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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Florida

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 9:00 AM / Penguins Report
By Sam Kasan
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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Florida




1:02 PM:
Steve Mears presents you all the details on today's news in a nice video package.







12:20 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On the Florida Panthers:
They played last night in Philly and didn’t fare very well, but they are first in the Southeast (Division) and in the third seed right now. They’re also two points ahead of Washington and Winnipeg, who are right behind them in that race. So while they’re fighting for first, they’re also fighting to remain in the playoff race in the Southeast. They’re led by Stephen Weiss and (Tomas) Fleischmann. Both are playing together and having outstanding years with 47 points apiece. Their defensemen are a big factor for them as well with (Brian) Campbell. I believe he has 44 points. Every time I watch him on tape and in the game, he is a factor with how he skates and how he moves the puck up ice where he is in the offensive zone. His partner (Jason) Garrison has 14 goals. He’s a big factor from the blue line as well.
 
On if catching the Rangers is realistic and if it’s a goal:
I think we know how hard it is to move. It’s six points right now, but it’s been 10 points. It’s hard to move six points, let alone 10 points. I think we understand that. When we were 10 points behind, we knew we would play them three more times and we knew the only chance we’d have is to win all six points and not give them any points in those games. You do that, you get to four points and it’s relatively reasonable that you can maybe close the four-point gap. We’re at six points right now, if we can win we’d get to four. They’d have a game in hand and we have two games left against them. We still have our eyes set on them. We know right where they’re at. We know how difficult it’s going to be. We know we have to win our two games against them for it to be a possibility.
 
On what will happen if Martin can’t play and Despres takes his spot:
Simon Despres will be used on the second power-play unit. We would leave the pairs the same, inserting Despres for Martin with (Matt) Niskanen on his strong side. (Brian) Strait and (Ben) Lovejoy have played two strong games together, last game in particular they were very strong together. Certainly there may be some movement in the game, but Simon is a guy who played upwards of 17-20 minutes when he was playing with us here before. Keeping Niskanen on his strong side, I think together they’d be a good pair. So we’d keep the shutdown pair of (Brooks) Orpik and (Zbynek) Michalek together, and it would probably be a little bit more even minutes with the last four guys and what they would receive. That’s where Simon would go.
 
On his club being a third-period team:
One of the ways we want to play is we want to grind teams down. We want to wear teams down. You can do that physically; you can do that with the speed of the game. When we play that way, our success in the third period goes way up. Evidence of that was last game (against Toronto). We played a good first period; we played in the offensive zone an awful lot. We didn’t get a result. We got down in the game on a 4-on-4 goal. Right after a penalty kill they get a second goal, but I think our team at the halfway point had really still played pretty well in the offensive zone. They continued to do that going into the third. As a result – playing a team  that had played the previous night and who was down to five defensemen – we felt like we took advantage of that situation with the pace and the tempo of the game. That’s something we’re looking to do. When we’ve been able to do that, we have had success in the third periods as a result of that type of play from our team.
 
On his team raising their level of play when playing teams fighting for a playoff spot:
At times, I think we’ve played teams that have really played hard and it’s been playoff-type games with the intensity level. Even with some teams that we don’t play very often in Dallas and Colorado, those were intense games as a result of the race that we’re all in. But the other teams have been in and they’re looking for points. They’re trying to make the playoffs. We’ve been ready for those types of games. We know we’re playing those teams in those situations. We still feel like we’ve got something to prove here. We think we can catch the Rangers. We’re still playing with that type of mentality as well. I think other teams have forced the games up to a different level and I think our team has responded well to that. I think we’ve thrived in that. We’ve been playing pretty good hockey now for 24-25 games where we’ve been in that type of mode and big games and against teams that are playing big games. That’s what you’re looking for as you come down the stretch here and head towards playoffs.



--Michelle Crechiolo



12:19 PM:
Eleven Panthers were on the ice for the team's morning skate, a pretty big number considering they played last night in Philadelphia.












12:07 PM:
The Pens are six points behind the NY Rangers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference. That's a lot of ground to make up with only 16 games left in the season. However, the teams will meet two more times and Pittsburgh still has a chance to capture the throne.





12:00 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

James Neal

On the Penguins’ performance:
For us we’re on a good little winning streak. We’ve got a good little roll going so it’s a great home stand for us. We need to keep this ball rolling and keep doing the right things.

On looking ahead to catching teams like Boston or the Rangers:
No, you start peeking around teams and that’s when you scare yourself. Take one game at a hand and that’s tonight, we’re focused on the Panthers.

