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Red Wings at Penguins - 04-09-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

PREGAME

-Kris Letang had a stroke.

-Think about that for a moment. A stroke. This isn't a sprained shoulder or a dislocated knee. It's not even a concussion or a fractured vertebrae. You can suffer those injuries by playing hockey or any other contact sport. You can suffer a stroke by simply living life.

-Strokes can impact lives in ways far too gruesome to recount in this forum. A stroke isn't usually something you deal with in terms of it being a temporary inconvenience. Usually, it changes your life or in some cases, it can end life.

-Thankfully, Letang's stroke was a relatively minor one (if such a thing can be stated). He suffered it Jan. 29. That's only 70 days ago. Yet, here he is on the verge of playing a high impact sport at the highest professional level.

-Even with the benefit of seeing him practice at a high pace the past few weeks and function as a typical NHLer (aside from playing in actual games), the fact that he will play tonight is nothing short of staggering. 

-Based on what head coach Dan Bylsma stated this morning, Letang will be teamed with Rob Scuderi, the player he was expected to be partnered with since this past offseason. Ailments to each player have limited to each player have limited the amount of games they've been able to play together. By Scuderi's account, it has been less than seven. Either way, the Penguins need these two players to find chemistry in the short amount of time remaining in the regular season. This team will not accomplish anything without this duo functioning at a high level as one of the team's top two defensive pairings.

-By all accounts, Letang's minutes will be managed. Don't expect to see him logging upwards of 25 minutes as he is normally accustomed. As stated before, Letang has been working out and practicing at a fairly high clip. But he still hasn't played a real game since January. Don't look for him to be the dynamo he normally is right out of the gate.

In our opinion, Brooks Orpik described Letang's situation the best by saying, "Hopefully people are patient with him. He’s missed a lot of time. I don’t know if he’ll be at the same exact same level that people are used to. Hopefully he is. If he’s not, hopefully people are patient with him. He’s been off from hockey for an awfully long time."

-If the power play units which were worked out this morning are any indication, Letang's minutes will be limited. The varsity unit had Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen. The junior varsity unit had Letang, Olli Maatta, Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen and Lee Stempniak.

-If Letang can find something close to the level he is normally accustomed to, the Penguins' puck possession game will benefit a geat deal. It's no coincidence the team's mediocre 10-9-2 record since the Olympic break has taken place largely without the services of Martin and Kris Letang available. Puck possession is everything in the modern NHL. Puck-moving defensemen are a big part of that. The absences of Letang and Martin have arguably had the biggest impact on this team than any other absence.

-Given Letang's previous ailments - knee and elbow injuries - it's remarkable that he's been able to score 10 goals in only 34 games this season.

-Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is one of the league's better quotes and he offered a refreshing perspective on Letang's return:

"I think the first thing is you have to be real excited for him and his family. As much as we’re all competing against one another, he’s been a competitive, good player in this league and when that happens, you’re just cheering for him that he’s going to get, number one, his family life back and number two, his game back which he loves. It’s great to see him here tonight. I think he should get a warm ovation obviously tonight from the crowd. I know as a competitor against Pittsburgh, we’ll be thrilled to have him back."

-It will be interesting to see how vanilla the Penguins are tonight with regards to strategy. Dan Bylsma acknowledged the potential for meeting the Red Wings in the first round and how that could impact his game plan for tonight. Regardless of what the Penguins do, they will be facing a Red Wings team going full bore. The Red Wings need one point to clinch a playoff berth.

-One of the Red Wings who always goes full bore is forward Gustav Nyquist. Nyquist has broken out this season with 28 goals. He's the classic Red Wing. Skilled. Swedish. And a mid-round draft pick. He was selected with the last pick (No. 121 overall) in the 2008 draft. The Penguins passed him up at 120 and selected Nathan Moon who is playing with the ECHL's Evansville Icemen.

-We're by no means raking Ray Shero over the coals on this. At that stage of the draft, it's a crapshoot. That said, the Red Wings have a great history of plucking gems like this in the later rounds.

-Some sights around the barn. Dahntahn:

-Who wants a Letang Burger?

-The barn:

-The ice:

-The recently departed (to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) Tomas Vokoun:

-We always seem to run into a Craig Adams fan:

-Darius Kasparaitis:

-Fans entering the barn:

-There are quite a few Red Wings fans on hand. Pavel Datsyuk and Steve Yzerman:

-Mike Modano and Nicklas Lidstrom:

-Curtis Joseph:

-If you wear a Darren Helm jersey on the road, you're hardcore:

-Bryan Trottier:

-Submitted without further commentary:

-A few former Penguins/Red Wings. Ken Wregget:

-Paul Coffey:

-Bob Errey:

-Jersey of the Night: We'll keep it simple and go with the man of the night:

-Warmups:

-The Penguins' starters are Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak, Brandon Sutter, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Marc-Andre Fleury.

-Their scratches are Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, Deryk Engelland, Marcel Goc and Jayson Megna.

-The Red Wings' starters are Justin Abdelkader, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Brendan Smith and Jonas Gustavsson.

-Their scratches are Joakim Andersson, Todd Bertuzzo, Dan Cleary and Jonathan Ericsson.

-After public address announcer Ryan Mill offers well wishes to the victims of today's attack at Franklin Regional High School, anthem singer Jeff Jimerson asks fans to sing along in a show of support:

FIRST PERIOD

19:27: After Sutter has a wrister blocked in the Red Wings' right circle, xxx recovers the rebound on the end boards. He's smacked into the end boards by Stempniak.

19:09: A wrister by Martin from the right point is blocked.

18:40: On a brief two-on-one, Drew Miller forces a pass form in tight ton the left wing to David Legwand in the slot. Martin reads it perfectly and pokes it away.

