-With the Penguins not holding a morning skate, Dan Bylsma held pregame media availability around 5 p.m. Prompted by a question from a reader via Twitter, we asked a question about Jussi Jokinen not being used in the faceoff circle up until recently with the injury to Evgeni Malkin. This was the response:
"When he's subbed in as a wing and played center or taken draws, he has not fared as well. Now that he's playing center, he's a streaky guy. He can [10 for 12] which he has a couple games. But he's done that as a centerman going into a game and not as a guy filing in for one or two or three and four throughout a game. It's something we monitor pretty closely when he is taking those draws. Whether it's the left side or the right side, last night, he and [Sidney Crosby] were our two best guys on both dots."
-We didn't get a chance to ask a follow-up question to clarify, but our takeaway from that is that when Jokinen knows the day of the game he will be a center, he is better prepared for taking faceoffs. When he's a winger and he takes a draw after the normal center is waved out, he's less prepared.
-Matt Cooke returns to Pittsburgh. We're presuming he'll get a video tribute the way Tyler Kennedy did a few years ago. Cooke's time in Pittsburgh was ... different. He was a good third-line player who contributed to the team when his head was on straight. But it took a serious suspension which hurt the team for him to really clean up his game.
-We can't say we miss Cooke all that much from a media perspective. Cooke was hot and cold with his personality. He could be really accommodating and jovial some days. Other days, he could be really sour.
-As evidenced by Wild forward Zenon Konopka, Cooke was a popular person with the local media this morning:
-Would-be Penguin (and Devil and Red Wing and Blackhawk and Flyer) Zach Parise returns to Pittsburgh for the first time his decision as a free agent held the NHL world hostage in the summer of 2012. We're not sure how Parise would have fit in here. When things are ideal with regards to injuries, this team has trouble getting Kris Letang, a Norris Trophy-finalist, on the first power-play unit. Jarome Iginla was a third liner on the Penguins when the 2012-13 season came to an end. Where would Zach Parise fit in?
-That's a big reason we feel Parise never really seriously considered the Penguins. In Minnesota, he and Ryan Suter could establish the hierarchy for the Wild. In Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, those hierarchies are established with the likes of Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Henrik Zetterberg and Claude Giroux. When you factor in the family connections in that part of the world for Parise and Suter as well as the considerable money, they were paid, there was every reason for them to go Minnesota.
-Wild power forward Charlie Coyle is No. 3. That's just an odd number for a power forward. He needs another number.
-The Penguins have only beaten the Wild once at home in Pittsburgh. It was the first game between these two franchise, a 2-1 victory, Feb. 14, 2001. Mario Lemieux scored both goals for the Penguins in the third period. Jean-Sebastien Aubin made a whopping 13 saves in the victory. Since then, the Penguins have gone 0-5-1 against Minnesota at Mellon Arena and Consol Energy Center.
-Somone who was once bitten by Matt Cooke, Arron Asham:
-We always run into a Craig Adams fan:
-Brooks Orpik Team USA:
-There are a few Wild fans here. Jonas Brodin:
-We see this guy a lot but his jersey never gets old. Jock Callendaer:
-A few Pittsburgh-Minnesota connections by way of the North Stars. Larry Murphy:
-And Peter Taglianetti:
-Jerseys of the Night: Matt Cooke has old and new fans:
-The Penguins' starters are Jussi Jokinen, James Neal, Harry Zolnierczyk, Brian Dumoulin, Robert Bortuzzo and Jeff Zatkoff.
-Their scratches are Deryk Engelland, Brian Gibbons and Evgeni Malkin.
-The Wild's starters are Kyle Brodziak, Brett Bulmer, Matt Cooke, Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter and Niklas Backstrom.
-Its scratches are Justin Fontaine, Nate Prosser and Mike Rupp.
-No Jimerson. No photo.
19:32: Cooke caries the puck into the offensive zone on the left wing and is upended by Bortuzzo in the left circle. As Cooke loses the puck, Brodziak backhands it on net and Zatkoff snags it.
19:11: Maatta race up the righ wing and rips a wrister which is partially deflected but still deflects in on net. Backstrom bobbles the initial save. Crosby whacks the rebound out of midair. Backstrom bobbles that too. Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis crash in and it appears Dupuis managed to get a forehand on the puck and deflects off the left post. Officials rule a goal on the ice but immediately cite a replay review. A quick review confirms the goal. Crosby and Maatta get assists. The "Hey Song" gets an early shift. Penguins 1-0.
