Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff (37) replaces goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) is goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Associated Press

Zatkoff starts against Bolts because Fleury is dealing with an illness

The Pittsburgh Penguins made a last-minute lineup change on Saturday afternoon.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who was scheduled to start against Tampa Bay, will be forced into backup duties because he’s dealing with an illness.

So, it’ll be Jeff Zatkoff who faces the Lightning instead.

This is a huge game for both teams.

The Pens and Bolts currently own both Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference, but the Devils and Hurricanes aren’t too far behind.

Wild Card

The Penguins haven’t announced if Fleury will be healthy enough to start against the Sabres on Sunday.

Pens’ Fleury on head coach Sullivan: ‘He’s been good for us’

Pittsburgh Penguins' coach Mike Sullivan gives instructions during the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. The Penguins won 5-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Associated Press
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When Mike Sullivan took over as the Penguins head coach on Dec. 12, the team was right behind Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Heading into the All-Star break, Sullivan and his staff have Pittsburgh clinging to that final Wild Card spot, but what’s most encouraging is their improved play.

The Sullivan era didn’t start off on the right foot.

The Penguins lost their first four games with him behind the bench and they managed just three wins in his first nine contests, but that losing streak seems like a distant memory with the way Pittsburgh is playing now.

“I like him,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “He’s intense. He’s got some emotions. He’s upbeat. He’s honest and straight to the point. He’s been good for us.”

In January, the Penguins went 6-2-3 with Sullivan at the helm and improved to 9-3-4 after the four game losing streak.

His serious approach behind the bench seems to be having its desired affect on the players.

“I don’t look at myself as this hard coach,” Sullivan said. “I think I’m an honest coach. I think I’m a matter-of-fact coach. I told these guys at our first meeting: ‘We have some great players in the room. Our challenge is to become a great team. It’s my responsibility to try to facilitate that process.’

“I like to have as much fun as the next guy, and I think in time our players will see it. But, you know, we’re in a circumstance here that I think has called for a serious approach. The conversation I have with them all the time is, how do we have to play in order to win, and what is your contribution?

Sullivan’s arrival has also coincided with the improved play of Sidney Crosby.

The Pens captain had 19 points in 28 games before the new coach’s took over and 22 points in 20 games since.

On a lighter note, here are some fun facts about coach Sullivan (via The Tribune):

-Billy Joel is his favorite musical act.

-His favorite Broadway musical is Jersey Boys (he’s seen it four times).

-He doesn’t invest much time in fixing his hair before games.

Fleury shines as Penguins take Devils’ wild card spot

Marc-Andre Fleury
AP
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are red-hot right now, to the point that they probably wish that the All-Star break could be postponed.

It was a battle of hot Eastern Conference bubble teams on Tuesday, and Marc-Andre Fleury really stood out in blanking the New Jersey Devils for a 2-0 Pittsburgh win.

(Full highlights will be added when available, as Fleury made some nice stops among his 25 saves.)

The Devils saw a four-game winning streak come to an end to the Penguins, who’ve won three straight and four of five during their own torrid run.

Maybe most significantly, this results pushes the Penguins into the East’s second wild card spot. Pittsburgh holds two games in hand on the Devils, so they get the tiebreaker with each team at 55 standings points.

Pittsburgh isn’t just looking down, as the Penguins now find themselves in the mix for the third or maybe even second seed in the Metro.

Here’s how it looks right now:

2. Rangers – 59 points, 49 games played
3. Islanders – 56 points, 47 GP

WC 2. Penguins – 55 points, 48 GP
Devils – 55 points, 50 GP

One would imagine that the Penguins are content with the idea of getting into the postseason, at least right now.

The rest of the East might be a little anxious, especially with how Sidney Crosby‘s been looking lately:

Pens stay hot as Fleury spurns Canadiens

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MONTREAL (AP) Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 33 shots, Bryan Rust scored his first goal of the season to put Pittsburgh ahead in the second period, and the Penguins beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 Saturday night.

Patric Hornqvist and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who are 3-1-2 in their last six games.

