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The Inside Scoop: Practice 10-12-15

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! After having Sunday off due to travel, the Pens skated on Monday at CONSOL Energy Center before their home opener on Tuesday against Montreal. Here’s a few observations/insights from the day…

- Head coach Mike Johnston moved David Perron next to Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist for parts of both the Dallas and Arizona games, and liked what he saw – so he had those three practice together today.

Afterward, however, Perron – who moved around the lineup throughout training camp – didn’t want to talk about what line he’s penciled on. He simply wants to focus on playing his game no matter where he slots in.

“It’s about playing my game and there’s no other way to go about it,” Perron said. “When I work hard, when I finish my hits, I’m glad with the way I’ve done that so far in the first two games. I feel like I got in on the forecheck. I finished every hit I could and I want to keep doing that.”

Perron told me earlier in training camp that when he’s successful at playing that style, it gives him the confidence to use the tools he has skill-wise with his hands. When he’s at his best, Perron is such an exciting blend of finesse and grit who’s netted at least 20 goals three times in his career – including 28 just two seasons ago. So I’m looking forward to seeing what he could do on the left wing – where he feels most comfortable – alongside ‘Geno.’

- Perron slotting in next to Malkin and Hornqvist meant Sergei Plotnikov skated alongside Nick Bonino and Beau Bennett during the session, another combination Johnston likes.

“I thought Sergei played more comfortable, a little bit more relaxed when he was playing with Bonino and Bennett,” Johnston said. “I really liked his game in the third period (against Arizona). He had a really good third period. With Sergei, I don’t know him as well as a player and I think that he maybe just felt a little nervous up there (with Malkin and Hornqvist) and felt the pressure the first couple games, so I believe he’s going to start to settle in.”

- A big topic of conversation in the locker room was the Pens’ slow start offensively.

Goal scoring was an issue for the Pens last year, so general manager Jim Rutherford addressed that this summer by adding a lot of depth up top. But despite that, the Pens have seemingly picked up right where they left off with just one goal in the first two games.

But while it’s easy to feel that the offense should have just started clicking right away with all the talent they have, Johnston and his players said they knew it was going to be a process because of all the new players in the lineup.

“When you start a season, you have to build as a group and get better each game,” winger Phil Kessel said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do here.”

Johnston pointed to the power play – which is 0-for-7 – as the main catalyst behind the team’s struggle to find the back of the net.

“If you remember last year when we started, we had the hot start, our power play was clicking very well right at the beginning,” he said. “That allowed us to get out of the gates. And some of the teams that have gotten out of the gates quick here have faced those similar situations where units they’ve had together before or lines they’ve had together have had a real hot start.

“All of our lines are different and we haven’t gotten a power-play goal. We’ve had some good looks, some good chances, but we haven’t gotten a power-play goal. I think as part of your offensive game, it’s a contribution of your power play and then it’s your lines, obviously, and your defense.”

- How does the power play get going, then?

I asked Kessel – the Pens’ lone goal scorer – what they could do to generate more there, and he replied, “I thought we had a couple good looks. It’s our first two regular-season games versus great PKers, so it’s not that easy. But you’ve just got to make your plays and get a lot of shots and get some junk goals to start it off.”

For most of the first two games, Johnston tried a different look – splitting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin onto separate units before putting them back together at the end of the Arizona loss.

Crosby said after practice that it doesn’t matter what the personnel is; they have to figure out how to start producing regardless of who’s out there.

“The two units, obviously it’s a new look but I think there’s been a number of chances there,” Crosby said. “The power play, it’s the same old story, right? You can get 30 seconds of zone time and one goal and everyone thinks it’s great. You can have four opportunities and be all over them and not score and it’s struggling. That’s how it works.

"So it’s all about executing and finding a way to score. Whether it’s two units or everyone’s on one, we just got to find a way to make sure we’re winning the special teams every game.”

- Crosby has yet to record a shot on goal through two games, which is obviously uncharacteristic of the captain.

But it’s not that he’s been passing up opportunities or deferring to his linemates Kessel and Chris Kunitz too much. Crosby feels he just hasn’t been able to find the room to let it rip, and that’s something he’s focusing on heading into Tuesday’s home opener against Montreal.

“Just working to get to those areas to shoot I think is important,” he said. “I look at two games, I probably passed up one in Phoenix trying to make a pass to Phil on a 2-on-1, but other than that, I don’t think I’ve really had any chances to really let one go. And if I have, then it’s been blocked. So I’ve got to find a way to get to those areas to get shots off. Just a matter of working and getting to those traffic areas.”
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