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“Puck Talk With Popchock” – Public Practice Highlights

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

Sunday marked the second full day of Pittsburgh Penguins training camp, and it also marked the last day of public access to team workouts.

Additionally, it was one final chance for most of the 52 remaining invitees to tune up for the annual Black-versus-Gold scrimmage, which will take place Monday at 7:00 P.M. at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, home of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It’s a training camp event that originated two years ago and has since been revived.

Head coach Dan Bylsma (who celebrates his birthday Monday) spoke with the media yesterday on several topics, including what he tries to take from the intra-squad scrimmage:


Meanwhile, a few observations from the public skate:

*Sidney Crosby will not dress for that scrimmage, but he seemed to be in good spirits Sunday afternoon, and so did the crowd at CONSOL Energy Center, which gave him a loud standing ovation as he stepped out of the tunnel. I’m certainly not going to play armchair neurologist, especially after the buzz already generated by Dr. Ted Carrick’s recent remarks, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we were generally closer to seeing him return than not. He skated very well, and as Crosby himself pointed out, he’s pushing himself harder than he did during private off-season training, and he’s doing pretty much everything except full contact.

Here’s more of what Sid–who reportedly made it through practice symptom-free–had to say to the media Sunday afternoon:


*Pascal Dupuis already signed a new contract over the summer, but to his credit, I’d say he was playing for another, if I didn’t know any better. Duper had more hop than a lot of the players I saw in yesterday’s abbreviated scrimmage, particularly when he scored the deciding goal for his group in a shootout, then got the crowd revved up by celebrating at center ice and doing a faux Lambeau Leap into his bench.

*Speaking of shootouts, that’s the one phase of Evgeni Malkin’s game that probably needs the most work. He just doesn’t appear self-confident in those spots. In his defense, he wouldn’t be the first big-name player in league history to mysteriously struggle with that, but with his unique skill set, it just seems like his list of acceptable excuses is a short one. On Sunday not much changed, as he was denied on his attempt in the scrimmage; he didn’t really drive the net, and he didn’t stick-handle much either. Now that he’s effectively healthy, Geno needs to better utilize his shot power, to say nothing of his speed and his hands.

By the way, if I had to spit out a number, I’d probably say Geno was skating at 90 percent Sunday. Of course, we have to keep that number in context, because it’s just an early training camp session, but at any rate, he certainly looks just as enthusiastic as the other half of the Two-Headed Monster to get back to action.

*One of the things that attracts me to the arena is that these practices, let alone the games, promote a family-friendly atmosphere, and sure enough, a lot of families seemed to be in attendance despite the fact it was a Steeler (home game) Sunday. On that note, a lot of us feel Matt Cooke embarrassed the city and the organization with his on-ice behavior back in March, and rightfully so, but with the obvious exceptions of Sid and Marc-Andre Fleury, I’d say Cooke probably drew the most enthusiasm from the young kids in attendance who were sitting closest to the rink, and he was getting into it, tossing practice pucks over the protective netting into the crowd. I think his popularity will remain intact as long as he cleans up his act this season.

*Bylsma likes to talk about net-front presence a lot. I saw that being worked on in the various drills, in various fashions, and in the split-squad scrimmage, there were a number of one-timers attempted, and a lot of work below the circles.

That’s how Eric Tangradi scored during yesterday’s scrimmage, tying it late with Brent Johnson pulled. That drew distinctive applause, and it would certainly be nice to see the self-proclaimed “Big Dog” find his way, and bury a few more during the preseason.

*Defensively, both squads looked good in the scrimmage (Dupuis’ group won 2-1), but I’ve got to give some brownie points to goaltender Scott Munroe. I know we can’t take too much from these things–as Chuck Noll once said of the NFL preseason, “Hey, they all look good in their underwear”–but I can’t recall him leaving the ice much at all. If nothing else, he got in a nice a workout. The 2011-12 Penguins may only have a couple jobs to give when all is said and done, but there are definitely guys doing things to try and make names for themselves within the organization.

Meanwhile, in addition to Crosby, defenseman Brooks Orpik and forward Dustin Jeffrey are among a handful of other Penguins who will not play in the Black-versus-Gold scrimmage. Jeffrey has been rehabbing a torn ACL, and Orpik is still recovering from off-season surgery to repair a sports hernia. That said, here are the lineups for Monday’s scrimmage:

PROJECTED LINE COMBOS FOR “TEAM BLACK”: (left to right)

Chris Kunitz-Jordan Staal-Jason Williams
Matt Cooke-Richard Park-Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi-Bryan Lerg-Nick Johnson
Steve MacIntyre-Ryan Craig-Paul Thompson

COMPLETE “TEAM BLACK” LINEUP:

Matt Cooke
Ryan Craig
Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
Scott Harrington
Nick Johnson
Tyler Kennedy
Chris Kunitz
Bryan Lerg
Steve MacIntyre
Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen
Richard Park
Carl Sneep
Jordan Staal
Brian Strait
Ben Street
Eric Tangradi
Brad Thiessen
Paul Thompson
Jason Williams

PROJECTED LINE COMBOS FOR “TEAM GOLD”: (left to right)

James Neal-Evgeni Malkin-Steve Sullivan
Pascal Dupuis-Mark Letestu-Colin McDonald
Brian Gibbons-Zach Sill-Keven Veilleux
Tom Kuhnhackl-Joe Vitale-Geoff Walker

COMPLETE “TEAM GOLD” LINEUP:

Simon Despres
Pascal Dupuis
Brian Gibbons
Brent Johnson
Tom Kuhnhackl
Kris Letang
Mark Letestu
Ben Lovejoy
Evgeni Malkin
Paul Martin
Colin McDonald
Joseph Morrow
Scott Munroe
James Neal
Alexandre Picard
Philip Samuelsson
Zach Sill
Steve Sullivan
Keven Veilleux
Joe Vitale
Geoff Walker

NOT EXPECTED TO PLAY:

Arron Asham
Craig Adams
Sidney Crosby
Brandon DeFazio
Alex Grant
Patrick Killeen
Joey Mormina
Brooks Orpik
Dominik Uher

Be sure to keep visiting 937thefan.com, including Casey Shea’s “Shea-ved Ice” blog, and tune into SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan for continuing coverage of training camp and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

(Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Penguins for their contributions to this post.)

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)