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Insider Only Game Day Buzz: Need for left handed defenseman gives Despres advantage to stay in lineup

letang1-388x396 GAME DAY BUZZ

The emergence of Robert Bortuzzo isn’t going to push Simon Despres out of the lineup for when Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen return to the lineup, which could happen for both tonight vs the Ottawa Senators.
Letang and Niskanen who seemed to be under orders not to say whether they will be in the lineup tonight, both indicated after the morning skate that they are a “coaches decision”.
“Felt pretty good,” Letang said. “Ready to go”.
Expectations are Letang will be in the lineup tonight and Niskanen sounded a lot more optimistic about playing tonight than he seemed after yesterday’s practice, saying today was a “really good day.” Both were to be evaluated after the morning skate.
Niskanen left the ice with the regulars, while Letang stayed on later to get some more work in.
If the Penguins take both players off injured reserved before 5:00 p.m., they will be eligible to play tonight but the Penguins will have to make a roster move.
A source says Dylan Reese is not eligible for waivers (to be sent down) because he cleared waivers at the start of the season and hasn’t played in 10 games or been up with the team for 30 days.
With Niskanen’s and Letang’s imminent returns, who on the blueline other than Reese will be coming out of the lineup?
It will likely be Robert Bortuzzo, at least from the start.
Due to lefties Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik playing together, Bylsma indicated today that the need for a “left handed defenseman” gives Despres an “advantage” in staying in the lineup.”.
“Simon has the left shot to the lineup,” Bylsma said. “Matt Niskanen is our best {right handed defensemen} on the left side.” Bylsma said his decision on who plays won’t be dictated by the opponent. “Simon’s a little more offense, Robert’s an abrasive physical guy,” Bylsma said. “Both have shown they can play.”
That thinking has the Penguins D-pairings tonight setting up like they did the first three games of the season: Brooks Orpik – Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen – Kris Letang and Simon Despres – Deryk Engelland. Bortuzzo and Engelland should compete for time.


OTT Craig Anderson (7-2-2, 1.36 GAA, .956 sv%, 2 SO) vs PIT Marc Andre Fleury (5-3-0, 2.46 GAA, .906 sv%): The Penguins won’t get to avoid Craig Anderson who will get the start in back to back games for Ottawa. Senators coach Paul MacLean on Anderson’s heavy workload this season; “He’s a young man.” Fleury is 3-1 with a 2.26 GAA and .938 save percentage in his last four home starts vs Ottawa.


The Penguins and Senators each come into tonight’s game with 16 points. The Penguins get the Senators in back to back situations as the Sens played last night in Ottawa, beating the Buffalo Sabres, 2-0, behind Craig Anderson’s second shutout of the season.
Talk among Senators people today is aside from the tremendous play of Anderson who has an NHL best 1.36 GAA and .956 save percentage, the reason the Senators are the best defensive team in the NHL, giving up just 23 goals on the year, is that “they never play in their own end.” The reason for that is Erik Karlsson as individuals who cover the Senators just raved about his ability to skate with the puck out of the zone at any sign of trouble. Karlsson leads the Senators with 6 goals.


If Kris Letang plays tonight, it appears he will be on the second power play unit. The Penguins enter today’s game ranked 5th on the power play at 27.8% and have scored a power play goal in five straight games. Paul Martin’s ability to “break down the penalty kill” has been impressive according to Bylsma. “Paul’s done a really good job,” Bylsma said, praising Martin’s “distribute ability” with Crosby and Malkin on each side of him.
“He’s comfortable there,” Sidney Crosby said of Martin on the top power play unit. “He makes good reads.” In their last five games, the Penguins have gone 8 for 19, good for 42.1%.


— A growing concern with the Penguins has been their inability to wear teams down in the offensive zone. Bylsma today admitted that area has not been good enough. Is it a personnel issue? I think it is as I’ve been writing in the past. “One of the things we didn’t do enough of is established offensive zone,” Bylsma said of the Penguins play vs the Devils this past weekend.”Need to have {offensive zone} presence, wear teams down. That’s something we need to do a better job of. Need to wear teams down, grind teams down.”

— Speaking of the Devils One Penguins defenseman raved to me about them saying “Way they play offense now is just something else.” This particular defenseman seemed surprised at how good the Devils puck control game is and how they wore the Penguins down.
— Sidney Crosby on Sergei Gonchar: “Great player, great friend. He’s still playing pretty good.”
— Indications are Joe Vitale will return to the lineup and Tangradi, Jeffrey will be healthy scratches.

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William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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