17:49: The Red Wings will get the first power play as Brian Gibbons is called for high sticking Jakub Kindl. Adams, Martin, Sutter and Orpik take the ice.

17:41: Franzen chucks a wrister from the right half wall. Fleury fights it off despite a screen. Sutter is able to clear the puck down ice.

17:10: Kronwall rips a wrister from center point. Fleury kicks it out.

16:43: Kronwall chops a slapper from the high slot. Martin blocks it. Sutter once again chips the puck down ice.

16:05: Tomas Tatar rips a wrister from the right circle. Fleury fights it off. Stempniak is able to chip the puck down ice to kill off the rest of Gibbons' minor.

14:34: A wrister by Orpik from the left point is wide on the near side.

14:05: Sutter pushes the puck up the right wing, gets behind Kronwall and attacks the net. He cur across the front of the crease, gets Gustavsson to commit and lifts a backhander off the left post. Argh.

13:03: Maatta chops a slapper from the left point wide of the cage.

12:24: A wrister by Taylor Pyatt is rejected by Gustavsson. That is the Penguins' first official shot on net.

10:31: Crosby races the puck up the left wing and attacks the net. Smith keeps up with him and upends him into the end boards.

10:27: Maatta chucks a wrister on net from the left point. Gustavsson snags it.

9:19: The Penguins get sloppy with the puck and the Red wing cash in. Sutter forces a pass or a clear from his won right wing corner. It gets stolen by Danny DeKeyser at the right point and moved up to Helm on the right half wall. He deals to Alfredsson who rips a wrister from the right circle. Fleury fights it off and allows a rebound which bounces off the end boards and back towards the front of the blue paint. Tomas Jurco is all over it and punches the puck behind Fleury. Ick. Sutter needed to make a better play with that puck. And Matt Niskanen was out to lunch on that rebound. Alfredsson and Helm get assists. A healthy showing of Red Wings fans celebrate. Red Wings 1-0.

8:41: A wrister by martin from above the right circle is blocked.

8:15: The hole gets deeper for the Penguins  as Jussi Jokinen is called for holding the stick of Helm in front of the Penguins' net. Sutter, Martin, Adams and Orpik take the ice.

6:15: Two minutes later, the Penguins kill off the minor with little threat.

5:41: Taking a pass at the right point, Maatta cranks a slapper. Gustavsson fights it off despite traffic.

1:42: After a few stagnant minutes, Nyquist chucks a wrister from the right circle. Fleury kicks it out.

0:20: On a delayed penalty, Chris Kunitz backhands a shot from the left circle. Gustavsson fights it off. Quincey is called for holding Beau Bennett in the netural zone. The Penguins will get a late power play. Niskanen, Martin, Crosby, Kunitz and James Neal take the ice.

0:00: End of period. Red Wings 1, Penguins 0.

FIRST INTERMISSION

-If the Penguins were trying to show a vanilla approach to this game, mission accomplished. They  looked very, very stale that period. The discrepancy in power plays in favor of the Red Wings didn't help their case but they had little going on.

-Puck management was a bit of an issue that period. The Penguins were careless with the puck.

-Letang was okay. He didn't really stand out in a positive or negative fashion. He has 5:17 of ice time on eight shifts. He logged 1:14 on the penalty kill. He has one blocked shot.

-The Red Wings have a 13-4 lead in shots on net.

-The Red Wings have a 20-12 lead in attempted shots.

-Maatta, Alfredsson, Nyquist, Tatar and DeKeyser each lead the game with two blocked shots.

-Orpik leads the game with 8:04 of ice time.

-Kronwall leads the game with 7:48.

-The Penguins have a 9-5 lead in faceoffs (64 percent).

-Crosby is 4 for 4 (100 percent).

-Riley Sheahan is 2 for 3 (67 percent).

-Martin leads the game with three blocked shots.

-Kronwall leads the Red Wings with two blocked shots.

-A rather majestic Beau Bennett graces the cover of Icetime:

SECOND PERIOD

20:00: The Penguins will start the period with 1:27 of power-play time on fresh ice. Neal, Kunitz, Crosby, Niskanen and Martin take the ice.

19:39: Kunitz grips and rips a wrister from the right circle wide on the near side.

19:05: Martin chops a slapper from the right point which is blocked.

18:58: Crosby tees up a slapper from the left half wall wide on the near side.

18:46: A slapper from center point by Niskanen is blocked.

18:20: The Quincey minor is killed. The Penguins weren't shy about attempting shots but couldn't' really get any on net.

17:36: Off a set faceoff play Glass rips a wrister from the right circle. Gustavsson kicks it out.

15:06: Martin rips a wrister from the high slot wide of the cage.

13:56: A wrister by Crosby from above the right circle sails over the cage.

13:48: Krwonall chucks a wrister from above the left circle wide of the cage.

12:01: Brendan Smith lifts a wrister from the high slot. Fleury punches it away.

11:21: Another power play for the Penguins Cahsing after a dump in into Detroit's right wing corner, Glass  is  held up by Luke Glendening. That's two minutes for interference. Crosby, Neal, Kunitz,Niskanen and Martin take the ice.

10:57: Jaems Neal to the rescue. Martin pushes the puck up from in front of his own cage. He deals to Crosby at the Penguins' blue line. Crosby races through the neutral zone and gains the offensive zone. Four defenders surround him. He sauces a backhanded pass to Neal in the left circle. Neal settles the puck, dekes to his backhand and tucks the puck by the left skate of Gustavsson who over-committed to the shot. What a simple but effective of puck movement. The "Hey Song" is always effective. Penguins 1, Red Wings 1.

10:33: Smith chucks a shot from the right point. Fleuy fights it off despite traffic and smothers the rebound.

9:08: Letang swipes a one-time from the right half wall wide of the cage.

8:08: Kindl lifts a wrister from the right point. Fleury stands up to stop it. Jurco is there for the rebound but Letang slides down feet first to kick it away.

7:23: Pushing a puck up the right wing, Kunitz rips a wrister on net. Gustavsson eats it up.

5:50: Brian Lashoff chucks a wriste from the left point which Fleury fights off.

5:38: Hard work pays off the the Red Wings. After some strong work down low by the Nyquist, Tatar deals a pass to Kindl at the right point. Kindl tees up a big slapper and releases it. The puck wobbles in on net and beat Fleury on the near side by his glove hand. Fleury protests immediately presumably complaining that Sheahan fell into him on the shot. Officials seem to indicate he was shoved into Fleury by Orpik. A replay confirms that although Sheahan appeared to "punch" fleury with his right hand. That action didn't seem to be impacted by the shove from Orpik. Either way, it's a goal. Tatar and Nyquist get assists. Red Wings 2-1.

4:35: Kronwall has three consecutive shots blocked by Stempniak, Glass and Sutter.

3:40: Attendance is announced as 18,620. It is the team's 325th consecutive sellout.

3:34: Another power play for the Penguins. Legwand is called for high sticking Gibbons. Crosby, Kunitz, Niskanen, Neal and Mart take the ice.

3:18: Neal to the rescue once again. taking a feed from Niskanen in the left circle, Niskaken tees up a pretty simple slapper and cranks it off the hip of a crouching DeKeyer and by the left leg of Gustavsson on the far side. That was some rotten luck for the Red Wings. Niskanen and Martin get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 2, Red Wings 2.

3:10: A wrister by Helm is denied by Fleury.

0:00: Martin corrals a puck at the right point and chops a last second slapper which is blocked. End of period. Penguins 2, Red Wings 2.

SECOND INTERMISSION

-Things picked up quite a bit that period. There were a few more chances on each end of the ice.

-The Penguins' power play picked it up. It has accounted for all of the team's offense.

-More of the same for Letang. He seems comfortable. He has 12:56 of ice time on 15 shifts, one missed shot and two blocked shots.

-An area of concern for the Penguins was their inability to control the puck in their own zone for a few stretches. The Red Wings dominated them on a few shifts, including the one which led to the Kindl goal.

-The Red Wings have a 22-10 lead in shots on net.

-The Red Wings have a 39-27 lead in attempted shots.

-Tatar and DeKeyer each lead the game with three shots.

-Maatta, Kunitz and Neal each lead the Penguins with two shots.

-Kronwall leads the Red Wings with 16:35 of ice time.

-Martin leads the Penguins with 16:30.

-The Penguins have a 21-10 lead in faceoffs (68 percent).

-Crosby was 8 for 11 (73 percent).

-Helm is 4 for 5 (80 percent).

-Kronwall leads the game with four blocked shots.

-Martin and Glass each lead the Penguins with thee blocked shots.

THIRD PERIOD

19:18: Off a backhanded feed by Pavel Datsyuk, Mille whacks a one-timer from the slot but fans on the puck.

18:47: A wrister by Neal from the right circle is wide of the cage.

17:32: Sutter tries to chip and chase a puck up the left wing. Smith holds him up a bit and Sutter takes a tumble to the ice. Smith fell on his left leg while Sutter nearly did a split. Sutter limps to the bench in some discomfort. Athletic trainer Chris Stewart attends to him on the bench. That seems like it could have been an interference minor.

15:11: A wrister by Datsyuk from the high slot is blocked.

13:58: Sutter is back on the ice. He never left the bench.

13:27: Kindl chucks a wrister from the center point. Fleury snags it despite traffic.

13:11: Letang chops a puck at the right point which is blocked.

12:07: Craig Adams pushes the puck up the right wing and has a wrister blocked by Kronwall.

11:37: Neal rips a wrister from the right circle juuust wide of the cage.

11:00: Neal is firing at will. Off a feed by KNiskan, he cranks a one-time

10:43: The Monster kames a mistake. Kris Letang races the puck up the right wing on one of his patented rushes up ice. He gets a step on Glendening on the wing an lifts a wrister on net. Gustavsson makes the initial save but the puck plops loose behind him in the blue pain. Jokinen swarm around the crease and pokes it in to the open cage. What a display of skating by Letang. He made this little move in the defensive zone to create a little space against Legwand in the Penguins' slot and took off. Wow. Letang and Niskanen get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 3-2.

9:43: Alfredsson chucks a wrister from the right circle. Fleury snags it.

8:20: Adam Payerl rips a wrister from a bad angle on the right wing. Gustavsson smothes it.

7:52: Kindl chucks a wriste from center point wide of the cage.

7:46: Big save. Glendening chops a loose puck in the left circle. Fleury fights it off.

6:53: A wrister by Krwonall from the right point is wide.

6:19: Franzen lifts aw wrister from the left wing on net. Fleury hugs the near post and covers it.

6:15: Off an offensive zone faceoff win, Quincey chucks a wrister from the left point. Fleury eats it up.

5:37: Helm snaps off a wrister from the left wing. Fleury eats it up.

4:14: Brian Gibbons does what he does best. He dwas ap enalty. Jokine races for a loose puck on the Penguins' right wing wall. Gibbons yells "Juice! Juice!" and Jokinen taps it ahead to the neutral zone. GIbbons pushes the puck through the neutral zone, gets a step on Lashoff and attacks the. Lashoff resorts to tripping him. That's two minutes for holding. Crosby Neal, Kunitz, Martin and Niskanen take the ice.

2:55: Letang races up the right wing and snap off a wrister from a bad angle. Gustavsson fights it off.

2:14: The Lashoff minor is killed with little threat from the Penguins.