17:41: Play is halted as Adams and Zenon Konopka drop the gloves at center ice. They mostly wrestle around but each players manages to land a handful of considerable punches. Adams' jersey comes off but apparently there is no extra penaly regarding the fight strap.
16:26: Off a steal by Crosby, Kunitz takes a pass trailing at the left half wall. He fakes a slapper then deals a pass to Bortuzzo on the right wing. Bortuzzo grips an drips a wrister which
15:41: Another fight. Keith Ballard dumps Kobasew with a big hit in the front of the Penguins' penalty box. Philip Samuelsson challenges Ballard for a bit until Kobasew gets up and drops the gloves with Ballard. They mostly wrestle along the boards until Kobasew wiggles his left arm free. Eventually, Ballard ties out and falls to knees. Kobasew takes advantage of the situations and lands a few big punches before the linesmen jump in.
14:42: Off a defensive zone giveaway by Kunitz, Cooke rips a wrister for above the right circle. Zatkoff snags it.
13:16: Off some perimeter passing, Despres takes a pass in the left circle and lifts a wrister which Backstrom knocks dead and covers. During the first television stoppage, a tribute video is played on the video board for Cooke. Fans offer a roaring standing ovation and Cooke responds with a wave from the bench. We didn't expect that much of a reaction for Cooke.
10:59: Despres swats a one-time from the right point. Backstrom kicks it out.
10:06: Cooke and Bortuzzo get tangled up behind the Penguins' net. Nothing comes of it.
9:46: The Penguins will get the first power play as Koivu hooked up Crosby in the neutral zone. That's two minutes. Neal, Crosby, Kunitz, Jokinen and Niskanen take the ice. Jokinen and Niskanen man the points.
9:22: Slappers by Niskanen and Crosby are rejected by Backstrom.
7:46: The Koivu minor is killed with relatively little threat from the Penguins.
6:52: Off a partial three on two rush, Jared Spurgeon takes a pass on the right wing and lifts a wrister which Zatkoff deflects out of play with his glove hand.
6:25: Dumoulin rips a wrister from the left point low at the cage. Backstrom fights it off.
6:01: A clunky wrister by Neal off the left wing is kicked out by Backstrom.
5:13: Controlling a puck in his own right wing corner, Brodin spins off forechecks from Dupuis and Harry Zolnierczyk to skate it out of danger. What a nifty little play by Brodin.
4:18: Chasing a puck chipped down the right wing, Conner dodges pat of a check by Spurgeon and lifts a wrister which Backstrom eats up.
3:11: Marco Scandella snaps off a wrister from the right half wall. Zatkoff knocks it down and covers.
0:43: After a few stagnant minutes, Dumoulin golfs a one-timer from the left point over the cage.
0:00: End of period. Penguins 1, Wild 0.
-Things started out pretty fierce with a goal and two fights within the first five minutes of play but they quickly fizzled out. That was a pretty boring final 15 minutes of the period.
-The Penguins' first line carried the mail for the most part. They pressured Backstrom with some shots from the outside and crashed in a bit.
-The Wild looked really flat. It just didn't produce much in they way of sustained puck possession.
-Backstrom seems to be having some issues with his glove hand. He's bobbled a few few pucks.
-The Penguins have a 13-9 lead in shots on net.
-The Penguins have a 17-14 lead in attempted shots.
-Crosby, Despres, Spurgeon and Brodin each lead the game with two shots.
-Niskanen and Brodin each lead the game with 8:44 of ice time.
-The Wild has a 14-10 lead in faceoffs (58 percent).
-Brodziak is 7 for 9 (78 percent).
-Zach Sill and the great Joe Vitale are each 3 for 3 (100 pecent).
-Considering the bad luck of recent IceTime covers, Niskanen is doomed:
19:25: Controlling a puck on the right wing, Crosby surveys the offensive zone and rips a wrister on net. Backstrom eats it up.
18:06: Brandon Sutter hot streak continues. Maatta lifts a wrister from the left point and it hits a body in front. Sutter battles for the rebound with Koivu in the left circle and whips a wrister while falling by Backstrom's blocker on the near side. Backstrom waves his hands as if to signal he was screened. Maatta and the great Joe Vitale get assists. Penguins 2-0.
17:33: Another power play for the Penguins. Nino Niederreiter collides with Zatkoff behind the Penguins' net. That's two minutes for interference. Jokinen, Neal, Crosby, Kunitz and Niskanen take the ice.
