-There are a whole set of catch phrases which never seem to die out when it comes to the Penguins. With Mario Lemieux, he was "in the best shape of his life." With Jaromir Jagr, is was his "dying alive" which has been badly taken out of context as the years have gone by. This blog has been known from time to time to suggest "Fire Ray Shero" when a former Penguin who was let go under Shero's watch has some success.
-Another of these phrases is "country-club atmosphere." Dating back to the Penguins' glory days of the early 1990s, there's been a perception that the team has a casual approach to practice or preparation for games. More often than not, that phrase has been uttered by those who don't actually attend said practices. Many have suggested the Penguins' practices under Mike Johnston have been "country-club atmosphere" when nothing could be further from the case.
-While they have eased up a bit since training camp, Johnston's practices have been fast-paced, competitive and physical. While Dan Bylsma's practices were hardly easy, they weren't nearly as as Johnston's. The new Penguins coach has certainly put these players through their paces this season with workouts which test his players physically and mentally. Even just this past Monday, Johnston had them skating "gassers" such as those drills made famous in the movie "Miracle."
-Don't take out word for it. Here's how yesterday's practice in Chicago was viewed by a Chicago reporter:
-Speaking of Jagr, he turns 43 today. 43!
-Somehow, it seems fitting that Jagr and Galileo share a birthday. Each had some revolutionary ideas which weren't always popular with conventional wisdom. And each were/have been banished to some horrible fate in some fashion.
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, David Perron, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Their scratches are Christian Ehrhoff and Zach Sill.
-The Blackhawks' starters are Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Corey Crawford.
-Their scratches are Daniel Carcillo, Tim Erixon and David Rundblad.
17:54: A wrister by Bryan Bickell from the left circle is deflected by the stick of Martin and hops on net. Fleury snags it.
17:35: Brent Seabrook booms a one-timer from the right point. Fleury punches it out of play with his blocker.
15:52: Despres booms a one-timer from the right point wide of the cage.
15:37: Seabrook chops a one-timer from the right point. Fleury kicks it out. Keith recovers the rebound on the left half wall and whacks a slapper wide on the near side.
14:56: Pouliot races up the right wing, veers towards the slot and rips a wrister juuust wide to the left of the cage.
14:40: Bennett retrieves a puck above the left cirle and rips a wrister which Crawford kicks out.
13:29: Craig Adams loses a puck on the right half wall of the Penguins zone. Bickell steals it and rips a wrister which Pouliot deflects over the cage.
13:22: Michal Rozsival chops a shot/pass from center point which Andrew Shaw taps wide of the cage.
12:25: Rozsival fumbles a puck at the right point and Blame Comeau jumps all over it. Comeau pushes it up the right wing one a two-on-one with Patric Hornqvist. Keith slides down to take away the pass and Comeau lifts a wrister which Crawford kicks out. Rozsival owes Crawford a beer.
11:33: Letang strokes a slapper from the right point wide on the near side.
11:21: Versteeg saunters up the right wing and snaps off a wrister which Fleury battles away.
9:53: Bickell chops a slapper from the left point. Bortuzzo deflects it a bit with his stick and it hops on net. Fleury scoops the puck with a glove.
9:34: Marcus Kruger feeds a pass out of the right wing corner. Ben Smith kneels down and whacks a one-timer which he fans on a bit. Fleury traps it against his body.
7:22: Hornqvist pushes a puck up the right wing on a partial two-on-one. Despite having a fairly clean shot from the right circle, he forces a bad pass to Comeau on the left wing and fails to get true shot off. Hornqvist must shoot there.
5:21: Off a little feed by Perron, Crosby has a chance in tight but can't beat Crawford.
4:59: Off an offensive zone faceoff win, Hjalmarsson chucks
4:02: Hornqvist muscles his way up the left wing by Bikell and attacks the net. He lifts a wrister which hits off a post and deflects out of play.
4:39: Oduya blasts a slapper from the right point wide of the cage.
1:16: Off a steal at the Penguins' blue line, Malkin dances in off the left wing and attacks the net. He flips a wrister on net which Crawford eats up.
0:40: Off an offensive zone faceoff wing, Letang rips a wrister from the right point. It hits Crawford who makes the stop. Perron and Kunitz have a look at the rebound but can't bury it.
