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Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang represented the Metropolitan Division at the NHL’s All-Star Game tournament on Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena, suffering a 7-4 loss to the Atlantic Division.

¬†”It was fun. It was pretty tight for the most part, until the end,” Crosby said. “There were some big saves, some really nice goals, some nice plays. That’s what it’s all about.”

Crosby picked up a goal and assist in the contest while Letang notched a goal of his own.

“It’s a lot of talent. It’s a pretty open game,” Letang said. “You try to pass the puck more than you would. You also want to be careful with the goalies and players (for injuries). The fans paid money to come and see so you try to put a good show on and try different things.”

Crosby played with his longtime rival Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. The two superstars set each other up for goals of their own. Crosby teamed with Ovechkin last season and the duo helped lead the Metro Division to a tournament victory. Though this year it wasn’t meant to be both players enjoyed the experience.

“It was good,” Ovechkin said. “We didn’t have a lot of time to play out there, only a couple of shifts. But it was fun.”

“He’s a pretty easy guy to play with,” Crosby said. “As soon as you get over the blue line you look for him.

“He makes it look pretty easy. It’s fun to play with someone like that.”

Letang scored one of the nicer goals in the game. He collected a pass from John Tavares – he played with the Islanders’ Tavares and Josh Bailey – and juked goalie Carey Price to the ice before pulling the puck around the prone goaltender.

“Tavares was dangling and they were focused on him,” Letang said. “I was just trying to get there and be open. I faked the one-timer and walked around Price.”

For Letang, it was his first fourth All-Star appearance, but his first in the 3-on-3 format. He is a big fan of the new setup and hopes the league keeps it.

“It’s way better,” Letang said. “The 5-on-5 there isn’t enough room. Guys are just coasting. This you have to skate and there’s something to win. So guys are trying hard.”

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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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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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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.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have recalled goalie Casey DeSmith, defenseman Andrey Pedan and forward Garrett Wilson from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.

Defensemen Kris Letang and Chad Ruhwedel, and forward Bryan Rust, have been placed on injured reserve. Letang has been retroactively placed on IR dating back to December 24.

DeSmith, 26, saw relief action in two earlier games for Pittsburgh this year. His most recent NHL appearance was December 9 against Toronto when he stopped eight of nine shots in 38 minutes. At the AHL level, he is 10-5-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 17 games.

Pedan, 24, joined the Penguins in October in a deal from the Vancouver Canucks. The 6-foot-5, 213-pound blueliner has played in 13 career NHL games, all with the Canucks. This year, Pedan has 10 points (2G-8A) and is plus-5 in 26 AHL games with WBS.

The New York Islanders originally chose Pedan in the third round (63rd overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft. He is a native of Kaunas, Lithuania.

Wilson, 26, is in his second season in the Pittsburgh organization. He spent the entire season with WBS last year before joining the Penguins as a ‘Black Ace’ practice squad member during the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

This season, the 6-foot-2, 199-pound native of Barrie, Ontario has 14 points (6G-8A) and a team-high 54 penalty minutes in 25 games. He has played in 34 career NHL regular-season games, and six NHL playoff contests, all with the Florida Panthers.

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Here’s what the Pens were saying in the locker room heading into their Metro Division rematch with Columbus.

ON THE HOLIDAY BREAK

Crosby: “I think you always like getting away a little bit. Especially that time of the year. For us, it’s probably a good thing to get away. Recharge a bit and make sure we come back ready to have a good second half.”

Reaves: “It was really nice just to kind of get away from the rink and spend some time with some family. We were gone a lot the first chunk of the season, so just getting three days straight with the family is nice.”

Rust: “I think for us it was a good time for us to take away a few days away from the game. For each guy to just reset his mindset and come back fresh, a little more enthusiastic with a little more energy. For us I think that’s the biggest thing (having that) from the start of the game. We seem to find it later in games, but I think at the start is big.”