P.K. Subban scored for Montreal and Mike Condon, playing for the injured Carey Price, finished with 29 saves. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien announced Friday that Price would not play until after the All-Star break.

Subban tied the score with 9:21 left in the second period with his second of the season – and first in 34 games – on a one-timer from the point.

Rust put the Penguins in front for good, beating Condon top shelf on a breakaway with his second career goal about 3 1/2 minutes later.

Fehr added a short-handed empty-netter with 10 seconds left in regulation.

Montreal has not won consecutive games since late November.

The Penguins were all over the Canadiens for much of the game, beating them to loose pucks and applying constant pressure on the puck carrier.

With Torrey Mitchell in the box for high sticking in the second, Hornqvist eluded Montreal’s defense and slotted home his ninth of the season from the edge of the crease at 7:18 to make it 1-0.

Evgeni Malkin got an assist on the goal, his ninth point in his last six games.

Pittsburgh’s power play, ranked 15th overall in the NHL, has been dominant over the last four weeks, scoring 11 goals in their last 10 games.

Fleury made 16 saves in the third period.

Condon had to be sharp in the first period to keep the game scoreless. He made a sensational pad save on Sidney Crosby early on, and made back-to-back stops on Malkin and Kris Letang late in the period.

Condon was less dominant in the second, however, when Hornqvist and Rust prevented him from getting his fourth consecutive victory.

NOTES: Greg Pateryn was in the lineup for Montreal in place of the injured Jeff Petry (lower body). … Andrei Markov was reunited with Subban on Montreal’s top defensive pairing. They each played more than 27 minutes. … Pittsburgh’s Tom Kuhnhackl, 23, made his season debut. … This was the last of three meetings between the Canadiens and Pengins this season.

Goalie nods: Fleury starts for Pens after missing eight games with a concussion

Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby
Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins will get Marc-Andre Fleury back in their lineup for Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders.

Fleury missed eight games because of a concussion, but the Pens activated him off IR early today.

“He’s a big part of the team,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the team’s website. “He’s an elite goaltender. His body of work here speaks for itself and how good he is. I know how much his teammates respect him and how much they like him and they play hard for him.”

Pittsburgh went 3-4-1 without Fleury, and as you can imagine, his teammates are glad that he’s back.

“It’ll be great,” Sidney Crosby said. “(Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff) did a really good job, but Fleury is coming back tonight. We’re happy to have him back and glad that he’s feeling better.”

The 31-year-old has a 20-9-5 record against the Islanders in his career.

Thomas Greiss will be between the pipes for New York.

Elsewhere…

–Louis Domingue will start for the Coyotes in Edmonton. The Oilers have yet to name a starter, but expect Cam Talbot to be the guy. He made 34 saves in a 1-0 loss to Anaheim on Thursday night.

–Look for Michal Neuvirth and Jonathan Quick to go head-to-head when the Flyers and Kings meet in Los Angeles, but neither team has confirmed their starter just yet.

Braden Holtby will start for Washington. He hasn’t lost a game in regulation since Nov. 10. Curtis McElhinney will get the nod for the Blue Jackets.

Pekka Rinne should be between the pipes for Nashville. The ‘Canes will turn to backup Eddie Lack.

Antti Niemi is the likely starter for Dallas on Saturday night. The Devils will counter with Cory Schneider, who shut out the Senators on Wednesday night.

Henrik Lundqvist should be between the pipes for the Rangers when they take on Florida. Roberto Luongo will make his first start of 2016.

Devan Dubnyk, who’s allowed two goals in his last two games, will start for Minnesota. Andrei Vasilevskiy will start for the Lightning.

–Expect Jake Allen to be in goal for St. Louis. He won three of his last four starts in 2015. Jonathan Bernier is the confirmed starter for the Maple Leafs.

–Don’t be surprised if Karri Ramo makes his ninth consecutive start for Calgary. Semyon Varlamov will be in goal for the Avalanche.

Connor Hellebuyck will start for the Winnipeg Jets. Martin Jones, who has four wins in his last six games, starts for San Jose.