Good afternoon hockey fans. Tonight the Pens will host the Detroit Red Wings at CONSOL Energy Center.
MORNING SKATE The Pens held an optional morning skate. The only healthy players that didn’t take part were forwards Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel. Defenseman David Warsofsky (concussion) skated, but none of the other injured players, including Evgeni Malkin, were on the ice.
SHEARY ON THE PP With Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup, there is a hole on the Pens’ top power play. Look for forward Conor Sheary to have a shot with that unit. He practiced in that spot on Wednesday and it’s a position he’s played a lot with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“We’ve been struggling to score so I think coach is trying to mix things up a bit,” Sheary said. “Hopefully, it works out if I get an opportunity.”
Of all the things the Pens miss with Malkin out, one is his playmaking ability. That’s an area that the coaches believe Sheary can add to the power play.
“One of Conor’s strengths is the ability to play that give-and-go game in tight, rotating out of that corner,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “With (Sidney Crosby), one of the reasons the power play has had success was for that very reason, the motion and the movement that Sid and ‘Geno’ had, and not getting locked into any one particular spot. The movement was a key part of it. We’re looking for someone that might be able to play that give-and-go game.”
TURNING POINT The last time the Pens faced the Red Wings was on New Year’s Eve in a contest that could end up being the turning point in the season.
The Pens promoted Sullivan to the head coaching position just over two weeks prior. After a 0-4 start, Pittsburgh bounced back with 2 wins. But following back-to-back disappointing outcomes (a loss at Winnipeg and shootout loss to Toronto), the Pens were only 2-5-1 entering the Motor City.
Detroit took a 2-0 lead after the first period and things were looking and feeling bleak. But the resiliency that Sullivan had been preaching paid off as Pittsburgh answered with five unanswered goals en route to a 5-2 come-from-behind win.
“It was an important win for us because it was hard evidence that we’re a team that can come from behind if things don’t go our way early in a game,” Sullivan said. “That was an important game for our team as far as giving us the confidence that we can play a certain way, and it gives our team a chance to win.”
One of the key players that led the comeback charge was defenseman Kris Letang. He scored 2 goals and finished with 3 points in the contest.
“After the coaching change we played well, but weren’t getting the results,” Letang said. “That one was a game that we didn’t have the start that we wanted, but we came back and won a big game. It was big for our character and confidence.”
Since that contest, the Pens have shown on a number of occasions how resilient they can be. And they drew upon their experience against the Red Wings for motivation.
“You build confidence from games like that,” Crosby said. “Since then we’ve been in some tough situations going into the third, down some goals, and we find ways to climb back through those situations to build that confidence. That was a big win at that point.”
AGELESS DATSYUK The hottest Red Wings player right now is forward Pavel Datsyuk. The 37-year-old Russian has 6 goals and 10 points in his past 6 games.
“With him, no matter how old he is, he’s always going to have those hands and that vision,” Crosby said. “I don't think it matters how old he is because of the way he sees and anticipates the game.”
The Pens know that shutting down Datsyuk will be a key point in defeating the Red Wings.
“He’s a great hockey player. I’m always keying in on him when I play against that guy,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “He’s an amazing hockey player. I’ve always liked watching him play. You don’t like playing against him, but you like to watch him.”
CUP MEMORIES Even though many years have gone by since the Pens and Red Wings battled in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and ’09 (with each team winning a title), there are still some lingering memories of those battles.
“It always makes you remember those two years,” Letang said. “But it’s been a long time. Both teams have changed, but they’re always good games. A lot of skill on display and a lot of speed.”