Role reversal for Malkin - 09-19-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Nine years ago, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin needed a landlord and a translator.

He got one in defenseman Sergei Gonchar (right, with Malkin). The veteran took Malkin, then a rookie, into his home and helped his fellow Russian adjust to life in North America on and off the ice.

Nearly a decade later, the roles have been reversed for Malkin.

With Gonchar in training camp on a professional tryout contract, Malkin has let Gonchar shack up with him for the time being.

Malkin is also serving as a translator for new left winger Sergei Plotnikov, another Russian, who joined the team as a free agent this past offseason.

Following today's practice at the team's facility in Cranberry, Malkin held court with media and talked about a variety of subjects, including Gonchar and Plotnikov.


What does new right winger Phil Kessel bring to the team?

It's a big part for us. I think everyone is excited here. He's a good player. I'm excited to play with him. It doesn't matter which line he plays. We're still one team. It's great for [the] team. I hope he's very helpful.

You're probably happy to see Gonchar in camp.

"Oh yeah, of course. He's my friend. He lives with me. It's good."

You lived with Gonchar early in your career. Now, he's living with you for the time being.

"Yeah. It's good. Eight years ago, I lived with him. Now, he's come back to Pittsburgh [and] live with me. It's so exciting. He stays with my family. [We're] friends. We hope we play together this year."

Would you prefer to play with Kessel?

"It's all coaches. I think [coach Mike Johnston] trying different lines. We'll see what's going on. It doesn't matter. Maybe we play together on [the] power play. Maybe I change, Sid change a little bit and I play with [Kessel]. But it doesn't matter for me. We have [Patric Hornqvist], Pascal Dupuis, [Chris] Kunitz. It's great forwards. It doesn't matter for me who I play with."

The team struggled to score goals last season. Are you better equipped to produce offense after this offseason?

"I think so. Now, [Dupuis is] back. We have four great lines. We have now deeper lines. We have unbelievable four lines. Defensemen. [Marc-Andre Fleury] too. It's a great time. Sometimes, it's bad luck. We can't score. But if we work hard, goals come."

How do you describe Plontikov as a player?

"He's big size. Works hard every shift. He likes playing around [the] net. Screen the net, goalie. Pretty good skills. He [does] everything. Skate, shoot, work hard in [the] corner, go to the net. Everything."

Did you talk to him about potentially coming to Pittsburgh when he was considering jumping to the NHL?

"Yeah, we talked a little bit. I talked to [general manager Jim Rutherford]. He asked me about him. We talked a little bit after I talked to Sergei. He said he was excited to come to the NHL. I [said], 'If you come to Pittsburgh, [I'll] always help you.' After a couple of days, he signed."

How have you been helping him?

"I think first of all, it's on ice. How [to] play because it's a little bit different ice. Different rink. It's a different game because here it's smaller ice. He understands that. I try to talk to him. You need to play a little bit quicker. Off ice, Pittsburgh, the organization, they help me, [Gonchar], everyone. I know he [found a] car. [An] apartment too. He's here with his wife. Everything [is] good."

On the importance of aiding Plotnikov.

"I think it's very, very important because he doesn't really speak English. It's big problem. He understands but sometimes he [doesn't] understand what coaches say. I try to help. First couple of weeks, he's a little bit scared maybe. But now, he [knows the] players here and everyone. Now, I think everything is pretty easy for him."

How key was Gonchar in helping you early in your career?

"I always say [if] Gonchar [didn't] help me, [if] he [didn't] play in Pittsburgh, I maybe [don't] win rookie of [the] year. I maybe [don't] win a couple more trophies because he helped me a lot. Off ice, I was with him. He translates sometimes to me. If [he didn't] play here, I'm a little bit scared because it's just myself. I'm 19 year old."

(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


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Uher hoping to break through finally - 09-19-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins forward prospect Dominik Uher (right) fulfilled a handful of life benchmarks within the past year.