1:33: Franzen chucks a wrister from the right wing. Orpik blocks it. Franzen chucks the rebound on net. Fleury knocks it dead and smothers. A scrum breaks out with Scuderi and Nyquist in the middle of it.

1:34: WOW! Tatar has two chance at a loose puck in tight but can't get them past a scrambling Fleury.

1:15: Ugh!  Kronwall chops a one-timer from the right point. It hits the stick of Martin and hops up in the hair. It clanks off the cross bar and into the cage. A tie game late. Sheahan gets credit for the goal. A roar from Red Wings fans behind the net confirms the goal. Penguins 3, Red Wings 3.

0:00: End of period. Penguins 3, Red Wings 3.

THIRD INTERMISSION

-The Red Wings have a 34-20 lead in shots on net.

OVERTIME

4:27: A one-timer by Datsyuk from the right circle is fought off by Fleury.

2:40: Taking a sneaky pass from Sutter, Stempniak coast in off the left wing and attacks the net. He goes with a forehand shot but is robbed by a sprawling Gustavsson.

2:18: A wrister by Nyquist in the slot is blocked out of play.

1:48: Neal challenges Quincey one-on-one off the right wing but Quincey knocks him off the puck.

1:40: A one-timer by Martin from the right point is kicked out by Gustavsson.

0:55: Tatar gets three chances from in tight but can't get it behind Fleury. Tatar shredded the Penguins' defense there.

0:15: Franzen tries to chip and chase  puck from left wing on the Penguins' blue line and is smacked to the ice by Orpik. Frazen crashes to the ice and loses his stick.

0:08: Neal fires a last second (or eight seconds) wrister from the left circle. Gustavsson challenges and fights it off.

0:00: End of period. Penguins 3, Red Wings 3.

FOURTH INTERMISSION

-The Red Wings lead in shots on net, 37-24.

SHOOTOUT

-Neal is up first. He takes the puck right down the slot and rips a wrister over the cage.

-Alfredsson comes down he slot with speed. He avoids a poke check by Fleury, dekes to his backhand but is denied by Fleury who reaches back and juuust barely hold the puck out with his glove hand. Wow.

-Crosby gos down the slot slowly, dekes a million times and is denied on a forehand shot by Gustavsson's right leg.

-Datsyuk glides down the slot, flinches a bit and lifts a wrister over the cage.

-Wow. Just wow. Jussi Jokinen, so snake bit all season scores the flukiest shoot out you've ever seen. He goes wide to the right, loses the puck, recovers it for a moment and has it poke checked by Gustavsson. The puck hops up and over Gustavsson into the cage. What!?!? Penguins 1-0.

-Tatar must scores. He goes wide to right, levels out and cuts across the front of the crease. As Fleury sprawls to his right, Tatar simply runs out of space and lifts a wrister which Fleury swallows up. End of shootout. Penguins 1, Red Wings 0. End of game. Penguins 4, Red Wings 3.

POSTGAME

-No one looking at this game objectively should dispute that the Penguins were outplayed. They where for large stretches of this game. The Red Wings controlled the puck better and generated a lot more quality scoring chances. If not for a few lucky bounces... especially one lucky bounce in the shootout ... and the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Red Wings would have come away with a clean two points.

-What is up for dispute is how true of an approach to this game the Penguins offered. Will the Penguins take this same plan of attack once the postseason starts? By Dan Bylsma's own suggestion, the Penguins did not plan to offer a true game plan for this contest. Were they outplayed by a better team or because they didn't play their game (to borrow from the lexicon of Penguins fans)?

-Kris Letang looked like he belonged on an NHL rink. He did not look like a person who suffered a stroke 70 days ago. He wasn't at his best. No one could reasonably expect Letang to be at that level. But he was an asset. He didn't really get too involved in rushes up ice as he normally does but he did make one rush to create the Penguins' third goal which was a work of art. Letang was on the ice for two of the Red Wings goals but we would hardly pinpoint blame on him. This was a first step and it was a mostly positive one.

-Letang had 22:30 of ice time on 25 shifts. Broken down:

Even strength: 20:06
Power play: 1:10
Short-handed: 1:14.

-Additionally, Letang had two shots on net, five attempted shots and three blocked shots.

-If James Neal misses Evgeni Malkin, he shook off those doldrums tonight. He scored two key goals which tied the game each time. He also scored each time on the power play. Neal didn't have a perfect game but he showed something.

-Fleury was outstanding. The Red Wings controlled the puck in the Penguins' zone quite a bit and Fleury turned away a ton of quality shots. If not for a fluky hope, the Penguins and Fleury win this in regulation.

-Fleury shined in ovetime and the shootout to win the game. His save on Daniel Alfedsson in the shootout was something Dominik Hasek would be proud of.

-Speaking of fluky hops, how about Jussi Jokinen? Prior to Sunday's win in Colorado, he had been 0 for 6. A few posts were part of that total. Sunday, he gets his first shootout score of the season. Tonight, he gets a tremendous stroke of luck to win the game. Additionally, his regulation goal was a little leaky. Jussi Jokinen lived right tonight.

-The bottom six forwards continued to offer little in five-on-five play. Brandon Sutter and Lee Stempniak showed a few flashes but beyond that, the third and fourth lines were just non-entities most of the night.

-Taylor Pyatt has size but he rarely uses it. Mike Rupp is a big guy and you always knew it anytime he took the ice. Pyatt is a big guy but you often times have to remind yourself anytime he takes the ice.

-Brian Gibbons continues to do enough little things to contribute. His hustle to draw a late penalty was typical of what he offers.

-Special teams were strong for the Penguins tonight. They struck on two of four power power plays they had and the snuffed out both of the Red Wings' power plays.

-The Red Wings led in shots on net, 37-24.

-The Red Wings had a 64-50 lead in attempted shots.

