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Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins’ Tuesday afternoon practice at Honda Center ahead of their matchup with the Ducks on Wednesday night…

1. Murray remains status quo

Goaltender Matt Murray is on the West Coast trip and skated with the team today, but remains status quo. He has missed the last two games for personal reasons.

“His status is the same,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Matt’s just going to be a day-to-day situation. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow and we’ll make decisions day-to-day.”

2. Happy anniversary

The Ducks traded Carl Hagelin to the Penguins exactly two years ago today. When he first got the news that he was going to Pittsburgh, he never could have envisioned that he would return to Anaheim a two-time Stanley Cup champion just 24 months later.

“At the time, you’re kind of shocked when you get the call,” he said. “Obviously I knew going to Pittsburgh there’s a lot of good players and a great organization, so I was looking forward to that opportunity. There were guys on this team that had won the Cup before and when you have two superstar players like ‘Geno’ and ‘Sid’ and then you add Phil and ‘Tanger’ to the mix, you know you have a good chance.”

Hagelin enters Wednesday’s game against his former team playing his best hockey of the season.

Playing on a line with Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, Hagelin has gotten on the scoresheet in three straight games (1G-3A-4P) and is coming off his first multiple-point effort of the season in Sunday’s 5-2 win over New York. He’s been feeling good for a while now, and it’s translating to the scoresheet.

“For me, it’s all about how I feel on my skates when I feel like I can move the way I want to out there and I can skate the way I want to,” he said. “The game gets a lot easier. It’s different for every guy. Some guys like to have their hands feel a hundred percent and other guys just want their mind to feel 100 percent. But for me, it’s when my skates and my legs are feeling the way they need to feel so that I can play my best.”

Hagelin tends to find his game during the second half of the season, almost like he’s building up steam for the first half of the year before exploding down the stretch.

“I wish it wasn’t like that, but usually that’s been the case,” he admitted. “Around Christmas I start finding my legs and my skating and hopefully that’s the case.”

3. Workflow

The Pens used the same lines and D-pairs that have been working for them throughout their four-game win streak…








“It’s been good,” Sullivan said about settling into some consistency with the combinations. “We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, it’s just that circumstances haven’t always allowed us. We think our team is the hardest to play against when we have the balance through our lineup, when we have the ability to play four lines because we don’t tax guys. That helps us to play at the pace we want to play. We really haven’t been able to do that with any level of consistency up until probably the last few weeks. We’re going to try and do that as much as we can moving forward because we think it gives our team the best chance to win.”

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Penguins forward Phil Kessel, the NHL’s seventh-highest scorer, was named NHL ‘Third Star of the Week’ after helping the Penguins win both games this weekend following their five-day bye week.

Kessel, who leads the Penguins across board in goals (20), assists (32) and points (52), contributed five points (2G-3A) in victories against Detroit (4-1) and the New York Rangers (5-2). He had three points against Detroit (1G-2A), and two more versus New York (1G-1A). Kessel had the game-winning goal in both wins.

This is the second-straight week that a Penguins player has been named ‘Third Star of the Week.’ Captain Sidney Crosby took home the same honor last Monday.

Sunday night against the Rangers, Kessel’s goal that gave the Pens the lead for good was his 20th of the season, the 10th-consecutive year he has reached the milestone. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kessel joined Keith Tkachuk and Patrick Kane as the only American-born players all-time to score 20-plus goals for 10 or more consecutive years. That tally was also Kessel’s 700th NHL point, making him the 27th American-born player all-time to hit that mark. He and Kane are the only active Americans with 700 points.

This season, Kessel has been one of the most consistent offensive performers in the NHL. He has only gone back-to-back games without a point once the entire season – back on October 16 and 18. Right now, he is riding a four-game point streak (3G-5A-8PTS) and a three-game goal-scoring streak. If he gets a point on Wednesday night when the Penguins begin a three-game road trip in Anaheim at 10 PM ET, Kessel will compile his fourth five-game point streak of the season.

Kessel is on pace to score 36 goals, and to establish career highs in both assists (57) and points (93).