Maatta: “Three days, feels really good to just get away from hockey a bit. I think we just have to pick it up now. To spend time with your family, I think that’s huge, get away from hockey. Recharge physically, and just as important mentally.”

Sullivan: “I think it’s good for all of us. We get so immersed in our jobs day-to-day. When you have an opportunity to step away from it, spend some time with family and get away from the game a little bit. It also gives some quiet time for yourself that gives you an opportunity to maybe reflect on the circumstance that you’re in. I think we can all gain an appreciation for what we do and how lucky we are to play the game that we love.

“I think the reality is it’s hard to win. There’s a lot of really good teams in this league. There’s a lot of really good coaches, really good players, competitive teams and it’s hard to win. I think that’s the reality of it. Certainly, from my perspective by having the opportunity to get away from the game a little bit it gives us the benefit of perspective. The way I look at it is we have a great opportunity in front of us. We’ve got a real good team, we’ve got good players, these guys are battle tested guys. We have a big challenge ahead of us and we have to do everything in our power to get the results we’re looking for.”

ON THE REMATCH WITH CBJ AND IF THEY CAN CARRY OVER THAT EMOTION

Cole: “I hope so. We had a good game and obviously played with some emotion. I hope there’s some carry over for sure.”

Reaves: “You don’t want to try to do too much, too quick. I think you can’t let them get under your skin but at the same time we have to try and get under theirs. They like throwing the body around. I think we’ve got to try and play the same game plan. I expect it to be just like last game.”

Crosby: “You look at that game, they’re good for building character and coming together as a group, especially when you’re down and have to come back. Those are games you have to build off of. Unfortunately we didn’t follow it up, but those are the kinds of games you want to see a lot more of.”

Rust: “It’s a rivalry game. Any time you get two teams together that have some history in the playoffs and a little bit of bad blood, those things are going to happen. I don’t expect any different tonight.”

ON THE MOOD AROUND THE TEAM DURING THEIR STRUGGLES

Crosby: “I think we have high expectations. I think that we expect better and want to be more consistent and we haven’t found that consistency to the point that we’d like to. But I think it’s a constant battle every night no matter who we play, you’ve got to find a way to show up and make sure you give yourselves a chance to win and we probably haven’t done that consistently. We feel like that’s an area we’ve got to improve in. You look at the standings, you look at how tight everything is, there’s a lot of teams that are still searching for that too and it’s whoever does a better job of that here in the second half. That’s the way we have to look at it.”

Reaves: “I think a lot of the mistakes we’re making are correctable. I think we’ve talked a lot about line changes, that’s something that is easily correctable. You change going down into their zone, not on the way back. Little things like that are going to go a long way in this second part of the season.”

ON MAKING UP FOR LETANG AND HIS MINUTES

Cole: “I think it’s similar to what we did last year for the large portion of the year. He’s a guy you can’t replace. You can’t just plug someone in and say ‘hey, do what Kris Letang does.’ That being said, there are little things that everyone can do to chip in and take his minutes. Really do a good job of playing defense and get out of our end quickly. When we do that, obviously don’t turn pucks over, I think we’re a good team.”

Maatta: “It’s a lot of minutes that he plays, I think 25-30 minutes. I don’t think there’s one guy can do it. Everyone has to play more minutes now. We have a lot of depth in our D corps. We have guys stepping in, everybody has to play a little bit more and have more responsibility.”

ON HAVING MAATTA STEP IN ON THE TOP PP UNIT

Sullivan: “I think he distributes the puck pretty well at the blue line, he’s got real good hockey sense, he sees the ice well and he has a pretty good shot. For all those reasons he’s a guy that we’ve used on the power play since I’ve been here. We’ve used him obviously mostly on the second unit because of the guys we have here when we’re at full capacity with Letang or Schultzy. Olli’s a guy that we have faith in and we’re confident he can get the job done.”

Maatta: “I think just give the puck to the other guys to make the plays. Try to do nothing too much. I don’t think you have to do anything different. Just let Geno, Sid, and Phil do their thing. They’re such good players, they make things happen.”

