-Defenseman Kris Letang is absent tonight due to an "upper-body" injury. Head coach Mike Johnston provided a few details:
"He sustained another injury in the last game. It's different from the injury he had before. He's not available tonight [and] he won't be for the next little bit. We'll find out exactly from the doctors where he's at."
-That means Rob Scuderi will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Colorado Wednesday. That decision was met with a lot of dispute from Penguins fans. We can only imagine how they feel about tonight's cover of Icetime:
With Letang absent, that means even more ice time for Olli Maatta. Maatta has played very well since he returned form his latest injury. He has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past three games. Maatta said he's been focusing on his shot as of late:
"Yeah, I think you want to focus on getting it through. It doesn't have to be the hardest shot. I'm trying to get as many shots through as I can. It's going to create a lot of havoc. You can get some scoring chances that way. … There's lots of people around the net. You never know what's going to happen."
Maatta has also seen an increase in his role on the penalty kill. He logged 3:48 of penalty kill time in Colorado. Johnston explained that the coaching staff was hesitant to throw to much at him as he worked his way back from shoulder surgery last season:
"We want to get Olli involved in both special teams when he came back into the lineup. It's a matter of starting to use him and then getting confidence in him. He's done a good job in every area of the game. Early in the season, he wasn't where we thought he would be but that's understandable just because of the time off [following his shoulder surgery last season]. You see his game really ramping up right now."
After right winger Daniel Sprong was limited to 6:06 of ice time in Colorado, Johnston was asked to assess his play today:
“[Sprong] has very good offensive instincts. Very competitive player. It's much like any other young kid. It's just learning the game at this level, specifically on the defensive side of things. He created the one chance in the slot [against the Avalanche]. [Center Matt] Cullen made a really good play to him in the slot. He got open and available there. He plays with good energy and he's strong on pucks. That's what he has to show. Every time he gets to play, it's an experience for him to learn the game at this level because the positioning of five feet, three feet here or there is very important.
-Right winger Beau Bennett discussed playing on the top line with left winger Chris Kunitz and captain/center Sidney Crosby:
"Me and [Kunitz] have played together in the past. We have pretty contrasting styles in the way we play so it works pretty good. When Sid's out there, he clears so much space because he can beat guys out of the corner one on one. Everyone's looking for him on the ice. It's kind of nice for us."
-Bennett said he's a little less automatic in just giving the puck to Crosby than he may have been in the past:
"In years past, when I was a little slower, I would always try to get the puck up to him just because he was moving at such a fast pace. I feel a little bit more comfortable now being a little bit faster and trying to keep up with him. I think the big thing is just taking what's given."
-Kunitz's first 23 games of the season saw him fail to record a single assist. His last four games have seen him record six. Kunitz was asked where the outburst has come from:
"The puck's bouncing the right way I guess. Nothing really out of the ordinary. Feeling a little bit better the last three weeks with puck control and a little bit of confidence. It definitely helps when you have confidence. The puck seems to go your way."
-Center Eric Fehr is expected to man the left wing of the third line once again tonight. He talked about the difference between that role and his previous role, the fourth-line right wing:
"It's quite different, especially in the [defensive] zone … the options you have on the breakouts. It's little bit tougher to get up ice when you get the puck. Just try to keep plays simple and make sure pucks get out. That's the main thing for our line is push the puck up ice and try to get it below their goal line."
-Fehr also spoke about what changes for the penalty kill with right winger Pascal Dupuis unofficially retired:
"A little more ice time. We were joking ... a little open tryout for some of the guys there. The guys that were in there, I think it was [Kunitz], Sid and [left winger Sergei Plotnikov]. Those guys all know how to kill and they'll all fill in. We'll obviously miss [Dupuis] but we're going to find a way to fill the hole."
-Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff returns to Pittsburgh. We talked with him yesterday. Today, we talked to his teammate, defenseman Drew Doughty and asked if Ehrhoff has been able to replace anything which was lost on the ice by the departure of defenseman Slava Voynov:
"I don't know. He brings a big shot to the power play which Voynov had and good vision on the power play which Voynov had. I don't really think they're too similar players. It's hard to replace Slava. There's not too many players in this league that could do it."
The Kings cut ties with Voynov after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge last season.
-Doughty talked a bit about how difficult it is to shoot the puck these days:
"The league's really changed into basically everyone's just shot blockers. Back in the day, I don't think shots were blocked close to as much. Now these guys have all this padding on their skates and whatnot that they're not afraid to block anything. It's a lot more difficult to get shots through. When I'm out there, I'm just trying to get it past the first guy, the guy that's directly in front of me. Whatever happens after that, it's on the forwards."
-Doughty also talked about how his team has been able to find size and physical play while not sacrificing speed:
"I think our team, we're happy playing the physical, hard, tough game. We have a lot of big guys that want to play physical. At the same time, they can move. Our team, we're a sound defensive team. That's our main focus. We're not looking to score four or five goals a game. We would like to obviously but we're more focused on giving up one or two goals at the most. I think we've done a good job at that. I'm happy with the way we play. I love playing this system. I think it's the way to win. I think it's the way to win championships. Obviously, we've got to perfect it to win but we're on the right track."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter spoke about the difference in travel between the Eastern and Western Conference:
"We do that quite often, the travel. We sort of laugh about it when you come [into buildings] and you hear about teams, ‘oh, it was a tough trip,’ and they were three days. Like, ‘oh, gee, that was a hard trip.’ I’ve only coached in the Western Conference, so you just get used to it. We don’t look at it like it’s an advantage at all. You look at it like ‘game day is game day.’ Yesterday or tomorrow really doesn’t matter."
-Kings rookie left winger Michael Mersch is expected to make his NHL debut tonight. A fourth-round pick in 2011, he was an All-American player at Wisconsin. Born in 1992, approximately a year after former Penguisn coach "Badger" Bob Johnson died, Mersch talked about the impact Johnson still has at Wisconsin:
"The rink there is the Kohl Center and they named the ice after him. The ice rink, it says, “Bob Johnson” and “It's A Great Day For Hockey” underneath. His family is very involved. His son Mark is the coach of the women's team. [Mark Johnson's] daughter plays on the women's team. Then I played with his son Patrick for a year at Wisconsin. Really involved.”
This was special to see today. The Kings still wear a decal on their helmets in memory of scouts Garnet "Ace" Bailey and Mark Bavis:
Bailey and Bavis were on United Airlines Flight 175 which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly a decade and a half later, the Kings are still making efforts to make sure they are remembered.
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)