In January, Kessel has helped lead an offensive revival that has led to the Penguins winning five of their first six games this month. During that stretch, the Penguins have scored an NHL-high 24 goals. Kessel is one of four NHL players that have already hit double digits in points this month – a list that includes three Penguins: Crosby (3G-9A-12PTS); Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (2G-9A-11PTS); Kessel (4G-6A-10PTS) and Evgeni Malkin (5G-5A-10PTS).

This season, Kessel (7th overall), Crosby (13th) and Malkin (14th) all rank among the NHL’s top-15 scorers. The Philadelphia Flyers are the only other team that has three players ranked that high.

Kessel and the Penguins currently sit in the top Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference playoff field. Pittsburgh aims to establish a season high by winning its fifth-straight game on Wednesday night.

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Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray is in Canada with his family to tend to a personal matter and will be away from the team indefinitely.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions recalled Casey DeSmith from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to serve behind Tristan Jarry. The Penguins host Detroit on Saturday and the New York Rangers on Sunday.

Head coach Mike Sullivan said Friday that Murray will miss at least one game and will be given “as much time as he needs.”

The Penguins are fifth in the crowded Metropolitan Division race heading into the second half of the season. Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to consecutive Cup victories, has been uneven at times this season. The 23-year-old is 15-12-1 with a 2.93 goals-against average.

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In Game 2 of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Round One matchup with Providence in the 2016 Calder Cup playoffs, Daniel Sprong received the puck on the halfwall during a power play and tried to backhand a pass to Tim Erixon.

Unfortunately, the pass didn’t make it to the intended recipient. Instead, it was picked off by Bruins forward Noel Acciari, who skated down on a breakaway and scored a shorthanded goal.

“Most coaches probably would have benched him at that time,” said former Penguins associate GM Jason Botterill, who was also GM of WBS at the time.

But not WBS head coach Clark Donatelli. Instead, Donatelli used it as a teaching moment, communicating to Sprong what he should have done differently in that situation.

“Then, to Clarkie’s credit, in the second period he actually popped him up to the first line and sure enough, who scores a goal?” Botterill recalled. “Then, he gives him more ice time in the third period, and who scores the overtime winner? It’s Daniel Sprong.”

That’s just one example of the many teaching moments that have taken place with Sprong over the last two years. He’s been a thrilling prospect since the Penguins made him their top draft pick in 2015, taking him in the second round (46th overall), and that excitement only intensified when he made the team’s NHL roster out of training camp.

Sprong would appear in 18 games for Pittsburgh before returning to junior hockey. But the excitement continued to rise as he posted eye-popping numbers in the QMJHL and AHL since that time, ramped up when Sprong was recalled back to Pittsburgh on Dec. 30, and reached a fever pitch in his fourth game with the team on Jan. 5.

That night, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan started Sprong on a line with Sidney Crosby, and the rookie winger scored twice and added an assist in Pittsburgh’s 4-0 win over the New York Islanders.

Sprong may have made everything look easy in that game, but the process he went through to do so is anything but. His offensive ability – most notably his shot – is his strength, which has been obvious.

But what had also been obvious is that Sprong needed to work on the defensive side of his game and become a more complete player if he wanted to earn a permanent spot in Pittsburgh.

Sprong also needed to work on becoming more mature – which, let’s be honest, what 18-year-old doesn’t? And following his first stint in Pittsburgh, that became apparent to Sprong as well.

“Just seeing what it was like until Christmas, just how guys were acting on and off the ice and going back to juniors and seeing guys my age who were younger acting differently than the pro guys did, I really saw a big difference in that,” Sprong said.

“Just the way they behaved, how they prepared and stuff was a big change. I saw then I had to mature, just the way I have to be as a pro. I think I’ve done a lot of that on the ice and especially off the ice.”

The process began with that first re-assignment to Charlottetown in 2015, where Sprong tried to take what he learned in Pittsburgh to the Islanders. He then joined WBS for that Calder Cup run, where Sprong finished with five goals in 10 games before returning to Pittsburgh to be part of the Black Aces during the Penguins’ 2016 championship run.

It was during a practice with the Black Aces that Sprong hurt his right shoulder, an injury that required surgery and came with a recovery timetable of 7-8 months. The rehab process was lengthy and grueling, but Sprong did what he could to continue his development throughout.

Most notably, he watched a lot of the Penguins’ postseason games from home while making mental notes – seeing what players were doing in the defensive zone and how he could implement that into his game.