0:02: Shaw has a chance on a brief two-on0one against Letang. Shaw tries to feed Versteeg on the left wing but Letang sldies down and breaks up the pass with his right skate.
0:00: End of period. Blackhawks 0, Penguins 0.
-There were 11 icing calls that period. Eleven. That's what happens when you start games at 11:30 (CST) A.M. You get sloppy hockey.
-Despite that, things were fairly entertaining. Each squad generated decent amount of scoring chances.
-The Penguins' second line was pretty sharp. Comeau and Hornqvist were really active in terms of attacking the net.
-The third line - primarily Bennett - had a few scoring chances as well.
-The Penguins have a 15-8 lead in shots on net.
-The Penguins have a 21-14 lead in attempted shots.
-Bennett leads the game with five shots.
-Bickell and Seabrook each lead the Blackhawks with two shots.
-Oduya leads the game with 9:09 of ice time.
-Letang leads the Penguins with 8:12 of ice time.
-Faceoffs are even, 12-12 (50 percent).
-Crosby is 6 for 9 (67 percent).
-Toews and Smith are each 3 for 4 (75 percent).
-No one has more than one blocked shot.
-A reader spotted a sharp Hjalmarsson Sweden jersey:
19:09: Malkin tries to chip and chase a puck around Rozsival at the Chicago blue line but Rozsival dumps him with a chip check.
18:24: Beau Bennett whips a wrister from the left point. Crawford kicks it out despite traffic.
18:00: Yikes. Rob Scuderi makes a horrendous pass attempt out of his right wing corner to Sutter in the left circle. Shaw jumps all over it and rips a wrister which Fleury snags with his glove. What a wretched pass by Scuderi. He knows it too as he has a relieved look on his face.
16:44: Saad lifts a wrister from the slot which hits a stick and flutters on net. Fleury eats it up.
16:38: The Blackhawks strike first. On the ensuing faceoff in the Penguins' right circle, Toews beats Crowsby. Saad thumps Kunitz away from the puck and feeds it to Hjalmarsson at the center point. Hjalmarsson cranks a slapper which blows right by Fleury's glove hand. There didn't appear to be much of a screen on that. Fleury doesn't look happy with himself. Saad and Toews each get assists. Blackhawks 1-0.
15:58: Kruger whacks a slapper from the right wing. Fleury snags it.
15:44: Off an offensive zone faceoff win, Seabrook booms a slapper from the right point which Sutter blocks.
15:21: Letang whacks a slapper from the right point wide of the cage.
15:13: Off a steal by Martin, Crosby rips a one-timer from the left circle.
14:57: Kunitz fends off Hjalmarsson from the left circle. Crawford smothers it easily. Perron gives Hjalmarsson a whack afterwards and starts a scrum in the Chicago left wing corner. Nothing comes of it.
13:24: Seabrook chops a slapper from the right point. It hits something and deflects out of play.
12:56: Sutter snaps off a wrister from the right half wall. It gets blocked in front and he recovers the rebound. He is able to flip a backhander on net which Crawford kicks out.
12:34: Off a defensive zone turnover by Patrick Kane, Bennett snaps off a wrister from the left circle which Crawford kicks out.
11:18: Perron rips a wrister from a bad angle on the right wing. Crawford fends it off. Crosby is in tight and whacks at the rebound and Crawford a few times. Crawford freezes it. Oduya takes exception to Crosby taking liberties on Crawford and gives him a cross check to the back. No call.
11:11: After a steal by Malkin at the center point, Hornqvist has a chance in tight but can't get a clean shot off.
10:40: Keith whacks a slapper from the right point wide of the net.
10:22: Kyle Cumiskey booms a slapper from the left point. Fleury punches it out of play.
10:17: Cumiskey chops a shot from the right point which is off the mark.
10:08: Cumiskey booms another slapper from the left point wide of the cage.
9:28: Downie pushes a puck up the left wing and is hooked up by Kane. That's two minutes for Kane. Crosby, Kunitz, Perron, Letang and Pouiot take the ice. THat's a different look.
8:20: The junior varsity power play takes the ice. It is composed of Comeau, Malkin, Hornqvist, Despres and Martin. It's like the Penguins are going with two separate but equal power-play units.