On the Ranger’s six-point lead:
We see that. Every game is critical for us. Like I said, we are focused on tonight’s game. That’s the Panthers so we’ve got to keep things going and we have a good start at home. It’s a great home stand for us and it’s some good games. 


Matt Cooke

On if Sidney Crosby coming back is a distraction:
No, it’s not a distraction because it doesn’t change the way we play. He’s adding skill to our lineup. He’s our captain. You can’t even amount to what he’s adding when he is playing. But for the most part, we don’t change the way we are playing. I think that’s the biggest strength of our team. It’s enabled us to get through with injuries to Sid, (Kris Letang) and a few others.

On the penalty kill:
I think the core guys have been together for the better half of 3-4 years. We’re all on the same page. We understand what we are trying to accomplish out there. When one guy pressures, we are all going to pressure and support that. 

On bumping Sidney Crosby:
I don’t know how much he really wanted it. We’re just joking around. It’s nice to have him out there and see him smiling and see him enjoy himself. There was no purpose to it today. It’s just more giving him a hard time and making him smile a little.

On what Sidney Crosby’s presence does to the team:
I think that it’s exciting. It’s an amazing time for us to be able to have our captain back. That’s important at this time of year.


Pascal Dupuis
 
On the Panthers’ turnaround:
They made some great acquisitions, obviously. Their GM (Dale Tallon) knows what it takes to win. He was in Chicago before and he brought some guys that he knew from there, some guys with character. Right now it seems to be working out.
 
On the Penguins’ success against the Panthers:
We keep beating them even though we know they have a bunch of guys that are working hard night after night right now. They have the defenseman in (Brian) Campbell and (Jason) Garrison that can really skate well with the puck in the neutral zone and attack us. I think the way we are going to have to defend well tonight and bring some pucks on net on their goalie.Hopefully we’ll bang a couple in.


Zbynek Michalek
 
On if he’s surprised by the Panthers’ turnaround:
Not really. They made some changes in the offseason. They picked up some good players and it’s not really the same team like it was last season or the season before. They are having a good year. They still have a shot at the playoffs. They are leading the division right now during the tough playoff race. They are playing well. They’re right there in the mix, so I’m sure they are going to come hard after last night’s game. We have to make sure we are ready to play. 

On the Penguins’ success against the Panthers:
From what I remember this season they are a hardworking team. They are a fast team. Their D jump in the play all the time and they are definitely a toughteam to play against. We are going to have to be at our best to come out with the win and make sure we come out with a good effort even though they played last night. They are going to be a desperate team so we have to make sure we are ready to play.
 
On how a winning streak provides a cushion for the playoffs:
It’s big. You see how tight the standings are and if you win a few games in a row, you create that gap and feel a little better about your game – especially this late in the season. It’s a great feeling for us and I think we are heading in the right direction. We still have 16 or 17 games left so we can make sure we keep improving and keep building the confidence.



--Brittany Goncar



11:50 AM:


Pens captain Sidney Crosby spoke with the media following Friday's morning skate. He said that he feels good and hasn't had any setbacks. He's still symptom-free, but hasn't gotten the contact he'd like due to the team's schedule. Crosby added that playing Sunday is no more or less a possibility, essentially there has been no status change.

Here is everything that the captain had to say...


On how things are progressing:
Pretty good. We haven’t practiced a lot, have had a couple morning skates and was on with two guys (Thursday). So it’s been good, got a little bit of contact in. But just the way the schedule has worked out, I haven’t really tested things as best as I’d like. The good thing is that even after the minimal bumping I’ve kind of done, it’s been good.

On if Sunday is a possibility:
Not any more than it was before. It’s just one of those things where you’re trying to go through and make sure you test yourself. I’m going to try and do my best to do that. I did it today. We’ll see (Saturday) and kind of go from there.

On when he assesses how he feels:
Usually just the day after (when) I come in. You just kind of see how the day goes. Everything has been good, but like I said, I don’t think I’ve really tested it a ton. That will be something we talk about and figure out and see what makes sense. Before all those conversations, you’ve got to make sure you get through it, No. 1. That’s the most important thing.

On if being hit by Eric Tangradi on Thursday helped:
Yeah. At the same time, though, you’re not ever going to be able to simulate a game, anyway, no matter how much you practice. You have to make sure you’re as tested as you can be and make sure that there’s no need in rushing anything, too. Make sure you’re ready. I only want to go through this one more time.

On if he’s had any minimal setbacks over the last few days:
No. It’s been good. No setbacks, which is definitely a good thing.