Sprong took that mindset with him back to Charlottetown, where he returned to game action last January. After about three to five games, Sprong said he started feeling like himself again, and that’s when his game took off.

Despite missing most of the season, Sprong finished the year as one of the highest-scoring players in the QMJHL with 32 goals and 59 points in just 31 games. Those numbers included four hat tricks, one four-goal game and 10 multi-goal games

During that time, Mark Recchi, then the Penguins player development coach, made frequent visits up to Prince Edward Island – something he had done ever since Sprong initially returned to Charlottetown back in 2015 – while Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin also stopped in.

“(Recchi) has been really good to me,” Sprong said. “We went for dinners, he talked to me there. He’s a great player, so anything he says, you take it and try to put it into your game. Even Bill Guerin came down, so that’s pretty cool. Watched me play and then talked about the game, what he liked, what he didn’t like. That’s great advice.”

During his time in Prince Edward Island and in his talks with the Islanders coaching staff, what impressed Guerin the most about Sprong’s final season in junior was that the maturity that needed work had manifested itself.

“He’s not cheating to get offensive success, his offensive success is coming because he’s talented and he’s trying to play the best two-way hockey he can,” Guerin said of Sprong, who finished with a plus-29 after having a combined minus-50 in his first three seasons.

“Anything that his coaches and/or I talk about, he’s trying to implement. To me, that’s a good sign of maturity and that’s always the biggest hurdle. He’s got God-given ability and that’s not going to go anywhere. It’s just working on the rounded game and he’s doing that.”

Guerin also suggested that everything Sprong had been through up to that point had also helped with his maturity.

“Spending time with Pittsburgh, spending time with Wilkes-Barre, I think the injury has put things in perspective for him a little bit,” he said. “Going back to junior and having to handle that. All these things, at certain times they can make you feel good but they can also humble you and that’s what’s important. He seems like he’s gotten great experience that’s humbled him quite a bit in a good way.”

Sprong knew it would be his last chance to really develop and work on his game before making the jump to the pros for good, and he wanted to make the most of it. Once the season ended, Sprong turned his attention to having a strong summer heading into training camp, with the goal of playing in Pittsburgh at some point.

It started with being a member of the Black Aces for a second straight championship run before prospect development camp in July and the Prospects Challenge in September. And it was there that at times, Sprong appeared to be overthinking his game, sacrificing offense for the sake of defense.

After being held off the scoresheet in the first game, a 3-2 overtime loss to Boston, Donatelli felt that Sprong had given up a lot of opportunities to shoot. The message to Sprong was that they wanted to see more from him offensively, and that started with being more assertive. No more passing up chances to shoot. Play his game and do what makes him successful.

Sprong did that in Pittsburgh’s 6-2 win over New Jersey, scoring on the power play with a one-timer from the halfwall. He built on that in the final game of the tournament, a 5-3 win over Buffalo, finishing with 20 shot attempts against the Sabres, with fifteen of those hitting the net.

“I’m glad to see he’s shooting, because that’s what he does,” Donatelli said. “He’s a dynamic player and he’s a game-changer, and he’s definitely got a great shot. We want him shooting the puck.”

When Sprong reported to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign, Donatelli and assistant coach Tim Army continued to work tirelessly with him on finding that balance between playing his game offensively while being responsible defensively. That’s helped him tremendously in making all the details of a 200-foot game more of a muscle memory for him.

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As President Barack Obama once said: Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion. What he’s not, inexplicably, is a 2018 NHL All-Star.

Kessel was, perhaps, the most prominent snub when the rosters were announced on Wednesday, with Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Sidney Crosby getting the nod instead at forward. Kessel leads the Penguins in goals (18) and points (47) and even tops Crosby in points per game (1.07). He’s been demonstrably the best player on the Penguins this season. Yet not only did Crosby get in ahead of him, so did defenseman Kris Letang, who is 13th among NHL defensemen in scoring.

So what is this? Long-game punishment for Kessel tweeting snarky things about the World Cup of Hockey in 2016? Some twisted “Black Mirror” scenario in which Crosby, who has dutifully avoided the All-Star Game throughout his career and recently said “I don’t expect to be going” because Kessel was so good in the first half, is now forced to attend or pull out of the event? I mean, isn’t it bad enough that Crosby owns Kessel’s 2016 Conn Smythe? Now he gets his All-Star Game spot, too?

