GAME DAY BUZZ
PENGUINS (13-6-0, 26 pts) @ PANTHERS (5-9-4, 14 pts)
Evgeni Malkin might be feeling better like head coach Dan Bylsma has constantly indicated the past couple days but Malkin has not been cleared to exercise at this point. Bylsma said today that there’s no timetable established on when Malkin can begin physical activity. “There’s not a specific schedule for that right now in terms of physical activity,” Bylsma said today. “Protocol is resting with a concussion.”
Speculating on when Malkin might return is impossible at this point as with concussions Malkin could wake up tomorrow and feel great and pass his baseline cognitive test or he might not be able to pass one for weeks or months. That’s just how concussions go. The likelihood, though, is that it’s probably going to be 10-14 days at the earliest until Malkin is able to return to game action. That’s a best case scenario.
VOKOUN GETS THE START
Marc Andre Fleury is 8-1 in his last nine starts and 6-0 with a 1.30 GAA in his last six starts vs Florida, but the Penguins will be going with Tomas Vokoun in goal tonight. Fleury will start Thursday night in Carolina and the current plan is also for Fleury to start Saturday night in Montreal.
Vokoun faces his former team tonight and is coming off his worst game of the season, a 6-5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last Wednesday night. Vokoun has lost his last two starts and has not been particularly sharp in either outing. He’s surrendered 9 goals on the last 55 shots he’s faced. Another bad night from Vokoun and the confidence this team has in him is likely to dim a bit. Vokoun is 3-3-0 with a 2.87 GAA and .889 save percentage on the season.
NO PLANS FOR EATON TO PLAY YET
Mark Eaton won’t be in the lineup tonight and he’s also not expected to get in the lineup Thursday night in Carolina. The role for Eaton moving forward, who signed a one year, $725,000 contract (pro-rated) on Monday, is unclear but a source says the message relayed to Eaton is the team envisions him playing a depth role and that the opportunity will be there to possibly play a top-6 role at somepoint. He’s likely to be given a chance to win a spot.
SHOULD BOYCHUK PLAY OVER KENNEDY IN 2ND LINE ROLE?
No changes tonight among the Penguins forwards but Bylsma will be sticking with a third line of Matt Cooke – Brandon Sutter – Pascal Dupuis. It’s a line that showed some intrigue Sunday night and have the look of what the Penguins third line should look like full-time when this group is healthy if they can pull if off personnel wise in being able to keep Dupuis in a third line role. Also, by going with Cooke, Sutter and Dupuis, it does open the door for Zach Boychuk to get in the lineup, were Bylsma to go in that direction at somepoint on the road trip.
One change tonight I’d make is replacing Kennedy with Boychuk on the second line with Beau Bennett and Dustin Jeffrey. One attribute that Boychuk gives over Kennedy in a second line role is more speed on the wings and playmaking ability to get Bennett and Jeffrey the puck in scoring situations. However, I guess it’s not the smartest move sitting a player (Kennedy) who you might dangle as trade bait.
Kunitz – Crosby – Neal
Bennett – Jeffrey – Kennedy
Cooke – Sutter – Dupuis
Glass – Vitale – Adams
The new realignment proposal from the NHL has four divisions and two conferences. The Eastern Conference would feature the Atlantic and Central divisions while the Western Conference would have the Mid-West and Pacific Divisions.
Central Division: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto.
Atlantic Division: Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
Pacific Division: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver.
Mid-West Division: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg.
According to ESPN, “The playoff format as detailed in the league memo Tuesday calls for the top three teams in each division to earn postseason berths. The remaining four spots would go to wild cards, the top two records in each conference. That means there’s a possibility five teams make it from one division and only three from another. The schedule matrix would see each team play teams in the other conference both home and away.”
For the Penguins, you couldn’t ask for a better division from the standpoint of having attractive games and Columbus is always a nice drive to make for a game and they should have always been in the Eastern Conference.