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Pregame thoughts - Devils at Penguins - 03-24-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Everything is going right for the Penguins. They're winning. They're scoring goals in bunches. They're getting air-tight goaltending. They're getting lucky bounces. They're getting healthy.

Everything is perfect.

Almost everything.

That sputtering power play is the lone blemish on the Penguins six-game winning streak. In the past five games, all without superstar Evgeni Malkin (above), they've gone 2 for 19 (10.5 percent). Overall, the numbers with and without Malkin are drastically different:

With Malkin   Without Malkin
57 Games 15
38 Power-play goals 3
189 Power-play chances 43
20.1 Success rate 6.5 %

Head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about his power play today and felt it took a step forward by going 1 for 7 in their 6-2 rout of the Capitals Sunday:

"I thought the last game we played, I thought our power play had some traction. Even though percentage-wise, it didn't appear the power play was good the last game, we felt as though it was. There was a quick whistle on which we thought Sid potentially could have scored. But there were a lot of scoring chances. So for me, all we can do is we can coach the process. I though the entries were good. I thought the decision making was good and just the mindset of outworking the penalty kill, retrieving the pucks, all those things that are so important to helping power plays be successful. We liked what we saw the last game. We've got to continue to build on that. Hopefully, that will translate to goals."

For what it's worth, the Penguins spent approximately the final 20 minutes of their practice Wednesday working on different power play combinations. Centers Sidney Crosby, Nick Bonino, right winger Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, defensemen Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley and left winger Chris Kunitz all seemed to get some work on the top unit at various times. It was almost as if Sullivan was running a research and development laboratory in Cranberry Wednesday.

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-It's looking pretty likely right winger Beau Bennett (right) will return to the lineup tonight. He was off the ice fairly early from an optional morning skate today while center Oskar Sundqvist was among the last Penguins skaters off. Additionally, Bennett was officially removed from injured reserve today. Presumably, Bennett would take over as the fourth-line's right wing while Eric Fehr would slide to center in place of Oskar Sundqvist. Conor Sheary would serve as that team's left wing. Suffice it to say, Fehr would be the muscle on that line.

-It's also looking pretty certain Brian Dumoulin will return to the lineup after he appeared to injure a leg thanks to a big hit by Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin Sunday. Dumoulin referred to his ailment as "nothing serioius."

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Devils rookie defenseman Vojtech Mozik is expected to play his second NHL game tonight. The Devils signed him from HC Plzen in the Czech Republic's ELH league this past summer and he spent most of the 2015-16 season with Albany of the AHL until a recent recall.

If HC Plzen sounds familiar, it's the team former Penguins all-star center Martin Straka owns and serves as the general manager of. It's also the team Penguins right winger prospect Dominik Simon played for. This morning, Mozik, who speaks somewhat limited English, spoke about playing for Straka and with Simon:

What was it like playing for Straka? And with him? You were his teammate when he retired as a player a few years ago.

"He's owner of Plzen hockey club. It's really good. He played in the NHL for like 20 years. He was big star. It was an amazing feeling. I played with him in 2012-13 and we win the Czech championship. It was nice. ... He is boss."

Note: In his final game as a player, Straka scored the winning goal in double overtime of Game 7, a 4-3 victory - in the 2013 ELH championship game against PSG Zlin:

You played with Simon last season?

"I played with him all last year all season and on the national team. We are good friends. Good guy. I see he played three games for Pittsburgh. Really good for him. He got a chance. Good for us. Good for Martin Straka."

Have you played against Simon this season in the AHL?

"We played two games probably against [each other]. We talk to each other after the games, we have dinner after the games."

Former Penguins right winger Nick Johnson was also your teammate in Plzen.

"Nick is really good guy. He [has had] a really good season this year. Plzen is a good team. I think they're going to win this year. We'll see."

How has your first season in North America gone?

"I think it's good. Tough start. Everything is new. Smaller rink than Europe. Everything is faster so decisions have to be quicker."

There are a few Czechs on the Devils. Has that helped you?

"Yeah, yeah. Make it easier. Patrik Elias, Jiri Tlusty. They are injured but they are still with the team. So it's good for me."

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-Devils coach John Hynes coached 11 players currently on the Penguins' active roster at some point with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Tom Kuhnhackl was arguably one of his greatest successes given all of his struggles even at the ECHL level. Hynes talked about his development into an NHLer today:

“I think it's fantastic what's going on. He's an impact player and has really earned his way in. He came in as a high scorer when he first came to the organization. He struggled early in his time in Wilkes-Barre. He went down to Wheeling and really worked at his game. [Former Nailers coach] Clark Donatelli did an excellent job with him. He almost transformed his game, how hard he worked, his ability to block shots, wall play, breakouts and things like that.”