The other two most egregious snubs were in the Pacific Division. Vegas Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault has 40 points in 38 games and is driving one of the best lines in hockey, which also features William “Wild Bill” Karlsson and his team-leading 22 goals. But the Vegas pick at forward is … James Neal? Look, clearly this isn’t a meritocracy, but outside of Neal’s appeal to Penguins and Nashville Predators fans there’s no reason why he gets the nod over either of these guys. And unlike Neal, we’re pretty certain Marchessault and Karlsson will be with the team next season …

The other snub of note also involves the Golden Knights: On what plane of reality does Marc-Andre Fleury, who has all of 14 starts during an injury-shortened first half, an All-Star Game selection over John Gibson, who has 33 starts and a .923 save percentage? Did Gibson hurt his back carrying the underwhelming husk of the Anaheim Ducks to within a sniff of the wild card?

But hey, Fleury’s a better quote than Gibson. And like Neal, will have other markets beyond his current one cheering for him.

Emily Kaplan: The St. Louis Blues have dropped off lately. They’ve lost 10 of their past 15 and no longer lead the Central Division, which they dominated for the first two months of the season. But they’re still in playoff contention, they’re still a dangerous team and they still have one of the league’s most elite talents in Vladimir Tarasenko. I am stunned he was left off the Central Division’s roster. The Blues did have two representatives in Brayden Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo. I don’t want to take anything away from the terrific season Schenn is having — reviving his career after a trade from the Philadelphia Flyers. Pietrangelo, too, deserves the recognition. As a Central Division goalie told me last month: “I don’t think [Pietrangelo] gets enough press for how big of a role he plays for that team. He’s a great defenseman. Obviously, I think people talk about him and what he’s doing offensively, and people get too into his offensive numbers. But your first job is to play defense, and he does it just about as good as anyone in the league.”

That quote from a piece about the NHL’s most underrated stars. Tarasenko is on a different plane. He’s a superstar.

The league clearly is looking for starpower in this event — choosing, as Greg noted, Crosby over Kessel; Fleury; Neal over his two younger (and more productive teammates) in Marchessault and Karlsson; and Mike Green over the Detroit Red Wings’ two younger and arguably more valuable players in Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Tarasenko should hold the same celebrity weight as Crosby, in my opinion. But the difference is, the Russian winger actually deserves to go.

If I’m an opposing coach, I’m terrified of Tarasenko every time he’s on the ice. I hate to make this a Schenn versus Tarasenko debate. They have nearly identical stats — 44 points through 46 games, while Tarasenko slightly edges Schenn in average ice time (19:50 versus 19:34). Tarasenko does lead the Blues in goals (19). Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal is likely the player I’d replace (since he’s 41st in the league, with 37 points). Now it’s moot, but it’s a shame that a player of Tarasenko’s caliber will have to watch at home.

Ben Arledge: Listen, Kessel and Tarasenko are, hands-down, the biggest snubs, as Greg and Emily mentioned. There’s also definitely an argument that Sean Couturier or Jakub Voracek should have made it from the Philadelphia Flyers, or that Sergei Bobrovsky, Gibson or Devan Dubnyk could have earned spots in the net in Tampa. My biggest issue, however, aside from Kessel and Tarasenko, is with the Metropolitan Division defense selections.

Washington Capitals blueliner John Carlson, Philly’s Shayne Gostisbehere and Columbus Blue Jackets youngster Zach Werenski all made convincing cases for All-Star roster spots. They were snubbed in favor of Noah Hanifin, Seth Jones and Kris Letang. Carlson’s 34 points trail only Dallas’ John Klingberg among all defensemen, while Gostisbehere is fourth with 32 — 18 of which came on the power play. Additionally, Carlson is fourth in the NHL in average ice time, with 26:17. Meanwhile, Werenski, just 20 years old, is pacing NHL defensemen in goals, with 11. It’s a loaded division, but that is some serious talent left off the list.

