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Penguins notebook: Yeo no stranger to midseason changes

| Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
USA Today Sports
Feb 2, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo watches from the bench during the third period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scottrade Center. The Blues won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
Blues coach Mike Yeo, a former Penguins assistant, watches from the bench alongside David Perron during the second period Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in St. Louis.
USA Today Sports
Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley chases the puck ahead of Blue Jackets left wing Scott Hartnell during the first period Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.

ST. LOUIS — Former Penguins assistant Mike Yeo, who took over for Ken Hitchcock behind the St. Louis bench Wednesday, has become an expert on midseason coaching changes.

In fact, it's how his coaching career began.

Yeo joined the Penguins organization as a 26-year-old checking center on an AHL contract during Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's inaugural season in 1999, but he had to retire after just 19 games because of recurring knee injuries.

The Baby Pens were operating without an assistant, so Yeo volunteered to help Glenn Patrick with coaching duties.

“It turned into a new career for me, and I didn't look back,” Yeo said.

Yeo's entree into the NHL also came at midseason. He was promoted from the AHL along with Michel Therrien to replace the Eddie Olczyk regime in 2005.

Finally, when the Penguins replaced Therrien with Dan Bylsma in 2009, Yeo stayed on as assistant coach and eased the transition between leadership groups.

As such, he doesn't feel unprepared taking over the reins for the Blues in early February.

“I'm not concerned whether I'm ready for it. I know that it's a great task,” Yeo said. “Usually you have the luxury of coming in and having a training camp and having all that time and exhibition games to really define your game. Even at that, it still takes usually 15 games or so for the team to really start doing it.

“We don't have that, but we don't have to reinvent the wheel here. Hitch is a phenomenal coach who had a blueprint that has worked for years. With a few tweaks here and there, without overloading the players, I think we can get back to the level we can get to.”

Open to ideas

Earlier this season, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said the team had a plan for how to dole out playing time in net, but it was written in pencil.

Even though Matt Murray made eight straight starts before Marc-Andre Fleury got the nod Saturday night in St. Louis, Sullivan said he still isn't using pen.

“As we've said all along, performance is always going to be the dictating factor, regardless of the position that we're evaluating and we're looking at. That's the business that we're in. That's the nature of the game,” he said. “That position in particular, we have two very capable guys. They're very difficult decisions. We talk a lot about it on a daily basis. Certainly nothing is etched in stone.”

Still making calls

Even though the first power play of Friday night's Metropolitan Division showdown between the Penguins and Blue Jackets didn't come until overtime, Sullivan said he's not sure officials have reached the point in the season where they start to put their whistles away.

“Every night is a different challenge,” Sullivan said. “It was a hard game (Friday) night, it was a physical game, but it was a fairly clean game. There were probably gray areas on both sides that referees had decisions to make, but for the most part, it was a hard-fought game. When I said after the game it had a playoff feel to it, that's part of what I was alluding to.”

Class honors

Phil Kessel became the first player from the ballyhooed 2006 NHL draft class to reach 800 career games played Friday night against Columbus.

Kessel leads the class in goals, too, with 290, ahead of Chicago's Jonathan Toews (260) and Carolina's Jordan Staal (182). Washington's Nicklas Backstrom leads the class with 693 points.

Injured Vancouver agitator Derek Dorsett is the runaway leader in career penalty minutes in the class with 1,240. Tom Sestito is seventh in that category with 475 PIMs.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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