Remember the $1 billion renovation project I talked about in my opening entry
? Here's some Getty Images photos of the rejuvenated Madison Square Garden...
View from the newly constructed Chase Bridge
As we were collecting sound in the Rangers locker room this morning, we saw a familiar face: local product J.T. Miller, who is all grown up and in his second professional season with the Rangers.
We were happy to see him, as we have been covering J.T. for a long time now and he's a great kid. We followed J.T., who split his childhood between East Palestine, Ohio and Coraopolis, Pa., for a few seasons before he became the highest-drafted Pittsburgh amateur hockey player in NHL Draft history after the Rangers made him the 15th overall selection in 2011. And we still try and keep up with him to this day, especially when it comes to anything Team USA-related (he won gold with the Americans at the 2013 World Junior Championship). He's definitely grown up a lot the last few years.
"It's been pretty wild the last couple years," he said when I asked him how life has been going since he turned pro. "Obviously just really fortunate to be here and have the opportunity to play and I'm just trying to make the most of it. But it's been pretty good so far and it's been a dream come true."
It's been an up-and-down season for Miller so far, as he played four games in the American Hockey League after dressing for the Rangers' regular-season opener and was a healthy scratch in New York's last game vs. Anaheim on Monday. He said the key for him moving forward is "trying to be more consistent with the game."
"That's a huge part of staying here," he continued. "I've just got to take it game-by-game and not try to get too overwhelmed by the schedule or anything and just try to earn my way here and try to get better every day."
Vigneault confirmed that Miller will be back in the lineup tonight against his hometown team, as if the 20-year-old needed any extra motivation.
"It's always fun and obviously a good opportunity again to play against them tonight, so it's going to be really exciting to play against the guys I watched growing up," said Miller, whose favorite Penguin was Alex Kovalev.
GAME DAY REPORT
It's girl power on the Game Day Report today, with Katie O'Malley and I bringing the latest! --MC
Here's some key soundbites we got today...
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma had a bunch of updates following the Penguins morning skate. Ready?
- Bylsma said Neal joined the morning skate just so he could get a post-practice skate afterward and he doesn't anticipate the winger actually rejoining team practice until probably Friday. Today marked Neal's third time on the ice since he left the regular-season opener with an upper-body injury, and Bylsma did say, "I think given his skate the last two days, in particular how he responded after getting back to the ice on Monday, skated significantly by himself yesterday and then again today with Beau post-practice. It's good progression for James."
- Bylsma said Beau Bennett, who continued to practice with the team as he has since Monday, will hopefully progress towards playing this weekend with a few more skates and practices.
- Bylsma said that Chris Kunitz, who participated in morning skate after missing the previous two days of practice, is a game-time decision tonight against the Rangers. Kunitz told us after getting off the ice that he "had a few maintenance days, but I feel good. Ready to play tonight. I would expect to go out and play hockey tonight."
- And finally, Marc-Andre Fleury will start in net.
PENS PRACTICE PICS
The Pens skating at the iconic Madison Square Garden...
Sid making the long trek to the ice from the visiting locker room
I had to post this just because of the joyous expression on Geno's face in the background. I'm sure he misses "Lazy"...as coach Bylsma said later, "Having James on the ice, even in a small quantity this morning, (means) there was a lot of jump in a lot of guys' step out there."
It's great to see James Neal progressing in his recovery from an upper-body injury.
Also positive seeing Chris Kunitz back on the ice after he sat out the last two days of practice.
The captain is always working on something with assistant coach Tony Granato before all team skates
I can only imagine what these two are talking about
Coach Bylsma races his starting goaltender to the net
Kris Letang skates around conversing with assistant coach and mentor Todd Reirden
November Mustache Boy Tanner Glass tightens his skate
MORNING SKATE INFO
James Neal, who has been out with an upper-body injury since leaving the regular-season opener, is on the ice with the Pens for their morning skate at Madison Square Garden. Chris Kunitz is also skating after missing the previous two days of practice. Beau Bennett is participating in team practice for the third straight day. The only guys missing are Chuck Kobasew and of course, Rob Scuderi and Tomas Vokoun.
The Pens did not do their usual line rushes at morning skate. They opted to work on the power play instead.
The first unit was Martin, Letang, Kunitz, Crosby, Malkin.
The second unit was: Maatta, Niskanen, Sutter, Jokinen, Bennett.
(Later, Martin and Jokinen switched places).
Also, the Rangers held an optional morning skate with just a few players participating.
Since I am on my first road trip of the season, my boss Sam Kasan handled the Rangers scouting report and did a fantastic job. He discusses new head coach Alain Vigneault, their season-opening nine-game road trip and the lack of contribution from their forwards. Watch it below, and check out the NHL.com preview of the matchup here
START ME UP!
Good morning, Pens fans! The team is in New York City preparing to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, which just completed the final phase of a three-year, $1 billion renovation that forced the Blueshirts to play their first nine games on the road.
The newest touches include a brand-new GardenVision scoreboard, an expanded lobby featuring a pair of 600-square-foot video boards on the ceiling, renovated concourses, historical exhibits and new suites. But the addition I think a lot of us are most curious about are the two Chase Bridges. They are hanging from the Garden's ceiling in a nod to New York City's iconic suspension bridges, and the building's CEO and president Hank Ratner called it the most unique vantage point in professional sports. In fact, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com reported, Ratner said "You will look down and see a view of the playing surface that you have never seen here or have never seen anywhere. Because that viewing angle does not exist in the world until today."
They include seating for fans and the media, so we'll be up there tonight and I'll tweet a photo of our vantage point. The first three rows are at an approximately a 43-degree angle, compared to 22 degrees for regular upper-bowl seats.
But anyway, enough about Madison Square Garden for now. The Pens are scheduled for an 11:30 a.m. morning skate. And it looks like the Rangers are practicing here as well under new head coach Alain Vigneault, which is a change as they used to hold their morning skates at their practice facility in Westchester.
Before the skates get underway let's look at tonight's matchup, the first between the two Metropolitan Division rivals…
- Pittsburgh enters tonight’s game having won four straight games. A victory tonight would establish a season-best five-game win streak.
- The Penguins have won four of their past five road games entering tonight.
- Pittsburgh is 8-1 in its last nine meetings against the NY Rangers.
- In those nine games the Penguins have outscored the Rangers, 30-15.
- Pittsburgh has held New York to two or fewer goals in seven of the nine games, including three shutouts.
- Pittsburgh is 4-1 in its last five visits to Madison Square Garden and 9-3 in its past 12 visits.
- Forward Pascal Dupuis enters tonight’s game with an eight-game point streak (4G-4A) against the NY Rangers dating back to Feb. 21, 2012.
Make sure to stay tuned to the blog for all the game-day updates!