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Penguins Notebook: Karlsson Chirps, High Pressure ‘Fun’



Pittsburgh Penguins, Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson was having a little fun and bringing a bit of levity to the Pittsburgh Penguins practice Wednesday. It was picture day for the team, so they practiced at PPG Paints Arena, but Karlsson’s voice echoed off the thousands of seats.

He let teammates have it during drills, complete with laughter.

“Rusty, what the F—!” Karlsson bellowed to Bryan Rust, followed by a little love for Evgeni Malkin, to0. “G! Awww, G”

Karlsson’s elevated play, especially his ability to escape the defensive zone at full speed with barely a turn of his skates, has been one unsung reason for the Penguins’ turnaround.

The chirping brought a smile to everyone as they continued through the drills. The cutting hockey-type jocularity has been only occasionally present at Penguins’ practices this season. Rust, the original target, himself a usual chirper instead of chirpee, cracked a smile when asked about it.


The mood and atmosphere around the team is infinitely better than it was a few weeks ago. It’s not lost on the players, either.

Though Marcus Pettersson didn’t necessarily think chemistry was ever a problem.

“Good question. It’s tough to say winning always (helps). You guys, too, are always going to look at it that way when we’re winning, and it is going to be dissected when we’re not, and (everything) is thrown into bits and pieces,” Pettersson said. “I don’t think the chemistry has been off. I don’t think that’s been a problem, to be honest with you. We feel that desperation. I think it’s fun. When we give ourselves a chance, we’ve shown we can beat anybody.”

Pettersson gave the media and fans a pass for dissecting every issue and every little thing. Hey, it’s part of both of our jobs, and every fan’s right. It’s also why Pettersson is one of the good guys of whom to ask serious questions.

It would be pretty boring watching sports if neither of us analyzed, eh? Can’t criticize without praise, and vice versa.

Winning cures everything. The Penguins have points in nine straight games, with six wins in that time. Everyone is coming to the barn with a smile, even after only garnering a begrudging loser point against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.

Four games to go. They’re one point behind the Washington Capitals and three behind the New York Islanders. But they’re tied with the Detroit Red Wings at 84 points.

The Penguins face the Red Wings on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. It’s essentially a must-win game, or the Penguins will trail three teams and could be three and five points behind a playoff spot with only three games to go.

Yeah, it’s basically a must-win, though Pettersson didn’t let a reporter finish the question when he interjected.

“It’s a fun game. I mean, if you asked us a couple of months ago or a month ago, we’d love to be in the position we are in right now,” Pettersson said. “And, we’ve played good hockey lately, and we’ve got to make sure we keep calm and play with the same kind of desperation that we have and get pucks and bodies to the net.”

Sidney Crosby

The NHL players voted Sidney Crosby the most complete player in the league. That’s not bad for a 36-year-old whose contemporaries are looking forward to beaches and downtime. While Crosby knows the standings, he wouldn’t admit to actually peeking at them.

“No,” Crosby said with a simple head shake.

“I feel like for the last two, three weeks here, we’ve been right in it. I think it’s brought out the best in us. And now we’re playing good hockey. So, yeah, I think that we believe in our game, and we’ve just got to continue to do the same thing.”

Washington beat Detroit Tuesday night to leapfrog both the Penguins and Detroit into the wild-card spot. Detroit has just two wins in its last eight games, though that’s better than the Philadelphia Flyers, who have none in their last eight games. Philadelphia has tumbled outside the playoff picture, probably permanently.

Sometimes, there are no great answers as to why a team can rise from the playoff grave and have a great shot at getting into the postseason. Not even the players know. Coach Mike Sullivan punted a question about why it took so long for the team to gain traction.

“If we knew, we would have done it sooner,” Sullivan said.

Though Karlsson had the simplest answer.

“Winning games, and the other teams not, is the simple answer to that,” Karlsson said. “If we take care of our things, and whatever happens to us, you can be sure we’re just going to stay focused.”

Emil Bemstrom

Bemstrom may not be in the lineup on Thursday. With Sam Poulin’s demotion, the Penguins recalled Radim Zohorna, who could slot into the fourth-line center position that Jeff Carter has been filling in the absence of regular pivot Noel Acciari.

However, you may have noticed Bemstrom with a few breakaway chances in the recent stretch. He’s bringing the stretch pass option to the table in order to add some offense to the bottom line, and it’s not something he felt he could do in Columbus. PHN wandered over for a brief chat with the forward.

“I’m just reading the system better here than Columbus,” Bemstrom said. “I’m able to fly the zone a little quicker … use my legs more (here).”

Bemstorm, who has scored just one goal since his first game with the Penguins, has two tallies in 22 games. Barring an offensive explosion, the conditional draft pick that escalated to a third-round pick if Bemstrom scored six goals appears to be safe as a 2026 sixth-round pick.

However, he seemed happy to talk about playing with the Penguins, but every player does better elsewhere. Just ask Twitter.