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Penguins WC Notebook: Sullivan Shuffles Lines, Gets Chills at Fenway

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan, Penguins lines

BOSTON — For every kid who ever grew up watching and playing baseball, Fenway Park is one of three cathedrals of sports left on the American landscape. The Pittsburgh Penguins, in their vintage Pittsburgh Pirates unis (the hockey Pirates, not the baseball team), will face the Boston Bruins this afternoon in the NHL’s Winter Classic.

In a unique twist, the Penguins’ owners own Fenway, but the Bruins will be the home team.

Sunday, head coach Mike Sullivan made a major overhaul to his forward lines. No line was untouched, and he went to a third-line configuration that may be his only chance to fix the declining play without GM Ron Hextall hitting the trade market.

Sullivan installed center Teddy Blueger in the middle of the third line, moved Jeff Carter to right wing, and pushed Ryan Poehling to the middle of the fourth line between Danton Heinen and Kasperi Kapanen.

“My whole career, I’ve been flipping back and forth … but the way our system plays out is that you play all three positions basically, so it’s not much of a switch,” Carter said.

The moves represent a major swing at fixing the ailing bottom-six, which has not produced scoring chances or successful levels of puck-possession on par with past seasons.

When on the ice, the Penguins’ third line had less than 30% of high-danger chances in December.

The fourth line might be a work in progress. Poehling had some success before Blueger returned to the lineup in November, but the line has two wingers who were to be scoring components, not fourth-line grinders.

With unpredictable outdoor ice conditions, a grinding line would be an important asset.

Sight Lines

It might seem trivial, but the speed of the NHL game makes every nuance important, especially the sight lines for the goalies. PHN put the question to Tristan Jarry, who had the best answer to any question all season.

“It’s still a little bit the same. The puck is still coming from the ice. It’s still white. The puck is black,” Jarry said with a wry grin. “I think the backdrop is the toughest part. Usually, you have seats right against the glass with people in them. And here, you’ll have a little bit of a gap between seats.”

Over the nearly two decades of the Winter Classic, more than a few goalies have struggled to find their visual points. And if you’ve ever wondered why teams like the Penguins, which feature black in their uniforms, have whiteout games instead of blackouts, it is because goalies can’t track the puck with a sea of black shirts in the backdrop.

Little things like visual points, even sunshine, can make a big difference.

Sun is forecasted today, according to our friends at Boston Hockey Now.

Evgeni Malkin had a near-ski mask on with eye-black, as well. It was a pretty good disguise. Sidney Crosby was one of many other players who used eye-black.

Many have already asked about the Irish flat caps the Penguins wore to the ice — yes, they were cool, but I cannot find them for sale. Give the NHL a minute. They will surely rush them out when they realize how popular they are on social media.

I’ll also see what I can find out from the stadium.

Mike Sullivan, Fenway;

I dearly loved Mike Sullivan’s answer about Fenway Park.

My first baseball game was a day game between the Pirates and Montreal Expos. I bounced around the back seat as we crossed the Ft. Duquesne bridge, staring at Three Rivers Stadium, which I had only seen on TV. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be one of the first 10,000 kids in attendance and would not get one of the batting helmet giveaways. (Spoiler: I indeed got a helmet).

Sullivan talked about his childhood and Fenway Park, getting to go to one game a year. (That’s how most of us grew up):

“Baseball¬†has always been a passion of my whole family … We got it from my dad. And I don’t know that there was a bigger Red Sox fan than him, maybe one of my uncles,” Sullivan said. “We grew up just idolizing the Red Sox. And we had the privilege to usually go to one game a year when we were kids at Fenway. And I remember those events like they were yesterday. And so I still get chills when I walk into Fenway Park when I take my kids. To this day, just it’s just a really unique place.”

That it is. From Sweet Caroline, that Dirty Water to the Monster and 86 years of heartbreak. This place … yeah.

Childish Nonsense:

I hope the NHL cleans the glass before the game. If there’s fog or condensation, we may get a free ad worth millions. We had too much fun at the media skate on Saturday night. You’d think I’m too old for such things. You’d be wrong.

PHN, Winter Classic, Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Last note:

Pittsburgh Hockey Now sends our condolences to Kris Letang and his family on the passing of Letang’s father. Kris has joined his family in Montreal.

The events occurred yesterday, and out of respect, PHN held the news. Our heartfelt sympathies go to the entire family. Letang was not expected to play in the Winter Classic due to a lower-body injury.

Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.