7:43: Despres pounds a slapper from the center point. Smith blocks it and pushes it up ice to kill some time.
7:28: The Kane minor expires. The new look didn't offer much of a threat.
6:56: Off a drop pass by Sutter, Scuderi whacks a one-timer from the left half wall. It hits a skate in front.
6:43: The Blackhawks get a power play as Sutter is called for hooking Kane in the neutral zone. Lapierre, Downie, Scuderi and Bortuzzo take the ice. Downie?
6:34: Above the right circle, Hossa chops a slapper. Bortuzzo leans down and blocks the shot. He chases down the rebound on the right half wall and backhands it down ice.
5:25: Clang! Off a feed by Kane, Patrick Sharp dances by Martin and snaps off a wrister from the right circle off the far post.
4:36: As the Sutter minor expires, Hossa walks in off the right wing, muscles his way by Martin and chops a bouncing puck on net. Fleury is able to kick it out and smother the rebound.
4:03: Off a defensive zone turnover by Letang, Oduya booms a slapper from the left point. Fleury fights it off. Letang plays the rebound to Kunitz to gets it out of the defensive zone.
3:24: After Comeau fumbles a puck at the Chicago blue line, Toews pushes it up ice and is flattened on a hit by Comeau. That's one way to get the puck back.
2:00: Fighting for a puck behind the net, Crosby's stick makes contact with Oduya's left skate. Oduya takes a tumble and Crosby is called for tripping. After conferring with one another, the officials eliminate the penalty and free Crosby from the penalty box. You don't see that too often. Bravo to officials for getting that correct by rescinding the call.
1:15: A wrister by Versteeg is denied by Fleury.
0:00: End of game. Blackhawks 1, Penguins 0.
-Things settled down a bit that period. The game wasn't nearly as open or sloppy. Space and scoring chances were a little harder to come by.
-The Penguins' special teams didn't look too hot.
-The Blackhawks seem intent on generating a lot off offense from the point.
-The Penguins have a 25-20 lead in shots on net.
-Bennett leads the game with seven shots.
-Bickell leads the Blackhawks with three shots.
-Letang leads the game with 17:40 of ice time.
-Keith leads the Blackhawks with 16:36 of ice time.
-Faceoffs are even, 25-25 (50 percent).
-Toews is 7 for 11 (64 percent).
-Crosby is 10 for 18 (56 percent).
-Keith, Hjalmarsson and Cumiskey each lead the game with blocked shots.
18:49: After a turnover in the defensive zone by Sutter, Smith flips a little wrister on net from the slot. Fleury smothers it.
18:46: Off the ensuing faceoff, Hjalmarsson chucks a wrister from the right point, Fleury eats it up.
18:44: Off the ensuing faceoff, play is halted after linesman Michel Cormier trips up over a puck. He's smarting afterwards and takes a few moments to gather himself. As that goes on, Kane and Bortuzzo each get slashing minors. We'll see four on four play for two minutes.
17:39: Despres pushes a puck up the right wing and shufles a backhander on net.
17:23: Hossa whips a wrister fromt he right circle. FLeury fights it off.
16:54: Hornqvist snaps off a wrister from the left half wall. Crawford fends it off.
16:06: The Penguins break through. Bennett hustles up the right wing, weaves around Cumiskey and whips a bad angle wrister from the right wing. Crawford fights it off. Spaling follows up on the rebound and whips it by the blocker of Crawford on the far side. What an effort by Bennett to create that chance. Bennett gets the only assist. Blackhawks 1, Penguins 1.
16:34: Bortuzzo chops a slapper from the right point. Fleury. Crawford fights it off.
14:42: The Penguins get a power play after Seabrook cross checks Hornqvist into the left corner boards from behind. That's two minutes. Comeau, Hornqvist, Malkin, Letang and Pouliot take the ice.
14:13: Comeau shuffles quick shot from the right circle on net. Crawford eats it up.
14:05: Crosby snap soff a wrister from the right half wall. Crawford kicks it out.
13:40: Off a cross-ice feed by Crosby, Letang rips a wrister from the left circle. Crawford slides to his right and fights it off. Hjalmarsson gets to the rebound and clears it off the boards and out of the defensive zone.