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 4-0 setback against the Anaheim Ducks at PPG Paints Arena

* The Pens literally and figuratively gave this game away. Costly giveaways, sloppy play and unforced errors were the culprit in the Pens’ loss to Anaheim. The Ducks are playing in the final game of a 6-game season-long road trip, and the Pens could have used that to their advantage by making the Ducks exert what little energy they had left. Instead, Pittsburgh Christmas gifted Anaheim the opening 3 goals – all a result of poor decisions and execution.

This was not the performance the Pens wanted to show heading into the Christmas break. Perhaps getting away from hockey for a couple of days is what the Pens need to regroup mentally and return fresh for the second half of the season.

* The Ducks took an insurmountable 3-0 lead in just 23:42 minutes of play. Kris Letang’s errant pass led to Ondrej Kase’s breakaway goal just 3:10 into the game. A friendly fire collision between Carter Rowney and Jamie Oleksiak, who vacated his spot in an attempt to throw a check, led to Rickard Rakell walking untouched to the net for a backhand tally. Sloppy positioning on a power play gave Andrew Cogliano a shorthanded breakaway goal. Just like that, Pittsburgh dug itself a deficit that it couldn’t overcome.

* On a happy note, it was nice to see Pittsburgh-native John Gibson picked up his first career victory in his hometown. Gibson, who grew up in the suburb of Whitehall, made a fantastic diving blocker save to deny Sidney Crosby of a goal. “Johnny Whitehall” grew up a Pens fan and he had a lot of family in friends in the crowd to see his big win. He was named the game’s No. 1 star while picking up the shutout.

* It was an uninspiring performance by the Pens. But what’s most concerning is their current positioning in the Metro Division. With Carolina’s win tonight, the Pens are only 1 point ahead of rival Philadelphia, who sits in last place.

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1. Forward Patric Hornqvist will be a game-time decision with an upper-body injury. He practiced on Wednesday and at Thursday’s morning skate.

2. Newly acquired defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is expected to make his Pittsburgh debut tonight. The 6-foot-7, 255-pound blueliner also will celebrate his 25th birthday.

3. Tonight marks the 2-year anniversary of head coach Mike Sullivan’s first victory behind the Pittsburgh bench. Coincidentally, that game was also against Columbus. Sullivan has won 99 games since then to become the 4th coach in team history to reach 100 victories.

4. Columbus played on Wednesday evening, a 4-2 win against Toronto. Prior to the win the Jackets had lost 3 of their past 5 games, including matching 7-2 losses to Edmonton and Boston.

5. Second-year pro Josh Anderson leads the Jackets with 13 goals in 33 games. He’s set to best his rookie production of 17.

INJURIES

PIT – Patric Hornqvist (upper-body), Justin Schultz (lower-body).

CBJ – Brandon Dubinsky (fractured orbital bone), Ryan Murray (upper-body), Zach Werenski (upper-body).

MORNING SKATE

* The Pens held an optional morning skate. The only players missing were Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. Winger Phil Kessel, who missed Wednesday’s practice for a maintenance day, was on the ice.

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The Pittsburgh Penguins knew that this day would eventually come.

That is, the day that they would be face their former longtime teammate, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

“It’s going to be an emotional night (Thursday) when we’re facing him,” said Fleury’s close friend and fellow French Canadian Kris Letang.

Those same sentiments are shared by the rest of the team. Fleury has been beloved throughout the Penguins locker room ever since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2003, and many will find it bizarre seeing him in the opposing net.

“I tried not to focus on that,” Letang said. “It became a big part of the business that we’re in, you lose friends and make new ones. Obviously Marc-Andre was a special guy, a special player for the Penguins. It’s going to fun to see him. It would be better (to see him) on our side.”