On why he thinks he could make a faster return after being cleared for contact this time versus the last time:
Last time was more to do with symptoms. I’ve been symptom-free. I think that the last few days have been good being symptom-free. It’s more the amount of contact or the extent of it, not the duration. Maybe I was doing contact a little bit longer, but it wasn’t really as intense as what I’m trying to look for at this point. I guess that would be the difference. I don’t remember that far back, exactly who got me with a shoulder and where they got me. You would know more than I do.

On if his conditioning will factor into the process of making a return:
Conditioning, no. It’s as good as it’s going to get as far as practice is concerned. That’s only going to get better with games. It’s not going to get any better at this point.

On how frustrated he is with practicing for so long and not playing in games:
It’s better than not skating at all. It’s tough, but at the same time, to know you’re getting closer is obviously a positive thing. It definitely has its points where it’s long and it gets tiring doing the type of conditioning stuff that you do. It doesn’t really feel like hockey sometimes. You think about playing on a team and competing and plays and different things like that, and it feels more like an individual sport sometimes when you’re just out there doing the drills and conditioning and stuff like that. So I think I miss the team aspect and hopefully I’m much closer.



--Michelle Crechiolo



11:33 AM:
Pens coach Bylsma had a few updates on players...
  • Martin not feeling well and may not play tonight
  • Despres recalled in case Martin doesn't play
  • Johnson continues his rehab
  • Fleury starting in goal



10:55 AM:
Pens pics...


The ol' morning stretch (left); Cooke: "Do I have a mark on my face? Not here or here so much, but right here" (right)


#GenoForHart (left); Kunitz genuflects to his head coach (right)


Strait's beard is reaching epic status (left); Sullivan and Kunitz play a scrimmage game on their knees (right)


Crosby action shot (left): Thiess in the crease, actually he's along the midwall but close enough (right)




10:45 AM:
Here's a look at the Pens' PP units...

First unit: Sullivan and Niskanen on points, Kunitz, Malkin and Neal up front.

Second unit: Crosby and Dupuis on points, Kennedy, Staal and Cooke up front.




10:35 AM:
Defenseman Paul Martin and goaltender Brent Johnson are absent from the morning skate. Dustin Jeffrey is back from an illness.

Pens' lines from their morning skate...

Kunitz-Malkin-Neal
Sullivan-Staal-Dupuis
Cooke-Vitale-Kennedy
Asham-Adams-Park

The five defensemen rotated.

Crosby, Jeffrey and Tangradi did not skate in line rushes.



10:20 AM:
The Pens announced that they've recalled D-man Simon Despres from WBS...

Despres, 20, has played in 14 NHL games this season for Pittsburgh, tallying four points (1G-3A) and a plus-4 rating while averaging 14:33 minutes per game.
 
The 6-foot-4, 229-pound native of Laval, Quebec has also appeared in 31 games this season for WBS, scoring four goals, five assists and nine points. Despres was voted as a starter for the AHL All-Star Classic in Atlantic City, N.J. in January, but he had to miss the game due to injury.


Full story here.


(Getty Images)



10:10 AM:
Some good news on the injury front as defensemen Kris Letang and Deryk Engelland both skated this morning with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar.

Letang has been out of the lineup since suffering from symptoms following a hit by Eric Nystrom Feb. 29 at Dallas. Engelland has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.


(Getty Images)



10:00 AM:
Since it's Friday, we'll take a look inside the Pens Vault. Since the Pens unveiled the Mario Lemieux statue Wednesday, we'll take a look at a Lemieux highlight reel.







9:50 AM:
On this week's Radio Rewind, Bob Grove and Phil Bourque talk about Eric Tangradi's development.







9:40 AM:
The Panthers are playing back-to-back Pennsylvania games with the Flyers Thursday night and the Pens tonight. Florida was shut out, 5-0, by Philadelphia on Thursday and are hoping to bounce back tonight against Pittsburgh. Michelle Crechiolo has more on what to watch for in tonight's game.







9:30 AM:
Good morning from CONSOL Energy Center! The Pens will hit the ice at 10:30 a.m. for a morning skate. Tonight they'll take on the surprising Florida Panthers at 7 p.m. The Cats are contending for the Southeast Division crown. Florida is currently in first place, but is clinging to a two-point lead as Washington and Winnipeg are breathing on its neck. 

---

Today we'll open the day with a band that I just found out about on Monday (props to Penguins Live intern Arielle, who is from Florida, for the suggestion). They're called MuteMath. I don't know anything really about them, but their song "Typical" is pretty awesome.

The video is even more awesome as it's filmed backwards with a lot of action. In fact, the video was nominated for a Grammy. Unfortunately, the embed was disabled, so you'll have to click here to see it. But you can hear the song below.

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