16:27: Matt Niskanen brings the power. Taking a pass from Jokinen at the left point, Niskanen winds up and cranks a one-timer blows a slapper by the right shoulder of Backstrom on the near side. Kunitz had a tremendous screen on the play. Backstrom waves his hands once again in apparent frustration. What a rocket of a shot by Niskanen. Jokinen and Neal get assists. The "Hey Song" always brings the power. Penguins 3-0.
16:05: The Wild will get a power play as Dumoulin is called for hooking Bulmer. Maatta, Sutter, Bortuzzo and Adams take the ice.
15:20: A wrister by Koivu in the right circle is blocked wide.
15:08: Off a feed by Suter, Spurgeon booms a one-timer form center point. Zatkoff kicks it out and a teammate clears the rebound down ice.
14:05: The Dumoulin minor is killed. The Wild generated a few chances with that power play.
13:46: After Kunitz wins a puck battle in the right corner, he deals a pass to Crosby in tight. Crosby lifts a wrister which Backstrom rejects.
13:24: Crosby is called for goaltender interference against Backstrom. He was battling for position with Ballard and is shoved into Backstrom. Backstrom falls backwards. That was not a great call by any stretch of the imagination. Niskanen, Maatta, Sutter and Adams take the ice.
13:03: As Niskanen plays without a stick, Parise tries to seep a puck from the right of the crease to the blue paint. It hits a leg and Zatkoff smothers it.
12:36: Spurgeon booms a one-timer from the left point which his blocked.
11:09: Crosby's minor expires. He races up the right wing with the puck and rips a wrister on net. Backstrom eats it up.
10:21: Dupuis chucks a wrister from the right wing. Backstrom eats it up. Kunitz skates towards the net then makes a very animated attempt to avoid contact with Backstrom. After last night's penalty he took against Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, we don't blame him.
9:42: Ballard is nabbed for clipping Neal. Neal and Ballard mix it up and drop the gloves. They mostly wrestle around. Neal lands a few big rights. Both players get a fighting majors. Neal also gets a roughing minor so that wipes out a potential power play.
9:17: The Penguins cash in immediately. Crosby controls a puck dump in and around to the left corner. Getting a few inches on Brodin, he flings a blind backhanded pass to Kunitz all alone above the blue paint and Kunitz taps it in by the glove hand of a helpless Backstrom. Can anyone remind us which team had a long, difficult road game last night? Crosby and Niskanen get assists. The "Hey Song" is played again. Penguins 4-0.
8:50: Sing-song "Baaaaccckkk....Strroooommmm...." chants begin.
8:40: The Wild gets on the scoreboard finally with a goal by Jason Pominville. Niederreiter pushes the puck up the left wing and chips a feed through the legs of Bortuzzo towards the net. Pominville gets a step on Dumoulin and re-directs it by Zatkoff. Assists went to Niederreiter and Suter. Penguins 4-1.
6:14: After a turnover by the Penguins in their own zone, Suter rips a wrister from the slot. Zatkoff fights it off.
4:33: Spurgeon lifts a wrister from the right circle. Zatkoff fights it off.
3:30: Controlling a puck at the center point, Maatta winds up and cranks a slapper wide of the cage
2:58: Pushing a puck up the right wing, Dupus holds a puck in the right circle and pops a slapper on net. Backstrom eats it up.
2:36: Attendance is announced as 18,623. It is the team's 305th consecutive sellout.
0:49: Dumoulin has a wrister from the left point blocked.
0:24: Racing into the offensive zone, Pominville flings a wrister from above the right circle. Zatkoff punches it away.
0:09: Crosby rips a heavy wrister from the high slot wide of the cage.
0:00: End of game. Penguins 4, Wild 1.
-The level of play between these two teams couldn't be more evident. The Penguins are executing their style of play at a high level while the Wild is getting skated out of the building.
-Once again, special teams are coming through in a big way for the Penguins. Their power play looks like it has all its weapons available while the penalty kill has really snuffed out anything for Minnesota's power play.
-Keith Ballard isn't a popular fellow tonight. He's had to drop the gloves after two low hits.
-Neal didn't display a lot of discipline in fighting Ballard. He cost his team a power play and kept himself, a 40-goal scorer, off the ice for seven minutes.
-Backstrom hasn't had much help tonight, but he's been been pretty bad.
-Conversely, Zatkoff has had a lot of help and he's been outstanding.
