen will be playing in front of Matt Murray, making his first start since March 17 – his only appearance in the the past 10 games.

“I’m always itching to get back in. I'm not really used to sitting this long,” said the reigning American Hockey League goaltender and rookie of the year, who’s 4-2-1 on the season with a .935 save percentage and 1.85 goals-against average. “So I’ve been itching to get in even more this time around. I’m just looking to get right back into it, not just get my toes wet but jump in full.”

It’s been a different challenge for the 21-year-old, but one Murray has adjusted to.

“I went through it a little last year in my rookie season in the American League and I definitely went through it in the Ontario League when I was younger,” he said. “It’s nothing new but it’s not easy. You have to use practice as a way to stay sharp.”

That mindset is something Sullivan says Murray understands.

“I think he’s mature beyond his years,” Sullivan said. “He’s played a lot of hockey this year. He’s got a lot of games under his belt, whether it be at the American League level or this level. So we have complete confidence in him. He’s a real good goalie. He’s going to give us a chance to win. We know that and that’s our expectation.”

The Pens switched up their units on Tuesday morning. The first unit had Letang, Schultz, Bennett, Hornqvist and Crosby and the second had Daley, Pouliot, Kessel, Bonino and Kunitz.

"We tweaked the two units with net-front guys or flanks just to try to get a little bit better chemistry or a little more success," Sullivan said.

There were so many positives to take out of the weekend’s wins. The one lingering negative has been the team’s slow starts.

While they recovered from allowing the first goal to both Detroit and New York, Sullivan told me he would like to see his team reverse that trend tonight against a Buffalo team that played the Red Wings on Monday.

“We have discussed it to great lengths with our group on how we start games with the right mindset so that we don’t have to play catchup,” he said. “It’s important for us moving forward that we get over that hump. I think we have shown an ability to do it at times and then at other times we’ve fallen into the same funk where we’re not quite as sharp off the drop of the puck.”

The coach reiterated that he believes it all starts with a certain mindset that needs to be applied right away, and explained exactly what that consists of.

“I know the solution is to simplify our game,” he said. “Play a north-south game, play fast, get pucks behind our opponents and give our guys a chance to get into the hockey game. I think that’s when we’re at our best.”

For a while now, Sidney Crosby’s line along with Letang and whoever his D partner is have been tasked with setting that tone. Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Mike Lange noted to Sullivan this morning that those players have been in the starting lineup for the last 20 games, maybe a little under that.

“That’s a good observation, Mikey,” Sullivan said with a grin.

He went on to explain that the reasons for that.

“He’s a very good faceoff man most of the time,” Sullivan said. “He wins the opening face-off. I think Sid has taken a lot of ownership for this team and the success that we’ve had here over the last couple of months. So those are some of the reasons we’ve chosen to use him in a lot of instances regardless of who our opponent starts.”

Crosby was asked a few questions about tonight’s opponent, who the Pens will play for the third and final time this season. The Pens beat Dan Bylsma’s team, who are one of the league’s bottom-10 clubs, by matching 4-3 scores in the first two matchups.

On why it’s dangerous playing teams like Buffalo late in the year:
Teams play loose. They’re in a situation where a lot of guys are playing for jobs. When you’re playing loose, you’re not squeezing the stick as much. You’re not hesitating up there. You’re just playing and sometimes you can play pretty good hockey that way. It’s something to be aware of but something we’ve been through. We’ve learned some lessons here along the way and we’ve got to bring that desperation you need this time of year.

On if he’s noticed similarities with Bylsma’s system in Buffalo:
You look at face-off plays because that’s a big thing Dan liked to do. He’s brought that to Buffalo and they’ve got a lot of plays off face-offs that they can create offense. We have to stay aware of that. He likes to play fast with the skill and speed they have, and have done a good job of that. Defensively we’re going to face a lot of speed so we need to manage the puck well.

On if he enjoyed playing and scoring against Buffalo in the past when Bylsma was here:
Yeah, that’s just how it’s worked out. But you think about the game last year at the end of the season, it was 2-0. You can’t always expect one outcome when things have worked out in the past. We’ve been through some up and down games. We like to play with speed but we don't want to make it a 50-50 game.

On if he’s played against Jack Eichel:
I haven’t seen a ton of him. You see him on the highlights. He’s on there every week. He’s got amazing speed. That’s probably the biggest thing that sticks out right away is the speed. He’s confident with the puck and makes a lot of plays. He’s done a great job in his first year here.

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