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

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Patric Hornqvist participated in Tuesday’s morning skate and said afterward he felt good and comfortable on the ice, and that it would be the coach’s decision if he plays tonight against Minnesota.

“I haven’t talked to our trainers, but he looked good in practice for me,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “He looks like he’s pretty well ready to go.”

Hornqvist left in the second period of the Pens’ last game, a 4-0 loss to New Jersey on Saturday, and did not return. He didn’t practice Monday after a team day off on Sunday, and Hornqvist said the couple days of rest were hugely beneficial.

“It means a lot, obviously,” Hornqvist said. “I couldn’t really go there on Saturday and I got two days rest here. I feel better.”

The other players that missed Monday’s practice because of colds and sickness – Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Rob Scuderi and Daniel Sprong – were also on the ice for morning skate. While Johnston said their statuses have yet to be determined, he doesn’t foresee any major lineup changes.

“We’ll get a tab once the trainers come back and give me the evaluation right after practice as to where everybody’s at, but it wasn’t something where we thought there were going to
be several players out tonight and we had to call anybody up,” Johnston said. “We should be fine with the players we have with (Sergei) Plotnikov and (Adam) Clendening that can both go in.”

The Pens did not do line rushes, but they did work on the power play. The first unit of Kris Letang, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Hornqvist was back together after being split up against the Devils (the coaches had 58, 87, 14, 13 and 19 on one unit and 3, 71, 81, 57 and 72 on the other that night).

After a streak where the power play tallied in five consecutive games from Oct. 29-Nov. 7, it’s mired in another slump where it’s gone 0-for-13 in the last three games, two of which were losses.

Yesterday after practice, Crosby discussed why he thinks they’ve been struggling so much with the man-advantage and how they can improve.

“I think it’s been different things,” he said. “That’s kind of what makes it a challenge. There’s been some nights where our passes haven’t been crisp and you make one bad pass on the power play and now they’re pressuring, now you start forcing things and it’s difficult. So you really have to take pride in when you do make a pass, you’re giving a guy a good opportunity to make a play after that. I think the other thing you want to look at is our breakouts. When we enter the zone well, our skill takes over. We’re choppy getting in there. Again, you start to get pressured, you start to make mistakes and you’re forcing things.

“So when I talk about execution, I think just making good passes and when you do have a play, just not forcing things. Those are the two things execution-wise we need to do better.”

It’s been three days since that awful defeat to the Devils, which Johnston admitted was a “low point” in the season and frustrated the players.

Pascal Dupuis said it was “unacceptable” to lose the way they did, while Ben Lovejoy said “we can talk about it all we want, but (Tuesday) night we’re going to go out and try to prove to ourselves that we’re better than this.”

After a day off Sunday and a couple solid days of practice, the players are more than ready
to get out there and do that tonight.

“That’s what it’s all about right now,” Hornqvist said. “It doesn’t matter about making plays or we have to do this or we have to do that. We have to just (play) the right way, work hard for each other and support and control the things you can control out there. You can control your work ethic, your attitude. Just have to make sure we go back to basics and do the right things out there. If we do that I know it’s going to be fine.”

The Pens need to have a response game tonight, but it won’t be easy against a Minnesota team they've struggled against in the past. The Wild are 10-3-3 on the season and have points in their last four (3-0-1) despite being without scoring winger Zach Parise for those games, as he recovers from an MCL sprain suffered on November 5th.

“No matter who we were playing tonight, we were going to come out and need to be way better,” Lovejoy said. “It starts with us, with everybody in this room. But this is a very good Minnesota team. They are one of the hardest-working teams to play against. Their whole game starts behind our net. They want to get there, they want to play in our offensive zone the whole night and that makes it difficult for us because that means we’re going to do some defending, but it also means we have to go a full 200 feet to score goals.

“We need to use that against them. We have to find ways to play in our offensive zone to grind them away and we need to go out and have way more energy, way more jump than we’ve had in past games.”

Where: CONSOL Energy Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: ROOT SPORTS, NBC Sports Network
Radio: 105.9 the X, the Penguins Radio Network
Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop
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