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Penguins notebook: Blocking shots a double-edged sword

Jonathan Bombulie
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Penguins goaltender Matt Murray stops a shot by the Maple Leafs’ Kasperi Kapanen with Olli Maatta (3) defending during the first period Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Blocking shots is both a badge of honor and a necessary part of playing defense in the modern NHL.

The Pittsburgh Penguins probably would be better off, though, if they could keep the practice to a minimum.

The Penguins blocked 23 shots in a 6-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night. Winger Bryan Rust and defenseman Olli Maatta suffered lower-body injuries in the game. That’s probably not a coincidence.

After missing practice Sunday, Maatta was able to play for the Penguins in Minnesota on Monday night. Rust was not. His status is day-to-day, coach Mike Sullivan said.

It’s not that Sullivan is encouraging his players to avoid blocking shots. He knows how important a tool it can be.

“The more opportunities we have to deny the puck from getting to the net, it gives us a better chance to keep it out of our net,” Sullivan said.

He just would rather see his team have the puck more, which would limit the instances when they would have to resort to laying out in front of a shot.

“I don’t know that we want to be a team that’s blocking 20-something shots every single night,” he said.

Getting Malkin going

There are indications Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is beginning to snap out of the slump that has dogged him for the better part of the last two months.

Coming into Monday night, Malkin had a goal, four points and an even rating over his previous five games. He hadn’t been a minus in a game since Dec. 17. Conversely, he was a minus-18 in the 23 games before that.

Sullivan said the coaching staff has been doing what it can to help get Malkin back on track.

He believes playing with Patric Hornqvist encourages Malkin to use his dangerous shot more, so that line combination has been together for the past four games.

Sullivan and Malkin had a one-on-one conversation on the ice at the end of Sunday’s practice, as well.

“I think that’s part of our responsibility as a coaching staff, to try to help guys through some of the ups and downs of a season,” Sullivan said. “Everyone goes through it. Geno’s no different. We think Geno’s really trending the right way.

“We’re trying to surround him with people that can help him have success. We’re trying to put him in situations on the ice where he can play to his strengths. And we’re certainly trying to help him off the ice with any of the other things or the insights that our coaching staff sees.”

Crosby milestone

Sidney Crosby played in the 900th game of his NHL career Monday night, joining Mario Lemieux as the only Penguins players to reach that milestone.

Crosby trails Lemieux by only 15 on the team’s all-time games played list.

Back in the NHL

Mt. Lebanon native Matt Bartkowski was in the lineup for the Wild on Monday night, playing his second NHL game of the year.

Bartkowski signed with the Wild in July after spending most of the previous two seasons as a depth defenseman with the Calgary Flames.

After recording two goals, nine points and a plus-11 rating in 28 games with the AHL’s Iowa Wild, he was called up when Nick Seeler was injured last week and scored in his Minnesota debut, a 3-1 win over Winnipeg on Saturday.

“Most importantly, you want the team win, then you start thinking a little personally,” Bartkowski said after the game. “I think I had a pretty solid game and helped the team out.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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