“But he was always a player that was willing to do it. So when you have an opportunity to work with players like that and you see them make mistakes, it's not because he wasn't trying. It was because he just didn't know how to do it. So that was an opportunity to take a kid that's got some potential, he's very coachable, he's got a high character [and] you try to help him with his game. I think when you look at his game … now he's a real impactful player. It's guys like him that make coaching or development enjoyable because you have an impact on them as players and people.”

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

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No, I will not be eating PNC Park's new Cracker Jack & Mac hot dog

Written by Alex Iniguez on .

This is an abomination.

Noted ESPN food guy Darren Rovell tweeted today that the Pirates will sell something called the Cracker Jack & Mac Dog at PNC Park this season.

The utterly ridiculous hot dog is topped with tasty things — mac and cheese (good), jalapeno peppers (good) and Cracker Jack (good) — coming together to form something decidedly not good. The photo also suggests they may include a prize in there. Don't eat that.

If the Pirates try to rework the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to include references to their newest menu item, I might have to protest on Federal Street.

Going along with other absurd food items like the Braves' cheeseburger with pizzas as buns, the Pirates probably introduced this hot dog as a way to get idiots like me to write posts like this.

Regardless, I'll stick with mustard.

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About the Devils - 03-24-16

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A preview of the Devils.

When and where: 7 p.m., EDT, Consol Energy Center.

TV: Root Sports, MSG Plus.

Record: 35-31-7, 77 points. The Devils are in sixth place in the Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division.

Leading Scorer: Right winger Kyle Palmieri, 50 points (27 goals, 23 assists).

Last Game: 2-1 home win against the Blue Jackets Sunday. Goaltender Scott Wedgewood made 27 saves for the Devils.

Last Game against the Penguins: 6-1 home loss March 6. Goaltender Keith Kinkaid made 26 saves for the Devils.

Devils Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Left winger Reid Boucher (right). He has a three-game scoring streak.

Ex-Penguins on the Devils: Right winger Bobby Farnham, assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald, head coach John Hynes (Hynes was the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' head coach), assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, pro scout Andre Savard, general manager Ray Shero, defenseman David Warsofsky.

Ex-Devils on the Penguins: Assistant general manager Bill Guerin.

Useless Devils Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Devils defenseman Vojtech Mozik is one of two players from the 2014-15 HC Plzen team in the Czech Republic's ELH who have played in the NHL this season. The other is Penguins right winger Dominik Simon. That team's general manager is former Penguins center Martin Straka.

The last time the Penguins played the Devils, this happened:

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (32-16-6, 2.29 GAA, .922 SV%) for the Penguins. Scott Wedgewood (1-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .964 SV%) for the Devils.

Injuries: For the Penguins, defenseman Brian Dumoulin (undisclosed) is probable. Center Evgeni Malkin ("upper body") and left winger Scott Wilson (right ankle/foot) are out. Right wingers Beau Bennett (right shoulder), Pascal Dupuis (blood clots) and center Kevin Porter (right ankle) are on injured reserve. For the Devils, defenseman John Moore (left knee") is questionable. Centers Jacob Josefson ("upper body"), Tyler Kennedy ("lower body"), defensemen Jon Merrill ("upper body"), David Schlemko ("upper body"), goaltender Cory Schneider (right knee) and right winger Jordin Tootoo ("upper body") are on injured reserve. Left wingers Mike Cammalleri ("upper body"), Ryane Clowe (head), Jiri Tlusty ("upper body") and center Patrick Elias (right knee) are on injured reserve.

Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins held an optional morning skate. Consider this a guess based on their lines and pairings:  

14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 72 Patric Hornqvist
62 Carl Hagelin - 13 Nick Bonino - 81 Phil Kessel
34 Tom Kuhnhackl - 7 Matt Cullen - 17 Bryan Rust
43 Conor Sheary - 16 Eric Fehr - 19 Beau Bennett

3 Olli Maatta - 58 Kris Letang
8 Brian Dumoulin - 6 Trevor Daley
28 Ian Cole - 4 Justin Schultz

-The Devils had an optional morning skate. Their lines and pairings at Wednesday's practice were:

64 Joseph Blandisi - 14 Adam Henrique - 25 Devante Smith-Pelly
12 Reid Boucher - 19 Travis Zajac - 21 Kyle Palmieri
51 Sergey Kalinin - 56 Blake Pietila- 46 Mike Sislo
23 Bobby Farnham - 11 Stephen Gionta - 15 Tuomo Ruutu

6 Andy Greene - 5 Adam Larsson
2 John Moore - 28 Damon Severson
47 David Warsofsky - 53 Vojtech Mozik / 39 Seth Helgeson

Notes:

-Bennett and Dumoulin are each described as "game-time decisions" by head coach Mike Sullivan. 