-The Penguins lead in shots on net, 29-16.
-The Penguins lead in attempted shots, 45-27.
-Crosby leads the game with five shots.
-Spurgeon leads the game with four blocked shots.
-The Wild leads in faceoff, 28-16 (64 percent).
-Suter leads the game with 18:09: of ice time.
-Niskanen leads the Penguins with 15:45.
-Brodziak is 11 for 15 (73 percent).
-The great Joe Vitale is 4 for 4 (100 percent).
-Ballard, Scandella and Koivu each lead the game with two blocked shots.
17:46: Niederreiter gets a step on the left wing and rips a wrister. Samuelsson leans in with a stick and deflects it wide.
16:47: We have a game. Ballad flings a wrister from the right point. it hits off the near post and bobbles around. Heatley is able to get a stick on the rebound and punches it behind Zatkoff. That was an ugly goal. Ballad gets the only assist. Penguins 4-2.
14:17: On a delayed penalty, Ballard rips a wrister from the left circle. Zatkoff smothers it to freeze play. Maatta is called for hooking Niederreiter. Sill, Dumoulin, Adams and Bortuzzo take the ice
14:02: The hole get deeper for the Penguins as Adams is called for interference against Pominville. The Penguins will have a five-on-three to kill for 1:46. This is do or die for the Wild. Sutter, Sill and Bortuzzo take the ice.
13:37: Parise gets a chance to the right of the crease but puts it of the side of the cage. Bortuzzo clears the rebound down ice.
12:59: Suter booms a slapper from above the left circle which hits a body.
12:46: Parise gets another chance to the right of the crease. Zatkoff slides to his left and fights it off.
12:26: Yet another chance for Parise from the right of the net is rejected by Zatkoff.
12:15: This time, Parise tries to set up Pominivlle to the left of the net and Pominville lifts a wrister off the side of the cage.
12:06: As Maatta's minor expires, Sutter flips a puck up ice to send Maatta on a breakaway. Bodin chases him down and hooks him up. Maatta sends a wrister wide of the cage. He is awarded a penalty shot. Taking the puck at center ice, he veers a bit to the right, levels out, jukes his shoulders and snaps off a wrister which clunks in off the underside of Backstrom blocker and rolls into the cage. The normally stoic Maatta offers a fist pump and this place goes nuts. The "Hey Song' is always nuts. Penguins 5-2.
12:02: Adams' minor is killed. What an effort by the Penguins.
10:07: Despres rattles Konopka behind the cage with a stiff hit into the Penguins' end boards.
9:14: Crosby whistles a one-timer from the center point wide of the net.
8:58: A wrister by Niskanen from the right half wall is fought off by Backstrom.
8:22: Playing with Crosby and Kunitz, Neal takes a pass in the left circle and lifts a wrister. Backstrom eats it up.
6:51: Fending off a check from Niskanen, Scandella flings a backhanded feed to the slot. Zatkoff is able to kick it out. Niskanen is called for holding. Sill, Maatta, Adams and Bortuzzo take the ice.
5:29: Coyle whacks a one-timer from the left circle. Zatkoff fights it off.
5:19: Coyle is called for interference against Despres in the Penguins' left wing corner.. We'll have four-on-four play for 31 seconds.
5:02: Off a rush, Torrey Mitchell whacks a one-timer from the right circle. Zatkoff kicks it out.
4:51: Niskanen's minor is killed. The Penguins will have a power play for 1:29.
3:19: Coyle's minor is killed off with little threat from the Penguins.
2:58: Sill takes a pass on the left wing an lifts a wrister off the cross bar.
2:50: Maatta cranks a one-timer from the right point which misses the net but forces a few players and an official to duck out of the way.
2:02: Brett Bulmer thumbs Kobasew from behind into the board in front of the Penguin's penalty box. That's two minutes for interference. Crosby, Kunitz, Dumoulin, Niskanen and Jokinen take the ice.
0:49: Off some outside puck movement, Niskanen chops a one-timer from the right point. Backstrom eats it up.
0:22: Off a cross-ice feed, Maatta cranks a one-timer which Backstrom kicks out.
0:00: End of game. Penguins 5, Wild 2.
-In ideal situations with regards to injuries and suspensions, getting the first goal of a game is always key. It's one of the basic tenants of the game. Playing with a lead is always preferred. Even if the Penguins had the 1992-93 roster on the ice, getting the first lead of the contest is always a primary goal of the game. It's even more important at times when your team is say.... oh.... missing it's top four defensemen as well as its sixth blue liner.