But Fleury, who played 14 years in the Penguins organization after it drafted him first overall, is no longer on the Penguins’ side, thanks to his selection by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Fleury, who owns every Penguins franchise record for a goaltender, became expendable with the emergence of Matt Murray. The younger Murray, 23, shared the crease with Fleury last season and has helped Pittsburgh win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Murray credits much of his early success to Fleury.

“(Fleury) was definitely the biggest mentor I’ve had in my pro career,” Murray said. “I wish I had more time to study under him and be around him. Unfortunately, we’re on different sides now. It’ll be interesting. It’ll be a bit surreal seeing him at the other end, and competing against him. It’ll be a lot of fun as well.”

Murray, who continues to recover from a lower-body injury and hopes to start opposite Fleury on Thursday, recounted his first interaction with his elder mentor.

When Murray made the jump to pro hockey he joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The then 19-year-old had a historic debut in 2014-15. He won AHL Goalie of the Year and Rookie of the Year while setting a league record 304:11-minute shutout streak over the span of a calendar month.

That success caught the eye of the goaltender in Pittsburgh.

“We’d never really met before. (Fleury) sought out my number and texted me, ‘Congrats on a great season. See ya next year in training camp,’” Murray said. “It was short, brief, but I still remember it to this day.

“That tells you everything you need to know about the type of person Marc-Andre is. He was a really good friend to me and helped me through every challenge that we faced. I can’t thank him enough.”

But perhaps no player on the roster was closer to Fleury than Pittsburgh’s captain Sidney Crosby. The two were seatmates on the plane and spent a lot of time together during their dozen years as teammates.

And there’s no doubt Crosby would love to score against his old friend.

“When you shoot on a goalie for 12 years I think he gets to know your tendencies pretty good,” Crosby said. “I like to think I know a few things about him too.”

Crosby added that if he does score he will have “a pretty big smile” on his face.

But one thing is certain, regardless of how the game plays out Fleury will not shy away from being vocal in his crease. It’s just another aspect of his personality that made him so endearing to his teammates.

“I’ll talk to them for sure. I always did. It’s not something I’ll change now,” Fleury said.

“He’s pretty vocal in there,” Crosby said with a smirk. “If he’s hooting and hollering that’s probably not good for us. Hopefully it’s not too much on his side.”

But what’s most important for both teams is getting a win, regardless of who is or isn’t in the lineup.

“At this point it’s a big game for both teams,” Crosby said. “I’m sure it’s one that he’s been looking at for a while. We had a great time playing together. It’s different looking at him on the other side. We’re both going to try to do our best to come out to win.”

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Thoughts, musings and observations from the Pens’ 2-1 loss against the Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena…

* Goaltender Tristan Jarry made his sixth consecutive start and eighth straight appearance in the blue paint for Pittsburgh. His previous outing didn’t go so well as he allowed three goals and was pulled after 20 minutes against Toronto. The question was how Jarry would handle bouncing back from such an ugly outing.

The answer: magnificently.

Jarry made several ridiculous saves for Pittsburgh, including a shorthanded breakaway stop on J.T. Compher and a split pad save on Blake Comeau late in the third period. It was a tough test for the rookie tender, and he passed easily. Jarry gave the Pens a chance to win.

* Nova Scotia-native Nathan MacKinnon is off to the best start of his five-year NHL career. He was definitely the Avalanche’s best player in the game, and appeared to have scored his team-leading 14th goal of the season with a nice move around defenseman Kris Letang before slipping the puck through Jarry’s five-hole.

However, the Penguins challenged the play for offside. The challenge was upheld and the goal was negated.

* The Pens had their spurts of dominance, mostly in the third period, but it was an otherwise lackluster performance. Pittsburgh seemed to have no flow, appeared disjointed and its passes were off. Collectively, the Pens struggled to really find their game and assert themselves.

It was an uninspiring night all around for Pittsburgh.

* Entering the game, goaltender Jonathan Bernier had won just once in 10 previous appearances against the Pens. He improved that to twice.

* Phil Kessel extended his scoring streak to 5 games with a late third-period goal (4G-1A).