I can see the case for Jones over Werenski for Columbus, and someone had to go from the Carolina Hurricanes (Hanifin is having a decent season with 21 points), but leaving both Carlson and Gostisbehere off in favor of Letang makes little sense. We’ll get to hear Pierre McGuire refer to him as “Kristopher” for the entire broadcast, but it also means two dominant first-half defensemen stay home.

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When Sidney Crosby is asked to describe his ideal linemate, it’s mostly a matter of three words: “speed” and “give and go.”

“Speed is so important,” Crosby said after the Penguins beat Boston, 6-5 in overtime, Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena. “Everyone’s fast. So, number one, you’ve got to be able to skate.

“The give-and-go is important. That probably tailors more to my strengths and how I like to play. That comes a little easier than the long, stretch pass or someone who likes to play a lot of one-on-one. The give-and-go-game is probably the biggest thing.”

Crosby has centered a plethora of wingers since he came to Pittsburgh in 2005. The latest are two rookies, 23-year-old Dominik Simon and 20-year-old Daniel Sprong, each summoned from the Penguins’ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm club and drafted to play with Crosby by way of trying to balance the scoring among the Pens’ top three lines.

“Dominik and Spronger have done a nice job in this early part of their NHL careers,” Coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s going to be a game-by-game process for them. It’s hard to bring it night in and night out. That’s part of the learning process when you’re dealing with young players.

“So far they’ve had a couple of really strong games [skating on Crosby's line]. We’re hoping we can build on that, and it certainly gives us the ability to create the balance we’re looking for.”

Sprong is an intriguing topic, a natural goal-scorer through Major Junior now skating with perhaps hockey’s best playmaker. The Penguins selected Sprong in the second round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Sprong scored 18 goals in 29 games with the WBS Penguins this season. He netted 117 times in 199 games while skating with Charlottetown, P.E.I., of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Sprong says he’s not intimidated by playing on Crosby’s line.

“I try to play my game,” Sprong said. “The biggest thing for me is trying not to watch him all the time. He’s such a great player.

“You just try to always be ready, and find the right spots to make it easy for him to give the puck. When I have it, he’s always in the right spot, so it’s easy for me to give him a pass. With Dom, we’re starting to talk a lot out there. We’re trying to find each other on the same page.”

Sprong is a shooter: Witness 18 shots in five games with the Penguins since being called up from Wilkes/Barre-Scranton.

“When I have a chance to shoot, I’m going to shoot,” Sprong said. “Sid’s an unbelievable passer and an unbelievable player. So I just try to put myself in the right spot and when I have a chance to shoot, I’ve got to shoot.”

Crosby assisted each of Sprong’s goals this season, both tallied in the Penguins’ 4-0 away win over the New York Islanders Jan. 5.

“They’re quick,” Crosby said of his current linemates. “They’ve got that energy and excitement, being in the NHL and playing some games. That urgency is there. We need that every night, and they certainly bring that.

“Spronger has got a great shot. Dom sees the ice well and makes little plays. We’ve seen some good shifts so far, but it’s been more that every line’s found a way to play in the offensive zone. When you do that, you’re getting tired defensive pairings and tired lines out there, and everyone benefits when that’s happening.”

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins’ 6-5 overtime win over Boston…

* The Pens are finally starting to build momentum. With tonight’s victory, they have now won consecutive games for the first time since going on a four-game win streak from Nov. 25 to Dec. 2. And was it ever a character victory for the Pens. They were going up against a team that was on a 10-game point streak and playing with plenty of confidence. Despite a bunch of momentum swings and a lot of adversity – most notably watching a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-3 deficit in the second period – the Pens battled through it all.

“I thought we stayed with it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I give the players so much credit for just staying with it and staying in the fight. I think that’s something we’ve talked about a lot in the last couple of weeks, just making sure that we control our own attitude and own pushback when things don’t go our way during the course of a game. We certainly displayed that tonight.”

* It certainly helps the Pens’ best players were just that: Evgeni Malkin scored twice (including the game-winner), and added an assist, Sidney Crosby finished with three helpers, and Phil Kessel and Kris Letang each recorded a goal and an assist. They were absolutely dominant on the power play, in the third period and overtime, carrying play for the Pens and leading them to victory.

