VANCOUVER, British Columbis -- When Pittsburgh faces the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena it will be a homecoming for two Pens.
First is head coach Mike Johnston, who was an assistant/associate coach with the Canucks from 1999-06. Johnston still has strong ties to the area and spends a lot of time in the region during the offseason.
“As a family we consider Vancouver home because our kids grew up here, we spend quite a bit of time here,” he told the media following Tuesday’s practice. “We come back here often. I have a lot of friends locally. It’s always special to come back to Vancouver.”
A freshly shaven Nick Bonino will also be facing his former team when the puck drops tomorrow. Bonino spent last season with the Canucks, posting 15 goals and 39 points.
Despite only playing 1 season with Vancouver, Bonino still has a lot of friends in the opposing locker room and wants to make a good showing for his old pals.
“It was a really positive year for me,” said Bonino, who playfully chirped some former teammates during their afternoon practice. “I have a lot of buddies over there. It’s always fun playing your old team. It would be great to beat them.
“It’s nice being here for a few days. I get to see some of them away from the rink and get to see the city again.”
Although Bonino is facing a former team, this time it will be much different than when he played against his old Anaheim Ducks teammates for the first time since he played four-plus seasons in Southern California.
“I was a lot more nervous going into Anaheim after being there for that much time in my career,” Bonino said. “Coming back here there are a little bit of butterflies.”
The Pens coaching staff did pick his brain about some of the aspects and strategies that the Canucks run, particularly on the penalty kill, of which Bonino was a key contributor.
“I talked with (power play coach Rick Tocchet) about their penalty kill because I was on that last year and a bit about the power play with (Gary Agnew),” Bonino said. “The guys prescout the other team so well these days like (video coach) Andy (Saucier) and the coaches. They know. There really are no tricks.”
Unless those tricks involve Bonino himself.
“I know all their secret plays. The secret Bonino plays,” he joked.
MO-VEMBER Speaking of Bonino, he arrived in Pittsburgh with a healthy, full beard wrapped around his chin. That’s all changed because of Movember.
Bonino shaved off his beard in Toronto and is planning to grow the Movember mustache to help raise awareness for prostate cancer.
“I felt like it was time for a change,” he told me. “Went in Toronto and got it all done. It was cold on the ice, I can tell you that.”
PRACTICE NOTES The Pens opened practice with a skills session – emphasis on skating and stick handling. Skills coach Tomas Pacina, who visits Pittsburgh on occasion to work with the team, ran the drills.
Forward Chris Kunitz was the only player absent from practice. He also did not practice Sunday in Toronto. His status is unknown for tomorrow night’s game.
“It’s a maintenance day. That means he’s a bit banged up,” Johnston said. “We’re giving him a rest day. They decided to give him another one today. Right now there is no signal that he will either play or won’t play for tomorrow.”
Daniel Sprong took Kunitz’s position on the third line during rushes, while Eric Fehr took his net-front spot on the second power-play unit.
Below is the workflow from practice… Perron-Malkin-Kessel Dupuis-Crosby-Hornqvist Sprong-Bonino-Bennett Plotnikov-Cullen-Fehr
Also of note was that Adam Clendening took the initial rushes with Olli Maatta. That could be an indication that he’ll play tomorrow night against his former club, though it is not official.
JET SETTERS The Pens arrived in Vancouver on Monday after a long flight from Toronto, that included a quick layover for the plane to refuel. When the team landed instead of practicing they took part in an off-ice workout session at a local gym.