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The Inside Scoop: Practice Update (4/20)

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens hold a 2-1 lead in their First Round series against the New York Rangers. Game 4 will be played Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Pittsburgh held a 1:30 p.m. practice at MSG on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s everything you need to know from the day.


PRACTICE INFO
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was the only absent player from the Pens’ Wednesday afternoon practice.

“It’s part of the process that he’s going through,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s day-to-day.”

The Pens line combos appeared to be the same that they switched to during their 3-1 victory in Game 3 Tuesday night. The Pens used the following workflow…

Sheary-Crosby-Hornqvist
Kunitz-Malkin-Fehr
Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel
Kuhnhackl-Cullen-Rust/Bennett

Maatta-Letang
Daley-Dumoulin
Lovejoy-Cole
Pouliot-Schultz

Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff were the two goalies (Tristan Jarry was re-assigned to WBS in the morning).

NO SUSPENSION
Pens defenseman Kris Letang hit Rangers forward Viktor Stalberg in the mouth with his stick in the third period of Game 3. Stalberg lost three teeth on the play, according to New York head coach Alain Vigneault.

On the play, Letang was in the corner trying to clear a puck. He was hit from behind and his stick came up and struck Stalberg in the mouth.

“It was a fast play. I went into the corner to clear the puck. My stick was up and I got hit at the same time and pushed forward,” Letang said. “On the play, I didn’t even know if I hit (Dominic) Moore or Stalberg. I was off balance and my body turned. There was nothing intentional. Never would I try to strike somebody like that.

“On the ice when he skated by I apologized.”

The NHL reviewed the play and ruled it accidental. The Pens coaching staff knew that Letang did not intend to hit Stalberg, so they were not concerned that a suspension would be levied.

“I was not really concerned because I didn’t think there was intent,” Sullivan said. “For me the way we saw it, it was a hockey play. He got hit from behind. He was trying to hold his balance. The way I saw it, it was just a hockey play.”

FLIP
The Pens flipped forwards Conor Sheary and Chris Kunitz on their lines (see line rushes above). It’s a maneuver that the coaching staff has pulled in the past, and something they will utilize if the situation necessitates.

“Based on how the game goes sometimes we jockey guys back and forth, based on what we see and how the lines are playing,” Sullivan said. “(Sheary and Kunitz) both have played a fair amount on Sid’s line or Geno’s line. It’s an easy, seamless tweak for us. And it just gives us another option.”

The players are fine with any changes that the coaches deem needed.

“At this point we’ve all been through different combinations,” Sidney Crosby said. “It’s not a big difference. You just know what the strengths of your linemates are and you play to those. … As a player, you don’t pay a lot of close attention to that. That’s a coaching thing. They tend to look at it a little more.”

Evgeni Malkin played an entire year with Chris Kunitz on his wing during the 2011-12 season – a year that saw Malkin with the NHL scoring race and league MVP.

“I like (Kunitz). We’ve played together for a long time,” Malkin said. “He’s a good player. He’s a smart player. We understand each other pretty well. I’m glad to play with him.”

MALKIN GETTING BETTER
Speaking of Malkin, he was displeased with his performance in Game 2 (his first game action after missing 16 straight games and 26 of 34 overall). But he was much happier with his play in Game 3.

“It’s more confidence for me,” Malkin said. “I had a couple shots. The first game I didn’t shoot. Faceoffs I was much better at.”

Malkin was credited with 0 shots in Game 2 and took the same number of faceoffs. In Game 3 Malkin had three shots and went 3-3 in the circle. He also recorded an assist.

“(Shooting is) not a problem for me. If I have room I will shoot,” Malkin said. “I need to shoot a couple times and score one goal and the confidence comes.”

Sullivan was also pleased with what he saw in No. 71.

“He can be such a dynamic player with the puck. He’s a difference-maker,” Sullivan said. “But it’s important that he plays the game the right way, and within the team concept that we’ve established here.

“As long as he plays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much, that’s when he’s at his best. I thought he got better and better as the game went on.”

THIS ‘N AT
Sullivan on Letang: “I’ve gained a whole other level of appreciation for how good he is by watching him every day.”

Sullivan on the offside challenge that resulted in a “no goal” for the Rangers: “We obviously have communication with (video coach Andy Saucier). He radioed that to (assistant coach Rick Tocchet) right away. We had an idea it was offside from the bench. He certainly provided affirmation for us.”

Sullivan on Matt Cullen: “Cully has been such an invaluable part of this team, not only with his play, but his presence in the locker room and on the bench. He’s been through a lot of hockey in this league. He’s won a Stanley Cup. He knows what it takes. He has great perspective that he can bring to our group. ... I probably have more admiration for what he brings to the locker room. He’s just that good of a person.”

Ian Cole on limiting the Rangers to four shots in the third period: “It was a full-team game. Our D played great, but a lot of credit goes to our forwards with the way they track, the forechecks that they put the Rangers defense under, the duress they put them under in the third period, is something that helps our full-team game.”

Crosby on his PP goal: “I didn’t see it. It was a great pass. I didn’t think (Phil Kessel) could get it through. I just had my stick on the ice. I don’t know how he got it through. It found a way to hit my stick and go in.”

Crosby on keeping momentum in Game 4: “There are so many swings of momentum in this series. It’s what we do with that, how we respond in Game 4. It’s nice to get a win. But we have to follow it up. It’s all about maintaining.”

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