* This was a tough night for the starting goaltenders. At one end, Tuukka Rask was fighting the puck all night. The Pens could sense it, and they kept firing it at him, never letting him get comfortable and beating him clean on most of the goals. Putting up six on a goalie like Rask is incredibly impressive considering he had allowed one goal or less in each of his last five starts. At the other end,  Tristan Jarry had been terrific for the Pens heading into the game and earned the nod, but struggled at times against a Bruins attack that scored at least five goals for the fifth time in their last six contests.

He was replaced by Matt Murray late in the second period, who came in and was strong in relief. He made a game-changing save with 1:01 left in regulation and the teams tied 5-5. Brad Marchand was awarded a penalty shot after a breakaway attempt, but Murray turned aside his attempt to keep the score even and allow his teammates to get the overtime winner.

* The goalie switch was a wakeup call for the Pens, who responded almost immediately. With just 3.6 seconds left in the second period and Pittsburgh on the power play, Crosby made an unbelievable no-look backhand pass from the corner right on Malkin’s tape. He went down on one knee to bury the one-timer, and helped shift the momentum back on Pittsburgh’s side heading into the intermission. Riley Sheahan made sure they kept that momentum by scoring the tying goal less than three minutes in. From there, the Pens pressed and pressed and refused to let their foot off the gas pedal like they did in the second, outshooting the Bruins 17-6 in the period.

* Overall, the Penguins dominated on special teams tonight. Despite having a big challenge in Boston’s No. 2-ranked penalty kill, which has been so successful because of its aggressiveness, Pittsburgh’s No. 1-ranked power play continued to thrive as both Malkin and Kessel found the back of the net.

“I just think they’re so dynamic,” Sullivan said. “They’re instinctive. They have a scheme, there is a framework there, but what separates them from other power plays is their movement and their instinctive play when they go off the grid a little bit. As a coaching staff, we laugh a lot internally because we would say, how do you prescout our power play? I’m not sure if it’s possible because sometimes we don’t even know what they’re going to do. I think that’s just an indication of their talent level and instincts that they bring to the table.”

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s penalty kill thwarted both of Boston’s man-advantage attempts with some tremendous blocks and clears. They are now perfect on the PK in seven straight games. The unit nicknamed the Jacques Squad has had to use different personnel with guys in and out of the lineup, but they’ve jumped in seamlessly. Meanwhile, Riley Sheahan has been an anchor, logging a team-high 2:27 shorthanded minutes while also chipping in a goal

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The Penguins welcomed seven service and adoption dogs to PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night for their contest against the Boston Bruins.

The special guest dogs and their owners were given a red carpet entrance prior to puck drop. The “Puppy Party Suite,” sponsored by Rachael Ray Nutrish, a signature brand of Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, gave pets and their owners a night to remember as they were able to watch the game from one of PPG Paints Arena’s large party suites.

“We were really excited to do something like this; what better way to mash up the two worlds,” said Samantha Bridger, PR director of Ainsworth, describing the quality of this partnership and event between the Penguins and Ainsworth. Thanks to the help of Steve Joyce and Samantha at Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, the Puppy Party Suite was a huge success.

Guests were selected through a social media nomination process with winners being chosen for their heartwarming stories of adoption and service. For instance, “Cuspie,” a Brussels Griffon, found a home with Mariana Ortiz after Cuspie was hit by a car and needed emergency surgery.

The Puppy Party Suite had its own version of the “Two-Headed Monster” as Labrador-Husky mix named “Sidney” and a Whippet, “Geno,” were in attendance. Jake Holmes rescued Sidney just hours before she was to be euthanized and decided to name her after the first goal scorer of Game 6 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final. But after Phil Kessel notched the first goal of the game, with a primary assist from Sidney Crosby, Holmes decided Sidney was a much better namesake instead of “Phyllis.”

“I would have never imagined this, this is fantastic, this is awesome,” said Holmes when asked if he ever thought he’d see a Penguins game with Sidney.

Geno and owner John Avolio have shared a connection since they first met, as Geno ran into John’s arms when seeing him for the first time. “He’s been an awesome rescue pet ever since that day,” said Avolio. Geno is a therapy dog at multiple oncology centers and facilities for the mentally and physically-disabled, and also participates in the Pawsitive Reading Program, where he listens to children reading him stories.