Earlier this summer, he earned his high school degree. A native of the Czech Republic, he left for North America as a teenager in order to play junior hockey in Spokane of the Western Hockey League and put his education on hold.

Professionally, Uher, now 22, made his NHL debut in December when he played in two road games near Christmas.

He's hoping they're not his last two. A fifth-round pick in 2011, Uher enters his fourth professional season with the Penguins at a bit of a cross-roads. Signed to a one-year, two-way contract, he is playing for another contract while trying to earn a full-time NHL role.

Last season, Uher set career numbers in the AHL with 72 games, 13 goals and 26 points.

"Dominik's a real consistent player," said head coach Mike Johnston. "For me, he's a worker, he's an energy guy. He's safe and responsible in all areas of his game. He's not going to create a lot of offense but he does get in on the forecheck and he plays a good game, a good working game."

Yesterday, following pratice at the team's training camp in Cranberry, Uher talked about his future.


What was it like playing making your NHL debut last season?

"It's a dream come true. You work hard your whole career to make it then it actually comes. I enjoyed it. Hopefully, it's not the last game I play for Pittsburgh."

There seems to be one or two forward positions available out of training camp. Presumably, you identify that as something you can nail down?

"Yeah, of course. They're [management] watching all of us. Every guy who is here has a good chance to make it. I'm going to try my best in practice and hopefully I can convince the coaches and [management] here to get a job here.

You've been in the organization for three seasons now. You're on a one-year contract. Is this a make or break season?

"Of course. Every year, I feel I get better. It's a great organization. Even the minor [league] team in Wilkes-Barre works well with you. I feel I get better each year. Hopefully I can make the last step this year to get a full job in the NHL."

In the past, you've trained in Montreal during the offseason. Did you do that again?

"No. I changed this summer. I was home [in the Czech Republic] the entire summer. Worked out with my trainer there. Also, I had to finish school. I got it done and out of the way."

School? Was that college?

"No, it was high school. But I got it done. It was something that was on my back and I felt uncomfortable not having it. So I'm glad I finally found some time and finished it."

Your career numbers with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. What clicked for you?

"I think just my [linemates]. I started playing with Tommy Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney at the beginning of February I'd say. We just had a good chemistry and I really enjoyed playing with them. We were playing well together and the points kept going up for us."

Do you feel like you're a veteran in the organization now? At least with regards to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton?

"I wouldn't say a veteran but I've been here for three years so I know people and I know the staff. It's going to feel like I'm coming home but hopefully I can fight for a job here and stay as long as I can."

(Photo: Adam Hunger/Getty Images)


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Empty Netter Assists - Kessel a power player - 09-19-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-“The important part is, his willingness to attack and shoot. When you do that, it opens up everything. It makes the other team defend.  When you’re stationary and you’re passing it around, looking for that pretty play, if you go cold and you don’t score for a while, it’s a mental thing and guys start to press." - Assistant coach Rick Tocchet on how new right winger Phil Kessel (right) will impact the power play.

-Welcome back Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta ... to practice.

-Left winger David Perron is looking for consistency in a contract year.

-"Who cares?. He's a great player. And [Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby] are probably the two best centermen in the world. . He knows Sid is a little more straight line — he likes to take it to the net — and [Malkin] is more pull up, hold onto the puck and try to find those small plays around the net. They're both great and he's going to have fun here." - Right winger Patric Hornqvist on which line Kessel could play on.

-Metal detectors will be used at Consol Energy Center moving forward.

-Head coach Mike Johnston speaks:

-The Wheeling Nailers hired former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Dave Gove as an assistant coach.

