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Insider Only Monday Practice Report: Bylsma eyeing continuity from his D-pairs

Monday’s Notes

Off to a 3-0 start in the preseason, the Penguins have hit the half way mark of the pre-season and will make a number of cuts before the team hits the road later this week for their final two pre-season games.
Following Tuesday’s game, the Penguins will close out their pre-season with two weekend road games – at Chicago Friday (8:30 p.m.) and at Detroit Sunday (5 p.m.). Those are two key games that the staff will look to get most of the opening night roster some game action together.
The team currently has 41 players in camp and will reduce their roster to around 28 and that will likely happen as early as Wednesday.
Tomorrow night the Penguins host the Chicago Blackhawks at home in a meeting of the two most recent Stanley Cup champions. Game time is 7 p.m. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and Chicago won it last season.
Head coach Dan Bylsma today downplayed any significance to the game of the two most recent Cup champions.
“We’re a ways removed, ” Blysma said when asked about the matchup. “Exhibition, their {Chicago} not going to play their whole team and I’m quite confident their eager put that behind them and try to get on with this season.”

Bylsma on his team

As the Penguins are into week 2 of camp, the battles at the forward position are becoming more clear but plenty of competition still exist for the final two spots on the blueline.
Among the veteran defensemen (Hutchinson, Lovejoy, Engelland, Wagner) still in the mix, what has intrigued the Penguins staff is that the group brings different attributes to the table.
“Those guys bring different elements, Bylsma said. “Ben Lovejoy is a good skating defenseman, PK guy……Deryk Engelland, brings a tough realm to the table…. Andrew Hutchinson is more of an offensive guy, power play guy, puck moving guy….those three are a little bit different.”
One under-rated player in camp has been Steve Wagner who has previous NHL experience with St. Louis and was acquired just before the 2010 NHL trade deadline.
“Wagner, he’s a little bit like Ben Lovejoy, kind of in that role of a little bit more of an offensive guy than Ben Lovejoy but they have to get to their game and play their game….They shouldn’t be worried about Ben Lovejoy trying to be Deryk Engelland, and Ben Lovejoy trying to be Andrew Hutchinson,” Bylsma said.
Training camp is a very important stage for building team chemistry, especially for newer players entering the system.
Bylsma pointed out Mike Comrie as a guy whose becoming more familiar with his teammates but continuity among some of his key defensemen is still a work in progress, Bylsma said today.
“A guy like Mike Comrie is now getting 10 days of his teammates, line mates and power play. So he’s starting to feel more comfortable, ” Bylsma said.
“Defensemen coming in are still finding their way on how we want to play and what we are asking them to do, what words we use, that is still an adjustment period for them, ” Bylsma said.
Paul Martin whose only appeared in one game this preseason is one of those defensemen who is still adjusting to the Penguins system and will be in the lineup against Chicago.
Bylsma also talked about newer players especially on offense needing to change their habits in game situations.
“For guys, newer guys…Arron Asham and guys on offense, there still making some mistakes out of… that need to be corrected, so we’ll get that out of the next two games, ” Bylsma said.
On the injury front, forward Ryan Craig remains sidelined with a groin injury. He will not play tomorrow night against Chicago. Bylsma said today he is under going evaluations and there is no new update.

Group A Practice Report

The players were split up into two groups with group A skating at 11 and group B skating at 12:30. Today’s focus was more about attention to details and working on systems. Drills included breakouts, power play and fore-checking drills with the staff implementing their systems.
Notable Lines
Tangradi – Comrie – Malkin
Johnson/Conner – Letestu – Kennedy
Vitale – Adams – Rupp
D-Pairs
Goligoski – Lovejoy
Bortuzzo – Engelland
Strait – Despres
Power Play Unit
1st Unit: Tangradi (front net presence) – Comrie  – Malkin
Goligoski – Wagner

Practice Notes

*Eric Tangradi skated on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Mike Comrie for the second straight day. It appears he’s going to get another look with those two but it wasn’t clear this afternoon if he will be in the lineup against Chicago.
*Evgeni Malkin had an excellent practice. Skated with a lot of energy and shot the puck extremely well, even frustrating Marc Andre Fleury mid-way through the practice who slammed his stick in frustration. Not to say Malkin has ever been a slacker at practice in the past but his practice habits appear to be improving.
There’s been a sense over the past couple days that the Penguins are exploring options to expand Tyler Kennedy’s role in the special teams department. That continued today.
There was one instance during the power play session where Kennedy worked the right point with Alex Goligoski at the left point and Tangradi – Malkin and Comrie down low.
Assistant coach Tony Granato stayed just outside the blue line near Kennedy giving him instructions. Kennedy only played the point for about 25-30 seconds during a live session. I don’t expect this to get much consideration during the season but it was interesting to see.
One area where Kennedy could see an expanded role is on the penalty kill. Saturday night Kennedy had over 3:00 of ice time on the PK.

Practice Group B

Sidney Crosby headlined group B and a few interesting notes to come out of group B’s workout is that Arron Asham and Matt Cooke were working with a new center and is the Brett Sterling experiment with Sidney Crosby over?

Notable Lines
Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Cooke – Talbot – Asham
Sterling – Jeffrey – Godard
D-Pairs
Martin – Letang
Orpik – Michalek

Practice Notes

*It appears Max Talbot will get his opportunity this week to center the third line. He took reps today centering Asham and Cooke as Mark Letestu has been taking reps with Tyler Kennedy the past two practices.
*Indications are the Brett Sterling experiment with Sidney Crosby is over. Sterling skated today on a line with Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Godard. For Sterling to make this team he has to establish himself as a top-6 forward and and he just hasn’t to the point where the Penguins are going to take the risk of losing a player on a one-way contract to waivers, in essence to make room for Sterling.
These players in the mix on two-way contracts have to standout to the point where the Penguins are adamant that their better options.
*The Penguins top-2 pairings have been pretty clear since camp started and the Penguins are reaching the point where it’s going to be very important for Paul Martin and Kris Letang to get some more game action together and the same goes for Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek.
Of late the Penguins have been mis-matching their pairings but don’t look for much of that after Tuesday’s game.
Notes: Tuesday’s game will be televised on tape-delay by FSN Pittsburgh, following the Pittsburgh Pirates broadcast on FSN that night. The game also will be carried live on radio — both 105.9 The X and Penguins HD radio.
The Penguins again will make several hundred “Student Rush” tickets available at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the American Eagle Outfitters box office, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Washington Place. College and high school students with valid student IDs may purchase discounted tickets for $25. The Penguins will make a minimum of 200 tickets available for each home game this season as part of the popular American Eagle Outfitters Student Rush program.

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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