-Neal led the game with six shots.

-Tatar and Franzen each led the Red Wings with four shots.

-Niklas Kronwall led the game with 27:50 of ice time.

-Paul Martin led the Penguins with 27:33.

-The Red Wings controlled faceoffs, 35-20 (64 percent).

-Sutter was 10 for 12 (83 percent).

-Darren Helm was 6 for 9 (67 percent).

-Kronwall led the game with six shots.

-Martin, Tanner Glass and Letang each led the Penguins with three blocked shots.

-The Penguins won their 100th regular game all-time at Consol Energy Center.

-Letang (228 points) moved ahead of Jan Hrdina (227) for 35th place on the franchise's career scoring list.

-Matt Niskanen (84 points) moved into 100th place on the franchise's career scoring list. He move ahead of Darius Kasparaitis (83).

-Game summary.

-Event summary.

-Highlights:

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Andy Toole discusses the 2013-14 season, RMU's future

Written by Craig Meyer on .

andytoole original

As a way to informally wrap things up for the 2013-14 season, I sat down this week with Robert Morris coach Andy Toole to have a conversation about last season and a little bit about the program's immediate future.

It's something of an exit interview, with one eye on the past and one looking forward.

Below is a full transcript of our talk.

When you all went down to eight guys in January, did you honestly envision the team doing as well as it did? "I hope we would have. I thought that along the way there might be a few more losses just because situationally, with eight guys, whether it's foul trouble or whatever it might be in the course of a game, I just thought those things would happen on a couple other occasions. And they didn't. In some of the situations where we did find ourselves down, we were able to make great comebacks and win. I think it's a testament to the guys that were in the locker room and the way that they stepped up and played together."

From that experience, was there anything you learned about those guys, about that team or even about the game itself, just being able to do that well with so few players? "You're constantly learning as a coach. I think one of the things you learn is making sure you have the right guys in the locker room, making sure you have the right guys that are buying in and the power of team a little bit. Some of our guys -- and we talked about it during the course of the year -- maybe weren't playing consistent minutes prior to going down to eight guys really stepped up and played their roles like we needed them to, and how important it is making sure everyone's doing what's necessary for the team versus maybe what's best for them.

"I think you saw some guys who started to be much more effective as players once they started to buy in to the role that the program envisions for them and maybe not the role they envision for themselves. That way, they had more individual success as well as team success."

Were there any guys in particular who stood out to you, ones that grew a whole lot as players due to that situation? "Everybody stood out to me, but Stephan Hawkins, David Appolon -- those were two guys that statistically made significant jumps, had a lot of big plays and contributed a lot. Aaron Tate was a guy who really solidified a lot of what we did and maybe his stuff didn't show up as much statistically, but the ability to rely on him during that stretch of the season was really important to our success. Those are three guys who I think really made great jumps.

"Chuck, all year long, had made some shots and been involved. Kavon, all year long, you had seen his talent. But I think those three guys really went from not sure what we would get or how much they'd contribute previously in their careers to being really important pieces of the team that helped us win a lot of games."

Do you feel like the whole storyline and narrative built around the Crazy Eight ever got overblown? "That was the guys' thing. I don't think it got overplayed. From an outside perspective some people might say 'You only need five guys on the court and you've got eight, so what's the big deal?' But when you're on the inside from a program perspective, when you've coached teams before and you...number one, have that kind of turmoil during a season that can be extremely disruptive and number two, just the daily management of your program is completely different than it was previously, in terms of practice, conserving energy and everything that you do. To continue to remain effective and have success even after you're not getting the reps you need in practice every day, figuring out different and more creative ways to utilize your time versus being on the court and running people down.

"You can't overstate the fact of what these individuals did to remain focused and to put themselves in a position to continually win. That's something that I take in terms of how good those guys were to work with and how flexible they were in the different situations we found ourselves in. And that's outside of games. Whether it's getting an extra scouting report in or being more creative in a walk-through in a hotel versus going and having shootaround...it's easy when you have 12 guys and everyone gets to rest in practice and everyone gets plenty of reps and when they need to take rest, they do that. When you're down to eight guys and you're trying to go as hard as you can playing against an assistant coach, knowing you don't have a sub during the course of practice, knowing you can't take a practice off because there aren't enough dudes to get by, those are some of the things people don't understand on the outside which make it so difficult to have the success when you have limited numbers. They all did great, great jobs with all of it."

With having the success you all have had the last two seasons and not being able to make the NCAA tournament, does that get frustrating at all or is that something you feel gets overplayed? "It gets completely frustrating, there's no doubt. It gets frustrating for the guys who are on your team, who put in all that effort, time and work. You want them to be rewarded by going to the NCAA tournament, you want to help them achieve a goal of theirs. It's part of your job as a coach. It is frustrating, it is difficult when you consistently are in a position to do that or you put yourself in a good position to do that, but it doesn't happen for you or happen for the program.

"It is frustrating, but everyone gets judged on their success in March and the tournament and all that kind of stuff. If you ask coaches around the country, there are a lot of other things they evaluate themselves on, but it's also what it is in our industry that being a part of the NCAA tournament and having success there, if that's what your expectations are, that's what you get evaluated on. It's the way of the world, I guess."

It's obviously not Kentucky, but by going on the road and being able to beat a top seed in the NIT for the second year in a row, is that another positive step for the program? "I think any time you have sustained success, that's a positive for your program. Obviously, after last year's win against Kentucky, that was huge, as we've talked about many times. But then to be able to go on the road and win a game in the fashion that we did, it also really speaks to what kind of program we have and what kind of kids we have in the locker room. They faced probably their biggest adversity or disappointment of the season by losing in the championship game and were still able to get themselves back together to go on the road and beat a St. John's team convincingly. With nine minutes to go in the game, we were up 26 points. It didn't obviously get as much play as the Kentucky stuff, I think because of the game being at our place and the name Kentucky, but it was in many ways, a better performance than the Kentucky game with the way the guys played together, some of the plays we made, the way we shot the ball, the way we executed.

