5:45 p.m.: Pregame!
Quick hits: The Penguins are 0-2-3 in their last five games against the Calgary Flames. The last three Calgary wins have been via overtime or shootout.
The Penguins have won 12 of their last 13 at home.
Zach Aston-Reese and Matt Murray will each miss their fourth game tonight.
Kris Letang’s assist Saturday was his 333rd, most by a defenseman in franchise history. The point also tied Letang with Anze Kopitar for the most overtime assists this season.
Kessel has tied his career high with 47 assists.
The Penguins power play has “slumped” to 26.7 percent.
Oh what could have been had Jaromir Jagr held on just another month or so… Jagr was cut loose in late January.
12:15 p.m.: As a teaser for the Kris Letang story, here’s a good quote from coach Mike Sullivan:
“We knew it was going to take time with Tanger. There were going to be some ups and downs, and we were going to have to try to manage through it and help him with his own expectation and managing his emotional frustration with that process.
“I think he’s so much further along at this point in the season that he was coming out of training camp, for example. We think his game has gained a whole lot of traction here the last five or six weeks.”
11:40 a.m.: Coach Mike Sullivan said injured goalie Matt Murray and winger Zach Aston-Reese are status quo. Murray again skated before the team in full pads but is not facing shots yet. ZAR apparently is not skating yet. Tristan Jarry was the first goaltender off the ice. Expect him to start again tonight against Calgary.
11:15 a.m.: Defenseman Kris Letang spoke to a group of reporters after the skate and was as candid as he has ever been about his season and the struggles in coming back from serious neck surgery. We will have the story available to our subscribers this afternoon, and to all in the morning. In a sign of how things just are, most if not all of the camera operators focusing on Letang ducked out and scrambled to Sidney Crosby’s locker when Crosby came off the ice. Too bad for them. They missed some good, honest comments from Letang.
10:40 a.m.: Because the team was off Sunday, Monday’s morning skate is not optional. No one is missing who should be on the ice. Goaltender Matt Murray (concussion) skated earlier. The lines and pairings are what you would expect. That is, the same as Saturday coming off a win:
7:00 a.m.: The Pittsburgh Penguins were off Sunday. Tonight, the Penguins (37-25-4) host the Calgary Flames (32-25-9) at PPG Paints Arena.
Saturday, the Penguins beat the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime. The Penguins launched 50(!) shots on goal, but 26-year-old Finnish goalie Christopher Gibson was spectacular. The Penguins dominated the puck but didn’t necessarily get enough traffic in front of Gibson.
After last Thursday’s Boston Massacre, the Penguins coaching staff made a couple of surprise changes. Chad Ruhwedel drew in, while Matt Hunwick was out. Dominik Simon, who was recalled last Friday, also got a sweater, while Carter Rowney sat.
Rowney was on the ice for five goals against, Hunwick for four, against Boston. Since the Penguins won with a big effort Saturday, neither figures to draw in tonight.
Our Dan Kingerski came around on Ruhwedel. He wrote the much-talked-about piece Sunday: Chad Ruhwedel should replace Hunwick, permanently.
The Penguins are in third place in the surprisingly softer Metro Division. They trail the Washington Capitals by three points and the Philadelphia Flyers by one point. Interestingly, the Penguins now have the best goal differential in the Metro, +15. Only six teams in the Eastern Conference have a positive differential, but the top three in the Atlantic Division dominate the category. Boston (+51) and Tampa Bay (+58) lead the league by a comfortable margin. Toronto is +30.
The Flames trail the L.A. Kings by four points for the last Western Conference wild-card spot and the Kings have a game in hand.
The Flames top six forwards can be an exciting group. Sean Monahan centers Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau on the top line, and Matthew Tkachuk rides left-side on Mikael Backlund on the second line.
Gaudreau has 73 points (20g, 53a) in 66 games. He is ninth in NHL scoring.
Art Ross Chase
Evgeni Malkin remains in second place, overall. He trails Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov by six points, 85-79.
Phil Kessel has slipped to seventh place with 74 points.
Holy Florida Panthers, Batman. Yesterday, the Panthers beat the Flyers 4-1. It wasn’t even that close. The Panthers have won six in a row and eight of 10. If you enjoy wicked breakaway goals, Florida held a clinic.
The Panthers trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by one point and New Jersey by four points for the Eastern Conference wild-card spots, but the Panthers have three games in hand on both. Yes, three games in hand.
The teams in front of the Panthers have done their part to help the Panthers, too.
On Sunday, the Blue Jackets held on beat the San Jose Sharks, 4-2. The Blue Jackets salved a win on their three-game west coast swing. CBJ had leads against the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks but eventually lost both. Artem Anisimov had a pair of goals. Evander Kane scored his first goal in a Sharks sweater.
Taylor Hall extended his scoring streak to 19 games with a goal and an assist, but the New Jersey Devils lost to Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2. Fleury stopped 33 of 35 shots. And, because we’re not stupid, we know you want more Fleury, so here you go: