CRANBERRY, Pa — There was no lack of energy or pace in the first full Pittsburgh Penguins practice since they learned they would face the New York Islanders in Round One of the 2021 NHL playoffs, likely beginning this weekend. The Penguins injury woes appear to be behind them as all skaters were present, the line rushes were full of regulars, and the drills were directly aimed at the Islanders.
It was a dedicated practice.
The Penguins spent the first half of practice dealing with breakouts, reinforcing moves to sidestep forecheckers, and more breakouts. Those drills were in deference to New York head coach Barry Trotz’s schemes.
The team may get a little upset if we start diagramming their work before the series, though the Islanders staff may send a fruit basket.
The Penguins also worked on specific defenses, and transition plays against a few offensive zone wrinkles the Islanders are known to enjoy (cycling and peeling off the wall to the slot, for one).
At least one player was already in media-lockdown mode. We asked Kasperi Kapanen about one thing the Penguins have to defend against the Islanders.
“Just generally think they’re a tough team. But like you said, we played them against them eight times,” he said. “So it’s going to have to watch a little video and get ready for them.”
Thanks for that, eh?
Pittsburgh Hockey Now will break down the series this week, beginning later Tuesday with a tale of the tape breakdown. Then we’ll hit the film room for more. The more in-depth analysis will be for our PHN+ subscribers.
Fortunately, Bryan Rust gave us a little more.
“They’re structured so well of all defensively, it’s always going to be kind of a playoff-type game. You got to have some patience. You got to do those little things,” Rust said. “You’ve got to pay attention to details because any little thing that could go wrong, any little mistake can end up in the back of the net. There aren’t too many opportunities and too many goals. And in games like that, I think for us, our or our ability to stay patient and to kind of trust the process has been the key.”
Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Tanev, Evan Rodrigues, and Mike Matheson were a full go on Tuesday, though Rodrigues appears to be the odd-man-out because of Frederick Gaudreau’s lights-out play.
However, in the more competitive drills, Rodrigues took the 5v5 drills as the second-line center. Malkin did take his usual spot on the Penguins power play, which continued to fill the net after Malkin returned in the regular season. Towards the end of practice, Malkin was skating and putting pressure on his leg–one could interpret to keep it loose or loosen up–as his teammates stopped to watch the PP2 and PK2 units at the other end of the ice.
Perhaps Malkin has to heal up a little more to be 100% before Game 1. Then again, it’s the playoffs. He’ll play.
The Penguins practice, which was estimated to be well over by 11:50, in fact, stormed past that time on the clock as special teams work dominated the final 20 minutes.
The Pittsburgh Penguins lines at practice shook down like this (nicknames for a change of pace):
Guentzy – Sid – Rusty
Zucks – Geno – Kappy
Canner- Cartsy – Freddy
ZAR – Teddy – Tans
You’ll notice backup Casey DeSmith’s absence. Last week, head coach Mike Sullivan said he expected DeSmith to be available for the playoffs, but he is apparently still rehabbing a lower-body injury.
The Penguins capped off their spirited practice with penalty shots—Emil Larmi in one net, Maxime Lagace in the other. We’re not sure if the losers have to grow mustaches or–given the time of year–maybe beards. The final two Penguins remaining were top defensemen Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin.
“It wasn’t a mustache boy,” Bryan Rust smiled. “It was something else. I’ll let someone else tell you…”
Down to two, players followed behind the Letang and Dumoulin breakaways like chaperoning parents, pounding their sticks on the ice like a tribal ceremony. Eventually, Letang tired off the contest and roofed a toe-drag forehand deke over Larmi to cheers of the players at center ice.
PHN will update the story with locker room quotes and insights as they are available.