-Happy 45th birthday to former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton midway through the 2008-09 season as a replacement for Michel Therrien, Bylsma led the Penguins to an 18-3-4 record down the stretch and the third Stanley Cup title in franchise history. He became the 14th coach in NHL history to lead a team to a championship in his first season. In 2009-10, the Penguins had a 47-28-7 record under Bylsma and reached the postseason once again. During the 2010-11 campaign, despite numerous injuries, Bylsma directed the club to a 49-25-8 record, 106 points - third-most in the NHL overall - and another playoff appearance. That effort helped Bylsma win the Jack Adams Award, the only time a Penguins coach has won the award. In 2011-12, Bylsma directed the team to a 51-25-6 record and another playoff appearance. During a lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, Bylsma saw the team win the Atlantic Division title with a 36-12-0 record. During the postseason, the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference final. In 2013-14, the Penguins won the Metropolitan Division with a 51-24-7 record. After being eliminated by the Rangers in the second round of the postseason, Bylsma was fired. In 400 regular season games, Bylsma had a record of 252-117-32. He is the franchise's career leader in coaching wins and games coached. In 78 postseason games, he had a 43-35 record. Bylsma is currently the head coach of the Sabres.

-Happy 27th birthday to former Penguins forward Nick Spaling. Along with Hornqvist, he was acquired in a trade during the 2014 offseason which sent James Neal to the Predators. During 2014-15, Spaling played in all 82 games and scored 27 points. In the 2015 postseason, Spaling played in five games and netted two points. Earlier this offseason, Spaling was traded along with Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington and two draft picks in exchange for Kessel, Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and a draft pick.

Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division

-The Islanders signed former Red Wings defenseman Marek Zidlicky to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million. Coming off a contract with a salary cap hit of $3 million, Zidlicky, 38, appeared in 84 games last season between the Red Wings as well as Devils and scored 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists).

-EN Says: This is a nice signing. With Lubomir Visnovsky now gone, Zidlicky will pick up his minutes and provide a similiar game. Zidlicky is a slick puck mover who has a strong shot. He won't pose any threat physically but that has never been his game. 

-After arriving late to the first day of training camp, Islanders forward prospect Joshua Ho-Sang was returned to his junior team, Niagara of the OHL.

-It's obviously frustrating. But no one's going to feel sorry for you and I'm not the only guy in this situation. You see a lot of free agents that probably other years would have had contracts, but it's one of those years and you have to put your nose to the grindstone and work through it.” - Former Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy on being in Devils' camp on a tryout basis.

-“Columbus didn’t diagnose it correctly or didn’t get to the bottom of the problem. They just addressed that I had a ‘hockey back,’ a slight herniation and it would get better as the summer went on. As I started training, that wasn’t the case. It got progressively worse to the point where it was hard to train or really do anything.” - Flyers forward R.J. Umberger (right), a native of Plum (No, really!) on his recovery from a hip ailment. After being traded by the Blue Jackets in the 2014 offseason, Umberger played 67 games with the Flyers last season while struggling with his hip.

-“It’s his time to shine. It’s time to become one of the go-to guys on our team.” - Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on forward Chris Kreider. 

-Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson is still struggling to get his bankruptcy resolved

-Former Islanders forward/enforcer Trevor Gillies has joined the South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL affiliate of the Capitals.

Atlantic Division

-Following a violent accidental collision in the first day of training camp, Red Wings forward Darren Helm and forward prospect  Jerome Verrier were each hospitalized. Helm is being monitored for a head injury while Verrier suffered a broken leg.

-After a vote by players, the Canadiens named forward Max Pacioretty (rightas the 29th captain in franchise history. Defensemen Andrei Markov,  P.K. Subban, forwards Tomas Plekanec, and Brendan Gallagher were named alternate captains.

-Canadiens general manager Marc Bergervin wanted to personally deliver the news to Pacioretty but went to the wrong home accidentally.

-Sabres forward prospect Jack Eichel, the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft, is sticking with No. 41 as a training camp roster number until he officially makes the NHL roster.

-Sabres forward Cody McCormick, who was hospitalized due to blood clots in January, failed his physical and will be sidelined indefinitely

-The Sabres are moving all-star Zemgus Girgensons from center to right wing.

-Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will be sidelined since seven to 10 days due to an "upper-body' injury.

-“I’ve just got to be a little more cautious. I’m in my fifth year in the league. I’m not second year in the league. I’m not first year in the league anymore. I’m an experienced player. I’m a little more mature in the sense of when to ease up on some hits, when to fight, when not to fight. I’ve matured a lot over the year and experienced a lot.” - Bruins forward Zac Rinaldo on eliminating penalties from his game.

-Long-time Senators forward Chris Neil (righthas slimmed down from 220 pounds to 206 pounds.

-Who will be the Maple Leafs' starting goaltender? Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer?

Central Division

-Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane was cheered by fans during the first day of his team's training camp. Kane is currently the subject of a sexual assault investigation in Hamburg, N.Y.

-Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell is still struggling with vertigo symptoms he experienced during last season's Stanley Cup Final.

-Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and captain/forward Andrew Ladd are each seeking contract extensions.

-Wild assistant coach and former Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor has extended his stay at a California treatment facility for alcholism

Pacific Division

-"He's a good, powerful skater, got good mitts on him ... reminds me a little bit of a young Ryan Kesler in some ways. It should be exciting to see him play and grow in his role and be one of our leaders." - Canucks forward Alex Burrows on new teammate, former Penguins forward Brandon Sutter.

-“I get a little bit overwhelmed when I think about [the upcoming season]. There is going to be so much pressure on him, it makes me anxious. For now, I am keeping that at arm’s length. I have cherished the weekends we have had together this summer. I realize we may not have many more.” - Kelly McDavid, mother of Oilers forward prospect Connor McDavid. A star with the Erie Otters, Connor McDavid is expected to be one of the NHL's top rookies this upcoming season.

-"You don't think about it too much. I've said it all along, it would be nice if it was done before the season. But if it's not, it's really not that big a deal. There's plenty of time left in that regard, too. So we'll see what happens." - Kings forward Anze Kopitar (right) on seeking a contract extension.

-"I guess you don’t ever expect stuff like that to happen. When one happens, then another, then a third, it’s kind of hard to believe, really. But that’s the reality. The important thing is for this group to understand the position we’re in now. There’s nothing we can do about changing the past. Now it’s more about how you handle yourself when you get hit like this.” - Kings captain/forward Dustin Brown on three of his former teammates - forwards Jarrett Stoll, Mike Richards and defenseman Slava Voynov - being arrested within the past year.

-After a very public rift last season, Sharks forward Joe Thornton said he was "cool" with general manager Doug Wilson.

-"[Defenseman Brent Burns’] skill set is I think what separates himself from a lot of other players in the league. He’s got that raw talent. I think the difference with him and [Penguins defenseman Kris Letang] is he’s got that size, too, to be able to play physical when he needs to and separate his man from the puck. A lot of similarities.” - Sharks defenseman and former Penguin Paul Martin on his new defensive partner, Brent Burns, and his former partner, Letang.

-The Coyotes signed restricted free agent defenseman Stefan Elliot  to a one-year, two-way contract. The Coyotes acquired his signing rights in a recent trade with the Avalanche.

(Photos: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images, Jeff Gross/Getty Images, Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press and Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

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Live Friday night game of the week blog - Penn-Trafford beats McKeesport

Written by Mike White on .

Live blog from tonight's McKeesport at Penn-Trafford contest, the Post-Gazette game of the week between two of the top five teams in Class AAAA. Penn-Trafford is No. 3 and McKeesport No. 5. Follow the game, but also look to the right of this blog at the Twitter account of @PGVarsityXtra for score updates, notes and photos from other games. If you have a score or note, tweet with #wpial and tag @PGVarsityXtra.


9:41 Things looking dire for McKeesport. P-T picks up first down on a penalty at 45. 5 min. left.

North Allegheny is leading Central Catholic 17-14 in the third quarter. 


McKeesport offense coming alive just a little. To the P-Trafford 31. Hudson 60 yards on 13 carries. 

9:22 McKeesport offense finally moving a little. Down to the P-T 35. Late third quarter.

9:20 Hudson back in.

9:17 5:02 left in third and Penn-Trafford leads 21-7. Khaleke Hudson not in game now.

9:09 Crazy play. Jonah Lisbon took a pass and was running for TD when he was hit by two defenders right at the goal line. Khaleke Hudson recovered, ran it back to the Penn-Trafford 15, but a block in the back penalty brought it all the way back to the McKeesport 6.

8:56 Nice. $1,671 in the 50-50 pot tonight.  


First-half stats: McKeesport five first downs and 115 total yards. Khaleke Hudson only 32 yards on eight carries. 0 for 3 in passing. I know they rely on flexbone, but some games not having any passing attack at all hurts.

Penn-Trafford defense was stellar in first half. Stanford, Guest on the line especially. Penn-Trafford 81 yards rushing. Jonah Lisbon had 83 yards on nine carries. P-T had minus 18 yards on bad snap from center.

Vecchio two catches for 64 yards.

McKeesport's defense leaks big hole late in the half. Penn-Trafford takes over at its own 20 with 1:27 left in half. On second and 2, Brett Laffoon lofts a deep pass and Tim Vecchio fights over defenders, catches it and scores on a 49-yard play with 5 seconds left in half. What a play for Vecchio. Fights of Mark Cromerdie. Then ball drops just over the head and into arms of Vecchio at 10.

The kid is really good!!!!!

8:20 McKeesport turns ball over on downs at Penn-Trafford 32.

8:12 Three and out for Penn-Trafford. McKeesport takes over at P-T 45.

North Allegheny staying with Central Catholic. Mike Pope TD run. 7-7. Not a surprise. If NA doesn't turn it over, it can win

PENN-TRAFFORD 14, MCKEESPORT 7 McKeesport answers with 64 yd drive in 4 plays. Mark Cromerdie scores TD. Impressive answer to P-T.

8:02 And here comes McKeesport. 24 yards and 15 yards on two runs. Now to Penn-Trafford 25.


One of WPIAL's least heralded players, but one of the best, Tim Vecchio hits short slant pattern for TD pass from Brett Laffoon. 15 yards. 


Khaleke Hudson only 17 yards on 6 carries so far for Mckeesport.


Ty-Mar Sutton carries three consecutive times. Fumbles the third time. Ben Davis picks up and returns 5 yards for TD. 4th time P-T has scored on turnover past two games.

7:45 Long pass to Tim Vecchio. Was a prayer. Wasn't open. INT by Mark Cromerdie at 3.

7:38 P-T punts. 

Mars has taken 3-0 lead on FRegional.

7:37 Bad snap on first play for P-T. Minus 18.

7:35 One first down and punt for McKeesport. P-T takes over at its own 40. Defense very good first possession. 

7:30 McKeesport receive.

Gateway and Hampton also scoreless after one in another big Greater Allegheny game.

Mars and Franklin Regional scoreless after first. Big game in AAA Greater Allegheny. A few minutes from getting under way here.

Freeport up on Apollo-Ridge 14-0. Yellowjackets impressive this year. Them and Highlands for Allegheny Conference crown?

Paris Ford sounds like he's doing whatever he wants again for Seton-LaSalle. 14-0 Rebels lead.


It's a perfect night for football.


Many are billing this as the running of McKeesport against the passing of Penn-Trafford. Maybe. But please let's not forget the running game of Penn-Trafford with Jonah Lisbon. That could end up being the key.

I saw this game last year and Penn-Trafford won with an efficient passing game, but also a strong running game. No doubt,  how Penn-Trafford's defense does against McKeesport's flexbone and RB Khaleke Hudson will also be key.

It's red, white and blue night for Penn-Trafford students. Wear your best flag suit.

P-T red white and blue

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Perron seeking consistency in contract year - 09-18-15

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Once upon a time, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford landed a skilled goal scoring winger from a floundering team in a passionate Canadian hockey market.