13:14: A one-timer by Kunitz in the left circle is blocked by Rozsival.
12:35: Bennett snaps off a wrister from the right circle. It gets blocked. Bennett recovers his rebound, spins and whips a wrister on net. Crawford smothers it.
12:25: Brad Richard snaps off a wrister from the left point. Despres deflects it out of play.
11:27: Keith blasts a slapper from the right point wide of the cage.
10:44: Seabroks booms a slapper from the right point wide tot he far side.
10:37: Sharp grips and rips a wrister from above the right circle which hits a body in front.
8:44: Bickell chucks a wrister from the right point which Fleury kicks out.
8:05: Kane races up the left wing and rips a wrister which deflects over the cage.
7:45: Seabrook chops a slapper from the right point wide of the cage. In trying to corral the rebound off the end boards, Fleury loses his glove in the process. It takes him several moments to recover his glove.
5:57: After Crosby has a slapper blocked by Toews in the Chicago left circle, Crosby trips up Toews. This time, the penalty is legit. That's two minutes. Lapierre, Adams, Letang and Martin take the ice.
4:58: Kane grips and rips a wrister from the left circle which Fleury gets a piece of.
4:48: Seabrook booms a slapper from center point. Martin chips it down ice to get a line change.
3:50: As Crosby's minor expires, Kane rips a wrister from the right circle which Fleury eats up.
3:42: Seabrook booms a slapper from the right point. Comeau leans down and blocks it with this stick.
1:58: Kane tries to control a puck at the Penguins' right wing corner and is cross check tot he ice by Letang. Letang plays the puck down ice. Kane gives him a slash. No calls.
1:01: Kruger air mails a wrister from the neutral zone. Fleury gloves it and smothers the puck.
0:39: In deep on the right wing, Perron snaps off a pass tot he crease. Crosby is positioned there but Oduya ties up his stick to prevent a shot.
0:05: Andrew Shaw blasts Paul Martin to the ice near the Penguins' right wing corner. Comeau appears to give grief to Shaw but it doesn't really get any more intense than that.
0:00: End of period. Blackhawks 1, Penguins 1.
-The Penguins have a 36-29 lead in shots.
4:20: Off a feed by Kane, Toews motors by Martin on the left wing and lifts a wrister which Fleury fights off. Letang swats the rebound away like a basketball player blocking a jump shot.
3:17: Scuderi trips up Hossa in the Penguins' left wing corner, No call.
2:29: Stealing a puck behind Chicago net, Hornqvist deals a pass to Perron in the left circle. Perron leans down and snaps off a wrister which Crawford fights of. Hornqvist has a chance with the rebound but can't get a clean shot off.
1:50: Keith booms a slapper from the right point which Hornqvist blocks.
1:10: Malkin whacks a slapper from the right point wide of the cage.
0:58: Pushing a puck up the left wing, Hossa veers to the slot and snap off a wrister. Fleury fights it off. Hossa recovers his rebound in the left circle and whips it off the side of the cage.
0:10: Kane has a wrister from the left circle blocked by Martin.
0:00: End of game. Blackhawks 1, Penguins 1.
-The Penguins lead in shots, 37-32.
-Perron is up first. He winds his way down the slot, snaps to his backhand and lifts a backhander by the blocker of Crawford. Penguins 1-0.
-Toews drives right down the slot, jams up FLeury with a forehand move and tucks a backhander through Fleury's five hole. Blackhawks 1, Penguins 1.
-Crosby veers a little bit to the left, levels out and lifts a backahnder off the left arm of Crawford. The puck hops up and behind Crawford into the net. An official points at the net to confirm the goal. Penguins 2-1.
-Kane goes down the slot slowly, approaches the net even slower, dekes a handful of times, jams up Fleury and tucks a forehand shot by Fleury's right skate. Blackhawks 2, Penguins 2.
-Letang veers a little bit to the left, levels out and attacks the net. He gets Crawford to commit and lifts a wrister which Crawford gloves.
-Sharp can win it. He races down the slot and attacks the net. Fleury fakes a poke check and rips a wrister by the flgove hand fo Fleury. Fleury smacks his stick off the post as Blackhawks celebrate. End of shootout. Blackhawks 3, Penguins 2. End of game. Penguins 2, Blackhawks 1.