"I think from a coaching standpoint, the fact you can go back and replicate some of that success is what you want to see in your program. You want guys who are constantly trying to push forward and raise the bar a little bit. I'm really proud of the way they were able to bounce back and compete in that game."

As far as Karvel and his professional future, have you talked to him much about it and how do you project it to possibly be? "We've talked about it a bunch since and we've had some meetings and we've met with some people that are interested in representing him. I think it's something he can make a career out of. It's a situation where I think he'll have the opportunity to be on a team and be paid next year. I don't know if that will be here domestically. I think his opportunities might be more overseas, but depending on how he plays and continues to improve his game, I would never put it past him for doing it for a number of years or maybe even coming back here [to the United States] and finding a niche, finding a spot where he can find success here in the states.

"We've talked about that and I think he's in agreement where he would obviously love to be an NBA player -- I think every college player would love to be an NBA player -- but he also understands that he wants to play the game as long as someone will let him play. If he can make some money doing it, that's great. But I do think he has a bright future as a professional, wherever that might be."

When you have a guy like Karvel who can do something like 3-point shooting that well, that's something that can allow someone to have a long pro career, right? "His ability to shoot and score and be a shot-maker is something that is rare. If you look around the country, there are very few guys that made more 3s than him or made a higher percentage. He's top 10 in the country in both. His ability to shoot off the dribble -- one-dribble pull-ups, different things like that -- and his ability to make guarded shots is something that's extremely valuable. At the end of the day, it's how well you can put the ball in the basket and his ability to do it at such an efficient rate is something that makes him unique. If you look at professional basketball, they're always looking for players like that.

"The feedback we've gotten from people we've talked to at the professional level have all said the same thing -- his ability to shoot and score is something that's going to be a commodity. That sets him up, as long as he goes and does the right things and continues to work, to have the opportunity to have a really good career."

I don't want to use the term 'rebuilding,' but for next season with just six guys coming back, is it going to be something of a bridge year with a lot of new guys trying to find their roles? "We brought six guys back into this year's class and we were able to win 22 games and a regular season championship. I think the expectations will be the same, that those six guys who come back will be expected to continue to play the way they have, if not make a bigger jump, and then the pieces we bring in are going to be expected to help us continue to have success. That's the plan and that's what we'll start working toward as soon as we have spring workouts going, weights going and then when guys get here for summer school. That will be the expectation that we demand. That'll be how we work to prepare for next year.

"There are more significant returners in terms of playing time over the last 18 games of this year than there were the previous year when we lost Velton, Russell and Coron Williams and we eventually lost Mike McFadden. Those were four starters we basically didn't have for all of conference play. Obviously Karvel was our leading scorer, but he was off the bench. Lucky was a starter and had a very, very good year and continued to have a good year. But Dave didn't play as a sophomore, Hawk was a role guy and really that was pretty much it. Part of this job is to figure out how to work with what you have and figure out how to make them successful. I think our staff did a good job of doing that during the course of this year. As we recruit kids, we want to be able to identify kids that are going to be able to come in and contribute to us winning. Obviously it happens a lot, but when most kids look at a school, they don't anticipate on coming into a rebuilding situation. They want to be part of a winning situation. That's how we'll coach them, that's how we'll prepare them and that's how we'll challenge them getting ready for next year."

When it comes to filling out those open scholarships for next season, are you planning more on targeting junior college guys, freshmen? Is there a particular kind of focus here for you in the offseason? "Everything. Best players we can find, whether they're junior college guys, high school guys, fifth-year transfers, four-year transfers, who knows? I think you'd be foolish not to explore every option and possibility. You'd like to create balance on your roster if you can, but I'd rather have good players instead of balance. We're trying to identify the best players and make them part of the program.

Do you expect to have Jeremiah Worthem and Britton Lee back for next season? "I'm not sure yet."

Is that something you'd get to in January when the suspension runs out? "Some of that stuff's outside my control anyway. You'd have to go meet with other people on campus to have that conversation."

[NOTE: Toole said Worthem and Lee's scholarships do not count toward the team's limit for next season.]

Is there anyone for next season who you're maybe looking to take a big step and play that much greater of a role for this team? "Obviously, Kavon is one of those guys. He's a guy who's going to have a lot more on his plate next year. He showed glimpses of being able to handle that and there were times when he looked like a freshman. I think Kavon's somebody that can be more consistent next year for us to be successful. He's going to have a lot on his shoulders and a lot of responsibility. The way he handles that responsibility is going to really dictate how good of a team we can become."

 

Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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About the Red Wings - 04-09-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A preview of the Red Wings.

When and where: 8 p.m. EDT. Consol Energy Center.

TV: NBC Sports, TSN.

Record: 38-27-14, 90 points. The Red Wings are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division.

Leading Scorer: Daniel Alfredsson (right), 48 points (18 goals, 30 assists).

Last Game: 4-2 road win against the Sabres, last night. Jimmy Howard made 25 saves for the Red Wings.

Last Game against the Penguins: 5-4 overtime home win, March 20. Alfredsson had two goals and an assist for the Red Wings.

Red Wings Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Alfredsson. He has 68 points in 66 career games against the Penguins.

Ex-Penguins on the Red Wings: Mikael Samuelsson, RW; Tyler Wright, director of amateur scouting.

Ex-Red Wings on the Penguins: Chris Conner, LW; Don Waddell, professional scout; Warren Young, amateur scout.