-Bennett left the ice today well before center Oskar Sundqvist and that is usually an indication of who is playing and who is scratched.

-The Penguins have won six consecutive games.

-Center Sidney Crosby has a 12-game scoring streak.

-Center Eric Fehr has played in 499 career games.

-Right winger Phil Kessel has 299 career assists.

-The Penguins' power play has gone 3 for 43 (6.9 percent) in games with Malkin out of the lineup this season. With Malkin, they have gone 38 for 189 (20.1 percent).

-Since arriving in a Feb. 29 trade from the Canadiens, Devils right winger Devante Smith-Pelly has 10 points (seven goals, three assists) in nine games.

-Devils center Adam Henrique has 198 career points.

-The referees are (No. 24) Graham Skilliter and (No. 15) Jean Hebert. The linesmen are (No. 75) Derek Amell and (No. 92) Mark Shewchyk.

(Photo: Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

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VIDEO: Pat Narduzzi, Kevin Sherman

Written by Sam Werner on .

Head coach Pat Narduzzi:

Wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman:

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Talkin' Bout Practice: March 24

Written by Sam Werner on .

After a few days away covering the women's NCAA Tournament, I was back at Pitt's South Side practice facility this morning for the Panthers' fifth practice of the spring season. First off, big thanks to Craig Meyer for ably filling in in my absence. Now, let's get to some notes from this morning's media window...

- As Craig wrote last week, Elijah Zeise was with the Panthers' linebackers once again this morning. I think this is an interesting move, and one that isn't totally surprising. Going all the way back to his recruiting, Zeise was always a pretty intriguing defensive prospect but, if you'll recall, he wanted to play receiver in college. Now, it looks like he'll at least give linebacker a shot. Pitt isn't exactly deep at receiver – and Zeise was probably towards the top of the list of guys that would get an opportunity — but the linebacker depth chart is in even worse shape. The top three are pretty clear (Bam Bradley, Matt Galambos and Mike Caprara) but all three starting would be dependent on Caprara switching over to the "Star" position (which, to be fair, is something he can do). Still, there's an opportunity for one or two more guys to get their names in the mix, and maybe Zeise could be one of them. I think the bigger tell as far as Zeise's future will be where he's playing when we reconvene for fall camp in August.

- Back to today's session, no new injuries to speak of. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni was out, and WR Dontez Ford, LB Anthony McKee, LB Bam Bradley and DE Allen Edwards worked off to the side today. OT Jaryd Jones-Smith, RB Rachid Ibrahim and FB Colton Lively were in yellow "limited contact" vests. That's in addition to the other guys who have already been declared OUT for the spring. RB James Conner was there, but not in pads and wearing a surgical mask.

- On the way out, we did get to see one play in an actual 11-man football formation. Your first team offensive line (from left to right) is still Bisnowaty-Johnson-Bookser-Guy-O'Neill. It was tough to tell, but it looked like Quadree Henderson got a shot with the first team at wide receiver today. The running backs rotate, but it did look like Darrin Hall broke a nice long run right as the media were being escorted out.

- On defense, the starting line was Price-Moody-Jarrett-Hendrix, and your linebackers were Idowu-Galambos-Caprara. It'll be interesting to see if Idowu can hold down that starting "Star" spot for the entirety of spring camp, or if someone (like Zeise) passes him up by the time it's over. In the secondary, it was Avonte Maddox and Ryan Lewis as your starting CBs, with Jordan Whitehead and Terrish Webb at the safety spots. No surprises there.

- As far as visitor's to today's session, we had former Pitt DL Aaron Donald, who has been around a decent amount recently during his offseason, and UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley in attendance. It's pretty common for coaches to go visit other schools (not on their schedule, of course) in the offseason, so it's not a surprise to see Bradley back in Western Pennsylvania checking things out.

- As previously reported by Chris Peak of Panther-Lair.com, wide receiver Gentry Ivery has left the Pitt program. That's not entirely relevant for football reasons — Ivery was quite far down the wide receiver depth chart — but it is important from a scholarship numbers perspective. Pitt has been trying to pare down its scholarship numbers to get under the NCAA maximum of 85 before fall camp starts, and Ivery's departure is one more step in that direction. According to my scholarship board, Ivery leaving puts Pitt at a projected 89 scholarships heading into the summer (that's returning players plus incoming recruits). That's still four over, but the number is getting more and more manageable. Over the next couple of months, you'll probably see a couple more players down on the depth chart leave, and it also possible a couple of the freshmen may have to enroll in prep school before coming to Pitt, which would alleviate the concern even more.

- Here are some videos from this morning...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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