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Insider Only Game Day Buzz: On impact of Niskanen’s injury; Bortuzzo talks waiting for his opportunity; Jeffrey in

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UPDATED: 7:30 p.m.
A bit of a change in warmups from the lines in the morning skate. Dustin Jeffrey is in the lineup tonight and Eric Tangradi is a healthy scratch.
Robert Bortuzzo, Matt Niskanen (injured) and Tangradi are the scratches.

POST-MORNING SKATE BUZZ (1:00 P.M)

Defenseman Matt Niskanen is in walking boot and his injury is not just a minor injury as in just missing a few games. The team announced Niskanen will be sidelined for at least 2 to 4 weeks with what is believed to be a high ankle sprain, although head coach Dan Bylsma would not confirm the exact diagnosis of the injury.
Word going around this afternoon is that a two week timetable for Niskanen is a longshot and his injury is more in the range of three to six weeks. That is significant for a 48 game season.
If Nisknanen were to miss let’s say 4 weeks, he’d miss around 15 games. That’s over 30 percent of the season.
Niskanen is not an ideal No. 1 pairing defenseman but losing him is a blow. He fits extremely well in the Penguins system, gives them a little offense and the absence of Nisknanen is going to lead to even a heavier workload for Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik. After those three, what the Penguins have is a lot of 5, 6, and 7’s on the blueline and the coaching staff doesn’t trust the likes of Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy or Simon Despres to log big minutes. The workload of Letang, Martin and Orpik could become an issue as the season drags out.
With Niskanen out, Simon Despres returns to the lineup and will be paired with Kris Letang tonight. Despres following the morning skate said he’s “not sure” what led to him coming out of the lineup but claimed there’s “a lot of good defensemen”on the team.
Bylsma when asked about Despres indicated that the consistency from Despres hasn’t fully been there and said as Despres is going through a maturation process, he’s getting caught trying to make an “extra play” out there.

LOCKER ROOM TALKING POINTS

— The way the Islanders play, many players were drawing comparisons to how the Toronto Maple Leafs play, who have given the Penguins fits. “I think like we saw with Toronto,” Kris Letang said about the Islanders. “Three good lines, speed up front.”
The speed upfront for the Islanders could cause the Penguins problems tonight. “Top-2 lines, whole group very dangerous on the rush,” Bylsma said. “Team that looks to create plays. D being real active. They have good players. First line is extremely dangerous. Grabner has elite speed,” Bylsma said. “{Islanders} shouldn’t be overlooked as a quality opponent.”
— The Penguins struggles on their entries on the power play has been concerning so far and is an area to watch. Kris Letang is not getting the job done in that area and Sidney Crosby could emerge as the primary player to bring the puck up at somepoint if there’s no improvement there from Letang who’s replaced Steve Sullivan from last season in that role. Crosby said today that teams are pressuring the Penguins early on the power play as he thinks they’re taking advantage of the Penguins power play not being insync yet due to the lockout. Crosby seem to hint at that he feels teams feel they can be more aggressive this early on in the season than they probably can later on.
— Bylsma today debunked any talk that the Penguins have a secondary scoring problem. He said no one was talking about that after the first two games. What I consider secondary scoring to be is scoring from the third and fourth lines and the No. 3 pairing on the blueline. The Penguins have one goal from those groups.
— Sidney Crosby and Joe Vitale were among the players who both said that the team talked before the Ottawa game about a better puck management game. “Defensively thought we played really well, ” Vitale said of the Ottawa game. “Beforehand we talked about puck management, making smart decisions with the puck, not being too cute with the puck.
— For everyone who wants Eric Tangradi to be a top-6 forward, his ceiling might be a 4th line role player and to this point in his career that’s the spot where he’s played his best hockey.
Tangradi has no goals in his last 39 NHL games but centerman Joe Vitale feels Tangradi brings a little skill level to that line compared to Tanner Glass for when situations Glass is bumped up to the third line. “Eric brings some more skill to the line, he’s a proven goal scorer in the AHL,” Vitale said of what Tangradi brings to the 4th line. Vitale, though, said things might be changed up for tonight.
— The goaltender matchup tonight is Marc Andre Fleury vs Evgeni Nabokov.

ORPIK HAVING STRONG INFLUENCE ON BORTUZZO IN LEADERSHIP ROLE

23 year old defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is still waiting for his opportunity to get in the lineup and it’s not expected to be tonight.
There were some signs in the morning skate that Robert Bortuzzo might get in the lineup over Ben Lovejoy but that would be news to Lovejoy and Bortuzzo told me after the morning skate he’s not been told that he’s playing tonight but continues to prepare himself everyday for when he gets in.
“Coaches do a great job of making sure everyone is prepared to play every night and if you’re not playing, then your doing a little extra stuff in practice which helps you in the long run and I’m in all the meetings, so I’m prepared to go when I get the call,” Bortuzzo said.
I’ve noticed the past couple skates that Brooks Orpik seems to be taking Bortuzzo under his wing a bit. He’s often seen given Bortuzzo advice and I asked him about that.
“Lot of leadership in the room, ” Bortuzzo said. “{I’m} learning a lot from Brooks giving me advice on the penalty kill and where I should be in spots.”
What has intrigued Penguins management about Bortuzzo and why they didn’t try to slip him through waivers is the upside of a potential shutdown defenseman at 6-foot-4, 215-pounds who can skate. Whether Bortuzzo ever gets to show his upside here remains to be seen.
“I feel like I’m a puck moving defenseman who wants to play hard against other teams skilled forwards and make it not an easy night on them,” Bortuzzo said of what he feels he brings to the table for this team.

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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