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Insider Only Gonchar primed to step up his game heading into the playoffs

News and Notes
*Jordan Leopold lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins (45-26-7, 97 pts) to a 4-3 overtime win Saturday afternoon over the Atlanta Thrashers. Leopold put a bad angle shot on goal that got past Johan Hedberg as the Penguins kept pace with the New Jersey Devils in the Atlantic Division. Both teams are tied with 97 points and 78 games played.
*For the Atlanta Thrashers it was a costly loss for their playoff hopes and their a young team that keeps making critical mistakes at in opportune moments. An offensive zone penalty by Jim Slater with just 2:27 remaining in the game put Pittsburgh on the power play and just over a minute later Sergei Gonchar blistered a slap shot past Hedberg to tie the game at 3-3 and send the game to overtime.
*Pittsburgh did not play a strong game but were sparked by the return of Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar. Playing at less than 100%, Evgeni Malkin was the best player on the ice finishing the game with a goal and an assist.
Getting Evgeni Malkin back to full health and playing at an elite is pivotal for the Penguins playoff chances but so is Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar who had previously missed 4 games with strep throat has also been bothered by a bad foot for months which according to those close to Gonchar has affected his play.

In 58 games played, Gonchar has 11 goals and 35 assists on the season. His play in the d-zone has been lackluster at times in the second half of the season as he is a minus-6 on the season.
If healthy, look for Gonchar to be playing on top of his game down the stretch and into the playoffs.
His camp has heard all of the talk that his “game” may be slowing down and the soon to be 36 year old has a lot to play for. Gonchar is not only playing for a longer stay in Pittsburgh but is also auditioning for other teams if he makes it to July 1st.
Quick Hits
*Evgeni Malkin indicated after yesterday’s game that his injured right foot felt fine and there doesn’t appear to be any set backs. Malkin had previously missed 7 of 8 games. Malkin admitted the foot is not 100% but is improving. “I feel fresh, I feel good, ” Malkin said after the game.
The Penguins did not practice today.
*The status of winger Chris Kunitz is unknown at this time. He suffered a lower body injury in the second period of yesterday’s game. He will be evaluated on Monday. At this point, the injury is regarded as minor. Kunitz had abdominal surgery in January.
*Top line by committee? Prior to Kunitz getting injured, Ruslan Fedotenko, Pascal Dupuis and Kunitz all saw time with Crosby on the top line. Fedotenko was somewhat of a floater at the start of the game and look for Bylsma to continue to get Fedotenko shifts with Crosby or Malkin.
*Sidney Crosby quietly had 3 assists in Saturday’s win. He has 97 points (47g-50a) on the season and is closing in on his 4th career 100 point season. Whether Crosby gets to 50 goals for the first time in his career remains to be seen. The star center has just 3 goals in his last 16 games.
*39 year old Bill Guerin had his second straight fight after dropping the gloves with Jim Slater in the first period of Saturday’s game. Guerin was the overwhelming winner, delivering a hard upper cut near the end of the fight.
*Michael Rupp was a healthy scratch with Malkin returning to the lineup. It appeared after Friday’s skate that Rupp was going to be the odd-man out. Jay McKee and Eric Godard were also healthy scratches.
*The Pittsburgh Penguins held their annual team awards ceremony before Saturday’s game with the Atlanta Thrashers. Here is a description of each award:
Baz Bastien Memorial “Good Guy” Award – Sidney Crosby & Marc-Andre Fleury
Presented by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to the player who the local media of the PHWA want to acknowledge for his cooperation throughout the year. The award is presented in memory of the late Aldege “Baz” Bastien, Penguins general manager from 1976-83. Sponsored by UPMC Sports Medicine.
NHL Masterton Nominee “Comeback Player” Award – Bill Guerin
The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association votes for the Penguins’ Masterton nominee. Each NHL team selects a Masterton candidate from which the overall winner is chosen. The Masterton candidate is nominated as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Sponsored by Trib Total Media.
A.T. Caggiano Memorial Booster Club Cup – Sidney Crosby
Presented in memory of A.T. Caggiano, long-time Penguins’ locker room attendant & Booster Club supporter, the award is presented by Penguins Booster Club members, who vote for the three stars after every home game and tally votes at the end of the regular season.
Edward J. DeBartolo “Community Service” Award – Sidney Crosby
The award recognizes the player who has donated a tremendous amount of time and effort during the season working on community and charity projects. Sponsored by Verizon Wireless.
Defensive Player of the Year – Brooks Orpik
This award honors the defensive skills of an individual player on the team. Presented by Consol Energy Inc.
Player’s Player Award – Jordan Staal
The players hold a vote at the end of the season for the player they feel exemplifies leadership for the team, both on and off the ice, a player dedicated to teamwork. Sponsored by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Most Valuable Player Award – Sidney Crosby
Based on the overall contribution the player makes to the team. Sponsored by BNY Mellon.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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