Head coach Mike Sullivan has been pretty tight-lipped with any sort of injury or lineup information from even before the playoffs. Approximately two weeks before the postseason started, he started being brief with any of that content.
So when he announced goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury would start tonight's Game 5 at his pregame press conference, before even fielding a question, it was a bit of a surprise.
The fact that Fleury is starting isn't so much of a surprise but the fact that he announced it was the real shocker.
As far as the decision to go with Fleury instead of Matt Murray, it appears to be the right decision. Murray's play has been trending downward - albeit slightly - since the late stages of the second round series against the Capitals. He hasn't been awful by any means. He's played well enough to win. But at the same time, his play hasn't been getting better.
We don't think there's a bad choice between Fleury or Murray. But Fleury seems to be the best choice.
Sullivan also announced defenseman Trevor Daley (right) would miss the rest of the season due to a broken ankle. That's a crucial loss for the Penguins. Not only has Daley brought a presence they missed after parting ways with defenseman Paul Martin last offseason but the would-be replacements of Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot haven't exactly had clean games during the postseason. Everything points towards Maatta playing with defenseman Kris Letang tonight.
Maatta got an endorsement from Sullivan today when asked what he needs to do coming off being a healthy scratch for three games.
"Just to keep his game simple, to relax and have fun and play," said Sullivan. "Olli's been a big part of this team for a long time. As I said yesterday, he's been a top four defenseman for this team all season long. He's done a terrific job for us. And when he keeps his game simple, I think that's when he's at his best."
Maatta said he's kept an even keeled approach during his string of scratches.
“At all times, you've got to be ready to go," Maatta said. "It doesn't matter what happens. You have to be ready to play the game. I think that has to be the mindset.”
Even though he's only been here since mid-December, Daley has become one of the most respected players in the dressing room. A lot of his teammates spoke to his presence:
Letang - “You never want to see a guy go down, especially a guy that eats a lot of minutes like that. Not only is he good on the ice, he's good off the ice. A good teammate. Everybody loves him in the dressing room. He brings that calmness, that veteran presence. It's huge but people have to step up."
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy - “Trevor's been great for us. He's a brought a veteran element to our [defensive] corps. and he's brought a level of speed and playmaking ability that few guys possess. He's really been a huge part of our team.”
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin - "Yeah, he's an important part of our defense corps. He's been there, been playing real well for us ever since he got here. He's a leader in the locker room. He's a leader out there on the ice. He's definitely a very important person that we want on the ice, but that's part of the game. Injuries are going to happen. So we've got to find a way to battle through it and turn it into a positive."
Center Matt Cullen - "He's been so good for us. He's -- I guess, when he got here, I didn't realize how good he was. I've always thought he was a really good player, playing against him. But what he's brought to this team has been awesome. He's a great team mate. He's a great leader. He skates well. He's done everything for us. I mean, everywhere on special teams, five-on-five, he's been great for us, and I think all the young guys would say the same. He's been a great leader. I can't say enough about him."
Sullivan - "On a personal level, I feel badly for Trevor because I know how important this is to him and what it means to him and what he's brought to this team. You know, it's emotional for him. He's a terrific kid. He's brought a lot to this hockey team."
A somewhat surprising development is the apparent return of right winger Beau Bennett (right) to the lineup in place of struggling left winger Conor Sheary. He skated on a line with center Sidney Crosby and right winger Patric Hornqvist at today's morning skate. Having injured his right shoulder in mid-December, he has not had much playing time the past six months. He's ready to go.
"There's no way to prepare for other than jump in there and play," said Bennett. "If that happens, I just got to get in there as quick as possible, try to make a few plays and get that comfort level back."
"It's been an ongoing process this thing. It's been nagging me since December. It's something with strength and muscle, it will feel better and that just takes time to put on, time to heal. I talked to the trainers and we had long talks about where I was at. I said I wanted to help the team as much as possible if I could down the stretch. And I feel like I've been working hard in practices and enough to feel comfortable to go out there in a game.”
When Bennett was initially injured in December, he was on the first line with Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz. So the notion of him being a first liner isn't absurd.
"He brings a lot of skill," said Sullivan. "He's a good sized kid. He's strong on the puck. He can really shoot it. But he's a guy that has high end offensive skills. So if we choose to go that route, that's one more guy that we can use in that capacity. The fact that he's been out for an extended period of time may take him a little bit of time to get his timing. He'll also be a guy that will play on adrenaline, if and when we put him back in the lineup, because of the nature of playoff hockey. And usually when players come back into the lineup coming off injuries, they're excited to be back, and they play with a lot of injury and a lot of adrenaline."
Center Cedric Paquette was one of a number of Lightning players who drew the ire of of Penguins players in Game 4. Today, he was asked three questions about his role and he used a profanity about making people mad three times:
When the other team is going after you and getting mad at you, is that helpful?
"Every time you get a chance to [tick] them off, like you saw [Letang in Game 4] with [Lightning center Brian Boyle], that's a good thing for us when the star players get mad at us."
When Lightning center Brian Boyle was smiling as he tried to battle Letang and defenseman Brian Dumoulin during the second period of Game 4, does that give the bench a boost?
"Yeah, I think we love to see that. I think the coach approves. Every time you have a chance to [tick] them off like I said, just go ahead and do it. The coach likes that. We all like that on the bench."
Does an important player like Letang draw a lot of focus in that regard?
"Every time you have a chance to hit this guy and just [tick] him off, you should do it. That's why we've done a good job on them."
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop (right) will miss Game 5 as he recovers from his left leg injury. He suggested if he played a different position, he could play with this injury.
“Being the position we're in, kind of the last line of defense, you don't want to go out there and play when you're not ready," Bishop said. "I think if you're maybe a forward, you'd be okay to go out there and tough through it. But as the last line of defense, you don't want to go out there and do that to your teammates. You've got to wait until you're ready to go and feel like you help your team win.”
“I think most other positions in sports, I think I'd be okay. But obviously goaltender, there's a lot of unique movements that you don't really do in any other sport or any other position. It's obviously tougher to be in this position as a goaltender and have the injury that I have."
Boyle played for Sullivan when he was an assistant coach with the Rangers. He had some kind words to say about Sullivan and what he meant to his career.
“He was great to me," Boyle said. "He was the assistant coach so a lot of times you can talk to them a little bit more when you have things on your mind or you're searching for answers as a young player trying to make an impression. He was always there to help me. Tell me what I needed to hear. Not necessarily was it what I wanted to hear. But he made it clear to me he was in my corner and he was trying to make me a better player. He was instrumental in helping me get to where I got to when I was in New York. A lot of those lessons, I try to apply now. He's a big part of that, him and [former Rangers head coach John Tortorella]."
"He's a really good man. He's a good coach."
Professional wrestler Shawn Michaels, a.k.a The Hearbreak Kid, is in town for tonight's game. He made a stop at a Primanti Bros. location to tryout the HBK sandwich along with former Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel:
Crosby admitted being a fan.
“Yeah, I was," Crosby said. "I liked Bret 'The Hitman' Hart but I was also a Shawn Michaels fan. That would have been right around the time I was following it. He was in his prime then. It's kind of cool. That kind of stuff kind of develops out of no where. It's fun. I think that line is playing great. It's pretty cool they've been able to set something up there."
(Photos: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images and Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press and Lynne Sladky/Associatd Press)