-The Penguins have scored the first goal of the game the past eight games. During that span, they have gone 7-1-0. Their only loss was the infamous 3-2 defeat to the Bruins, Dec. 7.
-Arguably, the biggest key to the Penguins' success with a patchwork lineup has been getting the first goal. It's allowed this team to button things down defensively as games wear on.
-While the injuries occurred in different parts of the roster, this team is reminding us of the 2010-11 Penguins in the second half of that season. Once Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were lost for the season due to injuries, the Penguins were forced to grind out ugly 2-1, 3-1 games. They would get an early lead and shut things down. now, while their past two games were won by scores of 4-3 and 5-2, the principal remains the same. The Penguins have gotten leads and have clamped down defensively out of necessity in recent weeks.
-It was another "ho-hum" night for Olli Maatta with only two points, including one on a short-handed penalty shot, and a mere 21:46 of ice time. In all seriousness, where is this team without him during this stretch of injuries and suspensions?
-Could you imagine what Maatta would be doing to the OHL right now if the Penguins had elected to send him back to London?
-Maatta's goal was rare. how rare? It's only the second time in franchise history that a defenseman scored a penalty shot goal. The first was by George Konik, Jan. 31, 1968 at St. Louis against Glenn Hall. That was the penalty shot attempt in franchise history and it took place during the franchise's inaugural season.
-Here's the Post-Gazette's game story from that game. Penguins forward Andy Bathgate and defenseman Noel Price were each fined $25 for game misconducts. Wow.
-Kind of lost in Maatta's exploits were Matt Niskanen's contributions. He came through with what proved to be the game-winning goal on a power play with a rocket of a one-timer. Beyond that, he loged a ton of minutes and provided a steadying presence on a green blue line.
-The Penguins' first line keeps leading the offensive charge. It combined for the game's first goal and presented quite a few issues for the Wild defensively.
-Brandon Sutter has been playing some of his best hockey this season during this rough patch of injuries and suspensions. He's found chemistry with Chris Conner. Conner's speed seems to open things up for Sutter a bit.
-Chris Kunitz ended up with two goals tonight. Remember when there were doubts that Kunitz could be a first-liner?
-Jeff Zatkoff came through with another strong effort. He didn't get tested nearly as much as he was in Detroit Saturday but he kicked out some safe rebounds and provided a steady presence as well.
-We're starting to sound like a broken record with regards to the power play and the penalty kill but what else can be said about the special teams? The power play went 1 for 4 and produced the game-winning goal while the penalty kill went 4 for 4 including a lengthy 5-on-three for the Wild. Additionally, Maatta's short-handed penalty shot goal iced the win.
-Before we get ready to plan a parade down Grant Street based on this game, keep in mind that the Wild was pretty bad. This team had little cohesion and was just outright flat from the get-go.
-Niklas Backstrom was terrible. He was screened quite a bit - oftentimes by his own defensemen - and the Penguins were able to put a lot of quality shots on net, but Backstrom was not up to snuff tonight. He did not give his team a chance to win. He fought the puck quite a bit.
-For two teams that don't play that often, this game got chippy. Keith Ballard was the genesis of much of that chippiness as he had two low hit which led to fights.
-The Wild's skll guys up front weren't all that outstanding. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu were flat. Jason Pominville played a fair game but he didn't look too hot during that five-on-three power play.
-Ryan Suter played a fairly decent game. It seemed like he never left the ice and he saw plenty of ice time against Crosby's line.
-Dany Heatley is a shell of the player who at one time, was the best goal-scorer in the NHL. But he still finds ways to score on the Penguins. He had his 21st goal and 32nd point in 29 career games against the Penguins.
-The Penguins led in shots on net, 36-26.
-The Penguins lead in attempted shots, 60-51.
-Crosby and Niskanen each led the game with five shots.
-Jared Spurgeon led the Wild with four shots.
-Suter led the game with 27:36 of ice time.
-Niskanen led the Penguins with 23:23.
-The Wild controlled faceoffs, 38-24 (61 percent).
-Kyle Brodziak was 14 for 19 (74 percent).
-Zach Sill was 4 for 10 (50 percent).
-Clayton Stoner led the game with three blocked shots.
-Sill and Philip Samuelsson each led the Penguins with two blocked shots.
-Sutter's goal broke him into the top 200 scorers in franchise history with 34 points.