-We wrote in the pregame portion of this post about how the Penguins' practices are different under Mike Johnston compared to Dan Bylsma. They're much more on point. They're far more demanding physically than they were under Bylsma. Another area where they are different is the shootout. They barely work on it. Under Byslma, virtually every practice ended with a shootout drill.
-Keep in mind, the Penguins could work on shootouts for 10 hours tomorrow and they would still have ways to go before catching up where Byslma left off with shootouts. They did it in ever practice or morning skate virtually. That's one reason they were really good at it under Bylsma. Last season, they were 7-3 in shootouts. This season, they are 3-4.
-We're hesitant to even label what the Penguins did under Byslma with shootouts as "work" or "practice." It was more a way for Byslma to keep his practices loose and casual. Johnston's practices are far from that.
-Those demanding practices are a big reason the Penguins played so evenly with the Blackhawks today. This was a fantastic -albeit sloppy - 65 minutes of hockey. Each teach skated and challenged one another. There were ample offensive chances on each end of the ice.
-That's where the goaltenders came in. For as much offensive talent there was on each side, the goaltenders were the story of this game. Marc-Andre Fleury and Corey Crawford stole goals. Each was a pretty sharp with regards to rebounds and rarely fought the puck.
-How good was Beau Bennett today? He played like he wanted to win this game single-handedly. This might have been the best game of his career. It makes you wonder why he didn't get a shift in overtime.
-The Penguins made some significant changes to their power-play units. Essentially, they used the first two five-on-five lines as separate unites and flip-flopped them with the Kris Letang-Derrick Pouliot and Paul Martin-Simon Despres pairings. The first power play they had in the second period was kind of uneventful but their second power play in the third period was fairly dangerous.
-We're not sure if this approach to the power play is an improvement but something different had to be attempted after such a long cold spell. It's now 0 for 15 in their past six games.
-Kris Letang was once again excellent. With apologies to Mark Giordano in Calgary, we have a hard time envisioning a better defenseman in the NHL right now.
-The up-and-down season of Sidney Crosby continued. He was blanked off the scoreboard once again. We can't recall him ever being this streaky over the course of a season.
-In fairness to him, Johnny Oduya saw plenty of assignments against Crosby today and really kept things tight. He really limited the space Crosby could operate. It seemed like every time Crosby was in the offensive zone, Oduya had a stick or a arm or something on Crosby.
-Still, Sidney Crosby should be able to generate something against Johnny Oduya.
-The second line was pretty strong for the most part though it's scoring chances were primarily limited to the first period. Blake Comeau, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist have developed some pretty immediate chemistry.
The third line wasn't too shabby. It spent quite a bit of time in the offensive zone thanks primarily to Bennett.
-The third line center, Brandon Sutter, had an ugly turnover in his zone which led to a scoring chance for the Blackhawks in the third period. He also took a less than stellar hooking minor against Kane in the second period. He needed to be better.
-The fourth line was inert. Maybe it didn't' get many chances to make an impact but when it was out there, it was ... just there.
-That said, Steve Downie, in his limited ice time, did draw a penalty. He even killed some of Sutter's penalty. We're not sure why he didn't get more ice time.
-Rob Scuderi had one horrendous turnover which led to a quality scoring chances for Andrew Shaw but for the most part, he and Despres were smooth together.
-We're still not sold on Robert Bortuzzo and Derrick Pouliot as a pairing. We understand Christian Ehrhoff's injury leaves them with limited options but the Penguins can't have Bortuzzo-Pouliot as a pairing entering the postseason.
-Marian Hossa still looks dangerous at the age of 36. There were times the Penguins had issues containing him physically.
-Brad Richards didn't exactly stand out that much.
-Andrew Shaw was a pain in the butt quite a bit. He was more than willing to throw the body and just be a pest in general.
-Bravo to referees Brad Watson and Frederick L'Ecuyer as well as linesmen Michel Cormier and Tim Nowak for conferring with one another and getting that would-be tripping minor by Crosby against Oduya correct. Instead of trying to "correct" it with a make-up call against the Blackhawks, they corrected it... literally. NHL officials should do that more often.
-Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo missed each game against the Penguins - the team that cut him in training camp - this season. He was a healthy scratch today and was suspended Jan. 21.