Useless Red Wings Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Red Wings left winger Todd Bertuzzi is one of three players selected in the 1993 draft who are still active on an NHL roster. The others are Ducks center Saku Koivu as well as Flyers defenseman and former Penguin Hall Gill.

(Note: A fourth player, Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, is still officially active but is all but retired. )

Best Red Wings Video We Could Find: The Red Wings' Luc Robitaille scoring his 610th career goal and tying the Blackhawks' Bobby Hull for the most goals in NHL history by a left winger:

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (38-18-4, 2.34 GAA, .917 SV%) for the Penguins. Jonas Gustavsson (16-5-3, 2.63 GAA, .909SV%) for the Red Wings.

Injuries: For the Penguins, centers Marcel Goc (left foot/ankle), Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Joe Vitale ("upper body") are out. Right wingers Chris Conner (foot), Pascal Dupuis (knee) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clots) are on injured reserve. For the Red Wings, right winger Dan Cleary (knee) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger) are out. Right winger Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder), center Stephen Weiss (hernia) and left winger Henrik Zetterberg (back) are on injured reserve.

Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate were:

14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 19 Beau Bennett
49 Brian Gibbons - 36 Jussi Jokinen - 18 James Neal
15 Tanner Glass - 16 Brandon Sutter - 22 Lee Stempniak
17 Taylor Pyatt - 27 Craig Adams - 45 Adam Payerl

44 Brook Orpik - 7 Paul Martin
2 Matt Niskanen - 3 Olli Maatta
58 Kris Letang - 4 Rob Scuderi

-The Red Wings did not hold a full morning skate. Their primary lines and defensive pairigns against the Sabres last night were:

93 Johan Franzen - 13 Pavel Datsyuk - 8 Justin Abdelkader
21 Tomas Tatar - 15 Riley Sheahan - 14 Gustav Nyquist
43 Darren Helm - 17 David Legwand - 11 Daniel Alfredsson
20 Drew Miller - 41 Luke Glendening - 26 Tomas Jurco

2 Brendan Smith - 55 Niklas Kronwall
27 Kyle Quincey - 65 Danny DeKeyser
23 Brian Lashoff - 4 Jakub Kindl

Notes:

-The last time the Penguins played the Red Wings, this happened:

-Kris Letang will return to the lineup tonight for the first time since suffering a stroke, Jan. 29.

-The Penguins have won 99 regular season games at Consol Energy Center.

-Adams has 99 career assists.

-The Red Wings' magic number to clinch a playoff berth is one point.

-Our live blog begins at approximately 7 p.m. Please tune in.

(Photo: Photobucket)

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Empty Netter Assists - 04-09-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-Tomas Vokoun (above) will be assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a conditioning assignment.

-Welcome back Evgeni Malkin ... to light skating.

-How will the Penguins approach tonight's game against the Red Wings, a potential playoff opponent?

-Don't be embarrassed if you don't understand the NHL's new playoff format. Some of the Penguins' players don't either.

-How much of a chance does Robert Bortuzzo have at appearing in a postseason game?

-Sidney Crosby speaks:

-Paul Martin speaks:

-The Wilkes-Bare/Scranton Penguins signed forward prospect Scott Wilson to an amateur tryout agreement.

-Happy 77th birthday to former Penguins forward Wayne Hicks. Acquired midway through the 1967-68 season in a deal which sent Art Stratton to the Flyers, Hicks appeared in 15 games for the Penguins and scored 11 points. After that season, Hicks, one of 10 NHL players born in the state of Washington, spent the rest of his professional career in the AHL and WHL. He is the father of former Penguins forward Alex Hicks.

-Happy 50th birthday to former all-star Penguins forward Rick Tocchet (right). Acquired midway through the 1991-92 season along with Kjell Samuelsson, Ken Wregget and a draft pick in exchange for Mark Recchi, Brian Benning and a draft pick, Tocchet became one of the most popular players in franchise history despite only spending parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh. Tocchet finished 1991-92 by appearing in 19 games and scoring 30 points. Tocchet saw action in 14 postseason games that spring and scored 19 points while helping the franchise win its second Stanley Cup championship. In 1992-93, Tocchet played in 80 games and scored 109 points - one of four 100-point scorers for the team that season - and led the team with 252 penalty minutes while helping the franchise earn its only Presidents' Trophy. He was also selected to the final all-star game of his career. Tocchet saw action in 12 postseason games that spring and scored 13 points. During 1993-94, Tocchet was limited to 51 games and 40 points. He played in six postseason games that spring and scored five points. In the 1994 offseason, Tocchet and a draft pick were traded to the Kings in exchange for Luc Robitaille. In 150 regular season games with the Penguins, Tocchet, the first player in franchise history to wear No. 92, scored 179 points, 43rd-most in franchise history. In 32 postseason games, Tocchet scored 37 points.

-Happy 34th birthday to former Penguins forward Alexei Ponikarovsky. Acquired at the 2010 trade deadline in a deal which sent Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula to the Maple Leafs, Ponikarovsky's Penguins career amounted to 16 games and nine points in 2010-11. In 11 postseason games, he scored five points. During the 2010 offseason, Ponikarovsky joined the Kings as a free agent. He is currently a member SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's KHL.

-After the Jump: The Canucks fire general manager Mike Gillis.

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Penguins mixed on new playoff format - 04-08-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

If you're having some issues figuring out the NHL's new playoff format, you're not alone. A few of the Penguins players haven't quite nailed it down either.

Along with realignment of the divisions and conferences, the NHL introduced a new format for the postseason. Each conference, now comprised of two divisions, would have eight teams qualify for the postseason but the potential matchups are radically different.

In the new format, the first three teams in each division qualify for the postseason. The last two teams to qualify will reach the postseason based on their record regardless of division. Two last two teams will be the wild card teams and will face the two division winners in the first round. The second and third place teams in their respected divisions will square off in the first round as well.

