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Penguins notebook: Cullen not surprised by Jagr longevity

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, 9:03 p.m.
Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) flies off the ice as he goes for the puck against Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic during the first period Saturday.
Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) flies off the ice as he goes for the puck against Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic during the first period Saturday.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr has amazed the hockey community by continuing to be an elite offensive player even as his 44th birthday approaches in about a week.

It's not a shock to Penguins center Matt Cullen.

Cullen and Jagr were teammates with the New York Rangers a decade ago.

“He's always amazed me,” Cullen said. “I was always so impressed with how much he put into the game, into his body and into his game personally. He was there at the rink when I'd show up. He'd been there for a while, and he was usually the last one to leave.”

While Jagr is the oldest player in the NHL by almost five years, the 39-year-old Cullen isn't far behind. He's the league's fifth-oldest player, still an important piece of the Penguins puzzle while playing in his 19th pro season.

Cullen credits his longevity to an increased commitment to off-ice training as he gets older.

“I think there comes a point in your career where you either figure that out or you don't,” he said. “If you don't, you might have a good career and everything, but it's going to be shorter than the other route. (Jagr is) a guy that obviously figured it out at an early age. He's put a lot into it. This game is all about what you put into it.”

No more on Malkin

Coach Mike Sullivan offered no update on Evgeni Malkin's condition, saying the star center's status would be reevaluated before Monday's game with Anaheim.

On Thursday, Sullivan said Malkin would miss the weekend trip to Florida with a lower-body injury.

Goalie talk

After Marc-Andre Fleury gave up nine goals on 37 shots over 41⁄2 periods in his previous two starts, Sullivan decided to start backup Jeff Zatkoff on Saturday night.

“We have a tentative game plan when we look at the schedule in the big picture,” Sullivan said. “Nothing's ever etched in stone, but we do have a game plan on how we're going to use our goalies in order to put them in a position where they both can be successful. That's what we're trying to do now.”

Some coaches avoid meaningful conversations with goaltenders, treating their psyches like delicate flowers. Others treat them more or less like any other member of the team, talking to them regularly.

Sullivan is more of the latter.

“I talked to Marc (Saturday morning),” Sullivan said. “I think it's important that we communicate. I think it's important that I do that with all our players, but certainly Marc is a big part of this team. He's an important guy for us. So it's important for me to communicate with him. We had a good conversation.”

Sullivan said he likes to involve goalie coach Mike Bales in the process as well.

“He knows these guys really well,” Sullivan said. “I think he does a great job with them. He certainly helps us as far penciling in games for each guy, if you will.”

Standing pat

Sullivan made no other lineup changes, scratching defenseman Ian Cole for the fifth consecutive game and winger Sergei Plotnikov for the 11th game in a row. Rookie Oskar Sundqvist played for the second consecutive night.

“We were pleased with his performance, so we decided to go with the same group,” Sullivan said.

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

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