No, not Phil Kessel.

David Perron. 

The Penguins landed Perron in a deal with the Edmonton Oilers in January. He paid dividends almost immediately as he racked up 13 points in his first 16 games with the Penguins. But his production dried up in mid-February. In his final 28 regular seaosn games, he netted only 10 points. Five postseason games saw him produce only one assist.

Entering the 2015-16 season, Perron is poised to line up on a wing of a line with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin as his center. He's hoping to find a greater level of consistency as well as a new contract.

Earlier today, after practice at the team's practice facility in Cranberry, he talked about his health, his consistency and his future.


After last season, you mentioned you had a hip ailment during the 2014 offseason which impacted your ability to train. Is that no longer an issue?

"Nothing at all. That's what I'm really happy about. All summer, I didn't feel it at all. I'm feeling great right now. I'm just going to keep going through this camp and keep pushing and keep getting in better shape hopefully."

You suffered a rib injury in the final game of the regular season. Is that healed?

"That's done too. I think probably early July, I was [fully healed] on that. It was just something early in the summer. You take a few weeks off. I started playing tennis. I was still feeling it doing that kind of stuff with buddies. I just took another couple of weeks and I was fine after."

How important will it be to get a training camp after joining the team in mid-season of 2014-15?

"I think the way I came in … I came maybe a little bit low on confidence. Knowing my background of what happened the previous offseason, I think none of you guys [media] and none of the management probably knew that. I was extremely excited to come here. I think the opportunity was unbelievable at the time. I was carried with the momentum with the excitement a little bit. Maybe when I came back down, I didn't recover well. And that's something that's going to be huge this time around, a full training camp with these guys and good conditioning shape."

Goal scoring tends to be a streaky pursuit. How do you avoid those streaks as you had last season?

"Just play the right way. Play hard. Shoot everything at the net and get to the net. That's how I got my goals in other seasons. When you get one of your leg or an empty netter, something like that, that kind of gives you confidence. The next time, you might score the nicer one, the pretty goal or an important goal. You can't really just focus on goals. You have to focus on a positive impact and goals are going to come.

You're scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. How important is this season for you? Do you want to remain with the Penguins?

"For sure. It's a big year for me. I think most of all, you have to focus on team success. I think everything else will take care of itself. Individual success follows. And contracts or whatever are going to follow as well. I want to play in this league a long time. It's a big season for me."

If you're on his line or another line, what does new right winger Phil Kessel offer you?

"His shot. It's incredible. He'll have one or two or three good chances in a game and he's going to hit 50 percent of them in the net. That's what it is. He's not going to be the big guy that's going to hit everything. I think he is what he is. We got a guy coming from Toronto who took a lot of criticism there and I think we're going to welcome him how he is as a player, as a person and we're going to work with that. That's won't change for him. He's always going to be that type of guy with a lot of speed down the wing and a big shot. We have to take advantage of that."

You were in a similar situation as Kessel last season when you left an intense hockey market in Edmonton and joined the Penguins. With centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in place, does that take some pressure off?

"Yes and no. Those guys are expecting a lot of themselves and the guys they are playing with. They'll be very demanding. At times, it can be very hard. But that's what guys have to deal with. You have to let them know at times when they're too intense and then when it's time to back off a little bit. I think Phil is going to do a good job. He's a star himself so he's going to be able to tell them when it's time to back off a little bit or when it's time … 'Hey you guys are right. I need to do more for you guys.'"

Do you have a preference on which line you'd like to play on?

"I'd like to play with [Malkin] and Sid. I'm kidding. I don't know. I think the way the team is right now, there's so much depth. [Right winger Pascal Dupuis] coming back, he's extremely excited. He's going to be running around on the ice. [Center Nick] Bonino coming to the lineup. I'm going to work hard to try to get on the first two lines and and that's all I'll work for all year."

(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)


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