The second round is where it could get a bit confusing. Unlike seasons past, there is no re-seeding for the second round. Regardless of who wins in the first round, the bracket is set.

If the playoffs started today, the Eastern Conference matchups would look like this:

The Penguins would face the Red Wings in the first round. If the Penguins were to win, they would be guaranteed to face the winner of the Rangers-Flyers series. The only way they could face the Bruins, Blue Jackets, Canadiens or Lightning would be in the conference final.

The NHL has said the reasoning behind that was to place a greater importance on divisional rivalries. That would enable lesser travel for the first two rounds, especially in the Western Conference and it would give national broadcasters a better chance at high profile rivalries in major American markets during the early rounds. NBC is probably a lot more comfortable with Penguins-Red Wings or Rangers-Flyers as first-round series than Rangers-Lightning or Penguins-Canadiens for example.

The old format offered a 1-through-8 seeding process with the top seeded team playing the lowest seeded team regardless of divisions. The three division winners in each conference were given the top three seeds automatically. That caveat ruffled a few feathers around the league as often times, the third division winner had poorer records than the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds.

The new format can be a little tricky, even for those who are directly affected by it. A sampling of Penguins veterans revealed some varied responses in terms of understanding and and preference.

How long did it take to figure out the new format once it was revealed?

Craig Adams (right), right winger – “Not very long. It’s obviously different. It’s not something we [the NHLPA] supported necessarily. It’s the way it’s going now. We’ll see how it goes.”

Brooks Orpik, defenseman – “ I still haven’t figured it out to be honest with you. I understand the first round. I don’t know where it goes from there.”

Tomas Vokoun, goaltender – “It’s not that complicated. It’s more about the second round than the first round. The first round is pretty much the same. They call it ‘wild card’ but it’s basically the No. 7 and 8 teams. After that, you play in your division. It’s a little bit different but not a lot.

Sidney Crosby, center – “Not until last week. I feel like it was always something we talked about it but nobody really had a real firm answer on it. We played with different ideas but we didn’t have the exact answer. The confusing part was whether the wild card [team] was in your division if you still played that team or if you switched over.

Rob Scuderi, defenseman – “The first round seems to play out like it normally would. It’s a new take on it but I still think you’ve got to beat good teams to get to the [Stanley Cup Final]. What ever the format is, you usually have to beat good teams.”

Jussi Jokinen, left winger – “I think some guys, it probably took a little bit more [time]. You talk to some of our guys, they don’t know how it’s going to go. I got it right away. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Brandon Sutter, center – “I think I just heard about it a week ago to be honest with you. Some guys aren’t too sure about it. I think I’ve got it down. I don’t know why they changed it. I’m not so sure.”

Marc-Andre Fleury (right), goaltender – “It took a little reading to make sure I got it right. I think we’ve just been used to the same thing for so long. It’s a little different. It should be interesting.” 

Paul Martin, defenseman – “Not too long. Not too different. It looks weird I think when you look at the [standings]. For the wild card, it’s obviously something new and different. Once you have it explained a couple of times, you figure it out.” 

Tanner Glass, left wing – “I looked at it two days ago online. One read-through and I think I got it.”

Matt Niskanen (top, with Detroit's Tomas Tatar), defenseman – “I didn’t quite get it until someone explained it to me three weeks ago. So I had no clue. I thought it had something to do with the divisions but I wasn’t sure how the wild card think worked exactly.”

Do you have a preference with either this format or the old 1-through-8 format?

Adams - "I don’t know. I think time will have to tell. If you’re always getting the game playoff matchups year after year, some people don’t like that. We’ll see how it plays out."

Orpik - "It’s way too complicated. I’m not sure what was wrong with [the old format]. It was pretty cut and dry. Pretty easy to understand I think a lot of people thought the top three division shouldn’t be the top three. You should be seeded one through eight. The winner of that [third] division… if you’re seventh, you get seventh. You don’t get third. I thought that was the only problem guys had with it. I thought it was a lot easier to understand.

Vokoun - "I think either way is fine. Bringing Detroit into the east is a good thing. Other than that, it’s fine. It was fine before too. It doesn’t change much.

Crosby (right) - “I liked the old one a little better. I think either way, the top eight [teams are in]. It’s just set up a bit differently. I could see the thought behind divisional matchups. But [in the first round], we could possibly not be in the division. It’s had to understand a little bit."

Scuderi - “Not necessarily. You’ve got to beat good teams to get there. Regardless of what format they make, you’ve to beat an upper echelon team to get there.”

Jokinen - “I kind of like it. It’s more proper rivalries. It’ll be some of those big rivalries. … We’ll have to wait a couple of more years to see how it goes. So far, I like the idea.”

Sutter - “One through eight just seems to make more sense to me. I’m not sure why they wanted to change it. I don’t know what the reason was. If you finish first, you should play the eighth place team. If you finish second, you should play seventh and so on.”

Fleury - “I guess we’ll see how it goes for this year. I’ll have a better idea after.”

Martin (right) - “Not really. You still got to put up the points. You still have to win your games. I don’t really have a preference. I’ll tell you after the playoffs.”

Glass - “I don’t care to be honest. I think this one might kind of cool because we might get more divisional matchups through the first two rounds at least. It looks good to me.”

Niskanen - “I guess not. I thought the old one was fine. The only thing I didn’t like about the old was winning a bad division gave you the third seed. I think you should be in the division for winning your division but I don’t think it should give you that higher seed. The wild car thing, I’m kind of indifferent about it. I’m not sure about with the divisions crossing over and if you stay in that division, that seems a bit complicated.”

(Photos: Duane Burleson/Associated Press, Drew Hallowell/Getty Images, Harry How/Getty Images, Jamie Sabau/Getty Images and Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

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