The Pens were back on the ice for practice at UPMC Lemieux Complex on Monday after having a day off Sunday.
Defenseman Olli Maatta is getting closer to returning to the lineup after missing the past three games with an upper-body injury following a late hit by Washington’s Brooks Orpik in Game 2 – a hit for which Orpik received a three-game suspension.
“I definitely had a good day today,” Maatta said of practice. “No setbacks. I felt good on the ice.”
Of course, Maatta has to go through protocol before the team’s medical and training staff will clear him to play in Game 6 of the Second Round series against the Capitals at CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday night.
“The next step is to be cleared,” he said. “We don’t know yet. I felt good out there and have had no setbacks.”
Maatta skated with Trevor Daley during line rushes and also worked on the team’s second power-play unit. Both are encouraging signs.
“Olli had a good practice today,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s feeling 100 percent. We’ll see how he responds to practice. He’ll be a game-time decision.”GOALIE SITCH
If there was any goaltender controversy brewing in
Pittsburgh, it was quickly squashed by Sullivan.
“Matt Murray,” Sullivan said in response to who would start in Game 6.
The Pens have the good fortune of having two top-tier goaltenders on their roster. Marc-Andre Fleury is a two-time NHL All-Star and former Stanley Cup winner. He’s also the franchise leader in wins (357) and shutouts (43).
But Fleury missed 12 games with a concussion – the final five regular-season games and the first seven postseason games. He was only cleared to play in Game 3, serving in a backup role. Fleury hasn’t seen game action in over five weeks.
“The reality is that Marc is a terrific goalie; we know that,” Sullivan said. “Unfortunately he suffered an injury late in the season that kept him out for an extended period of time. That’s a difficult circumstance. It’s nobody’s fault. It is what it is. It’s our job to manage it the right way.”
Murray, the 21-year-old rookie, has been the breakout star of the playoffs. He has a 6-2 record, 1.96 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and one shutout. Murray stole Game 3 for the Pens with a career-high 47 saves and has started the past eight straight games for Pittsburgh.
“Matt Murray has taken the load here while Marc has been hurt and he’s played well for us,” Sullivan said.
That isn’t to discount the contributions of Jeff Zatkoff, who won Game 1 of the team’s First Round series against the NY Rangers.
“We believe that we have three good goalies here that have helped us get to this point,” Sullivan said. “Zatkoff played key games for us in Round One.
“We feel very fortunate that we have three goaltenders that we can rely on and have relied on to help us get to this point.”HORNQVIST “WILL BE” BETTER
The Pens found themselves trailing by two goals, 3-1, in the third period of Game 5 in Washington. The coaching staff, as happens when playing from behind, shortened their bench.
One of the players that played less minutes was winger Patric Hornqvist, who finished the game with just 10:36 minutes of ice time.
“When we look at shortening the bench, we haven’t had to do it a lot," Sullivan said. "When our team is at its best we probably don’t. But we were down a couple goals and were looking at players that have energy, juice, that we think are going, that we think might give us a spark.”
Hornqvist admittedly wasn’t at his best and didn’t dispute the coaching staff’s decision.
“I didn’t have my best game,” Hornqvist said. “Overall, I didn’t win enough pucks on the walls or take the puck to the net as well as I could. Some nights you don’t have it and it happens. I have to be better tomorrow and I will be.”
Sullivan was impressed with Hornqvist’s accountability.
“Hornqvist is a great pro. He’s harder on himself than anybody is on him,” Sullivan said. “He’s a warrior of a player. He’s done so much for this team.
“Hornqvist really takes ownership for his game. We love that about him. We know that he’ll be a big part of this thing moving forward.” PRACTICE NOTES
Everyone was in attendance for the practice. The Pens used the following workflow…
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*Sullivan on PK faceoffs: “Our center icemen watch video and techniques to improve and get better against certain people. For the most part they’ve been really good and it’s been an important aspect of our penalty kill. If you can win that first draw, usually you get a 200-foot clear. Now it’s 20, 25, 30 seconds for the opponent’s power play to gain access to your zone again.”
*Sullivan on the Pens’ wall play: “When we get into playoff-type hockey, wall play, puck battles become such an important aspect of your ability to win because a lot of times it decides territory, possession, whether you have to puck or are defending and chasing. It’s really an important detail of everybody’s game, not just ours. It’s a priority for our team. It’s a point of emphasis for our team.”
*Sullivan on D pinching: “When you look at how teams defend in this league, if you don’t get your defensemen involved offensively, both off the rush and in-zone, it’s hard to create offense. Every team in the league is collapsing coverage when you have the puck underneath the hash marks or below the goal line. Your ability to use the depth and width of the zone is really important as far as opening up some ice to play on and opportunities to get pucks to the net and people to the net. That’s the nature of how the game is being played in the NHL.”
*Sidney Crosby on the series: “It’s tight, really tight. Exactly what you’d expect at this time of year. All of those little details are so important, they’re magnified. You look at every game, no matter which team has won, they’ve been pretty close games. It’s a fine line.”
*Crosby on Sullivan’s bench demeanor: “He’s always a pretty fiery guy. He’s pretty vocal back there. That’s playoff hockey, that’s his personality. It inspires us and brings a lot of fire to our game.”
*Murray on Ovechkin’s shot: “It’s a great shot, but I don’t think there is any goal that goes in where you say you couldn’t have done any better. It’s a great shot, but I’m not going to say I couldn’t have stopped it. Because I could have.”
*Chris Kunitz on Game 6 momentum: “We have to use the crowd to our advantage. Play our system, our details and put them in a tough spot to keep on extending the series.”
*Eric Fehr on Orpik returning: “He finishes his checks. He’s strong in front of the net. He’s a guy we’re going to have to battle if you want loose pucks in front.”
*Trevor Daley on the team’s mood: “We’re good. We know we can get this done. We have a chance to do it on home ice, which we’re excited about. It’s going to take a huge effort from us.”