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Kevin Stevens Jersey

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BOSTON — Saturday’s game was nothing out of the ordinary for Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman John Marino.

Sure, the Edmonton Oilers selected him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft, and he wore their jersey for his draft day photo complete with a hat and a faux dressing room background. But beyond that and a development camp, his connections with that franchise were threadbare, at best.

He opted not to sign with Edmonton and has regularly cited an overabundance of prospects in the Oilers’ pipeline as his reasoning.

So was Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss at home to the Oilers significant?

“No, not too much,” he said. “I didn’t look into it at all. I just kind played it like any other game.”

Monday’s outing, however, was not like any other game for Marino.

The native of North Easton, Mass., played in front of several friends and family at TD Garden in the Penguins’ 6-4 loss to the Boston Bruins.

“A lot of ticket requests,” Marino said. “I kind of let my parents figure that out and sort itself out.”

Marino has sorted out life as an NHL player rather quickly. That was evident when the rookie scored his first career goal Monday in the building he attended many times as a fan of the Bruins.

After serving a two-minute minor for tripping and surging out of the penalty box, Marino collected an errant pass by Bruins defenseman Torey Krug on the Penguins’ side of the center line. Marino reversed course and chugged into the offensive zone, creating a breakaway.

Fending off Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Marino slid a backhander through goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s legs with three seconds left in the second period to give his team its only lead of the game. Teammates mobbed him while several loved ones reveled in the milestone.

“I was just trying to skate as fast as possible, get away from the defender,” Marino said. “It was a special moment there with family and friends. Something that I’ll always remember. That was pretty cool. “

Perhaps the only other person in attendance who could have offered a louder cheer was Kevin Stevens. The Penguins’ former star power forward-turned-scout was in attendance Monday. Stevens, along with director of player development Scott Young, made a passionate recommendation to general manager Jim Rutherford that prompted the team to acquire Marino’s rights from the Oilers in June.

“He played with my older son,” said Stevens, who scouts in the Boston area. “I coached him (when) he was 8 years old. We had a great team, too. We’d play all the best teams in the country growing up. You could see he was just a steady player, a steady defenseman. I just always thought he was a pretty good player. It was a matter of him developing. He got better. He kept getting better in college (at Harvard). I do a lot of college free-agent stuff, so I see him play a lot. He was one of those guys we got lucky became available. And I really liked him.”

Said coach Mike Sullivan: “Our hockey (operations) department thought very highly of John and his overall game. He got highly recommended by the guys that work for our scouting department that watch him on a regular basis. And they did tell us he is a guy that’s going to challenge for your lineup. And they were right.”

Marino has two points in 13 games while primarily being used on the third pairing with Jack Johnson.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Marino said of Johnson. “He’s been around the game for so long. Each game, I’m trying to pick his brain. Come back to the bench and ask him about certain situations. We seem to be playing pretty well together and kind of reading off of each other. So it’s been good so far.”

Marino’s ascension is even more impressive when you consider the jump he has made from playing at Harvard as a junior last season. The NCAA schedule is far shorter — and typically restricted to only weekends — than a typical professional schedule.

“It’s a lot different,” Marino said. “In college, you’re only playing 30, 32 games. We’ve already played a handful so far. It’s different. You treat your body different. You take it day by day. The practices are, I wouldn’t say less intense, but they’re shorter. They’re faster paced. You just kind of adjust as you go.”

Including preseason, Marino has played 18 games this season. By this point of the calendar with Harvard last season, he had played in four games. And he never played in more than 35 games during a season with the Crimson.

“It’s a significant jump,” said Sullivan, a product of Boston University. “Just the logistics, the amount of games that you play in and of itself, is an adjustment for players that go from college to the pros. But John’s done a great job. He’s done nothing but get better since Day 1 of training camp. He’s earned his way onto this roster, and he continues to earn his way onto this roster.”

Beyond the slick goal he scored Monday, Marino’s defensive work has made an impression and he has gained the trust of Sullivan and staff.

“He’s a real good defender. He’s a good, strong skater,” Sullivan said. “He closes on people as good as any defenseman that we have. He’s got a good stick. And then what I think what’s really impressed us is his ability to make outlet passes. He’s got poise with the puck. He finds that little pocket option in the center under pressure pretty well for a guy that’s new to the league. He’s getting better with every game that he plays.”

To this point, Marino appears to have surprised just about everyone in the organization with his steady play, even those who sparked the pursuit of him.

