Penguins notebook: Trip to Western Canada rare thing of late

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Although Western clubs have dominated interconference play in 2013-14, there are exceptions.

One of the most prominent is the Penguins, who will enter their game tonight against Vancouver with an 8-2 mark against teams from the West.

The catch is that most of those games have been played at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins’ three-game foray into Western Canada — they will visit Edmonton on Friday and Calgary on Saturday — is their longest outside Eastern Conference so far this season.

“It’s going to be a tough road trip for us,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who characterized the Canucks as “a team that, for the last 25 games, has been one of the better teams in the league.”

Vancouver is 10-3-3 in its past 16 games, despite being in a 0-2-1 skid.

There was no interconference play last season because a lockout limited the schedule to 48 games, so teams are being forced to prepare for opponents with whom, in many cases, they are not particularly familiar.

“In the last year and a half, we haven’t played there against those teams,” Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen said. “You always play the same teams [in-conference].

“It’s fun to see a little bit of other teams and arenas and stuff like that. It will be a fun road trip for us going there and to spend time together, but we need to play a little bit better … to get some points,” he added, referring to the 6-5 victory Sunday against Winnipeg.

Talk about faceoffs

The Penguins have numerous set faceoffs plays, and when one results in a number of goals by a single player, it sometimes is named for him.

Not always, though, as Matt Niskanen has discovered.

His game-winning goal against Winnipeg capped a sequence that went pretty much the way the coaches draw it up.

Even though Sidney Crosby failed to control a faceoff against Olli Jokinen, Chris Kunitz was able to swoop in and push the puck to Olli Maatta at the right point. He fed it to Niskanen, who drove a slap shot past Jets goalie Al Montoya from the center point.

At this point, though, the play apparently will not be renamed, say, “The Nisky.”

“Usually, that’s how it works with the set plays, but, for some reason that one doesn’t change,” Niskanen said. “I don’t know.

“We just call that one a ‘D one-timer.’ We never seem to change the name for that one. That’s OK.”

Niskanen has tied the single-season franchise record for game-winning goals by a defenseman with four.

He shares that mark with Alex Goligoski (2010-11), Larry Murphy (1993-94), Michal Rozsival (2001-02) and Brad Werenka (1998-99).

Gibbons enjoys promotion

Rookie center Brian Gibbons, coming off a two-assist performance in the 5-2 victory Friday against the New York Rangers, got a promotion from the second line to the first Sunday, mostly because Evgeni Malkin returned to the No. 2 unit.

He also got a position change, moving into the spot injured right winger Pascal Dupuis filled alongside Crosby and Kunitz.

And while Gibbons didn’t get a point against the Jets, he did set up a handful of scoring chances around the net.

“Two great players and they have such good chemistry together and they’ve played together,” Gibbons said. “Just try to use my speed, get to loose puck and get it to them to let them do thing. Just try to keep it simple, work hard and use my speed.

“When you’re playing with good players, they’re going to be in the right spots and they know where to be. They’re always talking on the ice. A lot of times, you don’t even have to look.

“You know where they are. You know what to do. You know what they’re going to do before you’re going to get the puck and you have an advantage over the defensemen there.”


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. Seth Rorabaugh: Srorabaugh@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @emptynetters.

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