Brendan Garay and his family found a terrier laying under a car trying to keep warm. Garay brought “Kali” into their home and have had the dog since. “Morgan” helped bring happiness back to Lauren Betar and her family after they lost their dog and house in a fire, while “Biscuit” was given a home by Amanda Gribble Surratt following a fire on a Pittsburgh farm that left Biscuit in an unfavorable situation. Kacie Yost gave a home to “Missy” after Missy jumped right into her arms the first time they met.

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Once upon a time, two Stanley Cups ago, it appeared the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chance to win a championship was over. When the team fired head coach Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, 2015, it was in dire straits. Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had seen a drop in production, the depth beyond them was weak, the team was up against the salary cap and it had a starting goalie with a poor recent playoff history.

Then a number of things went the Penguins’ way. New coach Mike Sullivan kicked them into high gear, playing aggressive, up-tempo hockey, and GM Jim Rutherford traded for key role players Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley. Young goalie Matt Murray came out of the AHL to raise two Cups.

Depending on how optimistic you want to be, you could take different morals from the story of the 2015-16 Penguins. Yes, their recent past proves they can rebound quickly so long as Crosby and Malkin are still around. But a lot of things had to break their way — things that are unlikely to be repeated.

After being a popular Stanley Cup pick this preseason, things haven’t gone swimmingly for the Pens in 2017-18, and they’re currently out of a playoff position. Which direction will the remainder of the season go for the Penguins? Let’s have a look.

Is a hot stretch on the way?

It can be challenging to figure out whether a team’s struggles during a stretch is a matter of poor play or simply puck luck. There are certainly reasonable criticisms of the Penguins’ play, but in this case it’s easy to see how luck is impacting their place in the standings.

At even strength, Pittsburgh has the worst goals for percentage in the NHL. Worse than Arizona. Worse than Buffalo. Dead last.

Considering the talent, it seems unfathomable that the Penguins could be dominated so badly. But their play might not be matching up with the results. Pittsburgh has put the second-most shots on goal in the NHL this season, and has outshot opponents by 136 shots. They have a 50-50 split in scoring chances and close shots, according to the analytics website Natural Stat Trick. But Pittsburgh also has both the worst shooting percentage and worst save percentage in the NHL.

Taking more shots on goal and getting the same number of close shots as opponents, and still ending up last in goal differential is quite difficult to do. In fact, Pittsburgh’s numbers in shots and high-danger shots aren’t much different from last season:

Unfortunately for the Pens, the player with the worst luck of anyone has been Crosby. The future Hall of Famer has never posted a 5-on-5 shooting percentage below 10 percent. This season, just 4.2 percent of his even-strength shots have found the back of the net. Last season, he scored 26 goals at 5-on-5, while he has only three this season in that situation. Crosby’s shot rate is down from 2.3 even-strength shots per game to 1.8, but that shouldn’t be expected to sink his 5-on-5 production to the bottom of the league.

Additionally, Crosby has only six assists at 5-on-5 despite his team outshooting opponents 388-321 with him on the ice. Likewise, No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang has been on ice for a 370-323 shot differential — and the team has been outscored 39-15 during that time.

It’s not impossible for superstar players’ numbers to stay this low, it’s just extremely unlikely.

Adidas Youth Daniel Sprong Penguins Jersey Sale Cheap

The American Hockey League announced today that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Daniel Sprong has been selected as CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for December.

Sprong tallied nine goals – including three game-winners – and five assists for 14 points in 12 games for the Penguins in December before earning a recall to the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL). Among the rookie’s scoring outburst in December was his second hat trick of the season on Dec. 29 – part of a four-point effort in a 5-1 win over Hartford.

A second-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2015 NHL Draft, Sprong is tied for second among all AHL skaters with 18 goals and ranks fifth among league rookies with 28 points in 29 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. Sprong, a 20-year-old native of Amsterdam, Netherlands, leads all Penguins with 18 goals and 28 points this season, as well.

Sprong is the third Penguins player in team history to earn CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month, joining forward Jake Guentzel (2016-17) and goaltender John Curry (2007-08). All three players earned Rookie of the Month honors for their play in the month of December.

Sprong will be presented with an etched crystal award prior to an upcoming home game in recognition of his achievement.