“I didn’t know he could play in the NHL right away,” Stevens said. “I knew he had a chance to be a good player, and he had upside. I knew him well, and Scotty knows him. We took a shot. Jim trusted us. Hopefully, it will work out.

“He has an opportunity to be here, get better and learn from a great coaching staff, a great organization. I knew it would be a great fit for him, and it’s worked out great so far.”

Notes: The Penguins practiced in Newark, N.J., on Monday. … Defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang and forward Evgeni Malkin did not participate. Sullivan told reporters Letang still was being evaluated for the undisclosed injury he suffered in the third period Monday. Malkin was given a “maintenance day.” Dumoulin returned to Pittsburgh after the birth of his son Monday. … The Penguins called up forward Sam Lafferty from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … The Penguins have a scheduled day off Wednesday, then face the New York Islanders at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Thursday.

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Matt Murray Jersey

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In the first game since the Pittsburgh Penguins announced captain Sidney Crosby would be out at least six weeks, the Penguins steeled themselves for maximum effort. The Penguins had a prime opportunity against one of NHL bottom feeder New Jersey Devils but couldn’t score. Penguins goalie Matt Murray also failed to stop a pair of goals he could have stopped including the game-winner.

The Penguins lost 2-1 to New Jersey Friday night and Murray was not pleased with his performance.

“Rebound. Guy put it in,” Murray deadpanned.

Murray is interestingly blunt and short when he chooses. The Penguins goalie does not embarrass reporters but he also doesn’t answer questions he deems obvious or unnecessary, especially after a tough loss. And Friday night was a tough loss.

“Average at best. I mean, I’ve got to be better if we want to win the game,” Murray said of his performance.

The Penguins bombarded the New Jersey net with shots and chances but Mackenzie Blackwood who started the game with a low .895 save percentage stoned the Penguins. If it was a goalie battle, Blackwood won in a landslide.

“We were the better team out there, and we deserved better,” Murray said.

The Penguins created a ridiculously high volume of scoring chances and limited New Jersey to the bare minimum. The Penguins outchanced New Jersey 31-12 and doubled them in high danger chances, 11-5.

But the important first game facing the rest of 2019 without Crosby, it was Murray who came up short for the Penguins roster which will struggle to score goals without Crosby, top defenseman Kris Letang and crash-bang winger Patric Hornqvist.

RedBeard’s Pittsburgh
Murray left the top corner open on the first New Jersey goal as he went to the butterfly to prepare for a shot from Zajac. Instead, it fluttered over Murray. It was a remarkably fluky goal as it deflected off Travis Zajac’s visor, and was not an actual shot. Murray lost sight of the puck which was otherwise stoppable.

The second New Jersey goal was also mostly on Matt Murray. After Penguins defenseman John Marino turned the puck over in the offensive zone, New Jersey forward Blake Coleman raced to the Penguins zone. However, Coleman sent a long wrist shot at Murray, but Murray misplayed it and lost sight of the puck. Coleman beat Marino to the net and poked the loose puck into the now open net.

“It’s a tough one, I think we would have liked that second goal (back). It was one of those fluky ones, he didn’t field it clean. It was kind of a nothing play that wound up in the back of our net,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.

The Penguins limited New Jersey to only two shots on goal in the third period and 21 shots overall.

If you’re an advanced stat devotee, the Penguins Corsi showed the game was mostly played in the New Jersey zone for the second and third periods. Stop me if you’ve heard that before. The Penguins kept the front of their net clean, as evidenced by the heat map from NaturalStatTrick.com.

The Penguins crashed the net but couldn’t find a second goal. They looked. And looked, but couldn’t find it.

The Penguins have lost (including OT losses), three of their last five games and trailed by multiple goals in all five games. The team has been, at best, lackluster in the first period. They have spotted their opponents chances, shots and goals.

Penguins Need Matt Murray
It’s not fair to ask Murray to win games, but the Penguins are in dire need now without Crosby. Someone has to win a game. Or two. The Penguins need an extra save or two, now more than ever. Murray is capable and routinely shows such powers in April, May and even June. If the Penguins want a chance to play into the warm months, they can’t lose traction now. This season, the Eastern Conference is deep.

There will not be a steep fall off after the two wild-card teams this season. Instead, it appears some talented teams could miss the playoffs. If the Penguins want to avoid another long, agonizing summer, they will have to find ways to win games without Sidney Crosby.

And their goalie will have to be better than “average at best,” for at least the next six weeks.