No gameday skate for either team, given the back-to-backs, so I thought I would post five things to think about throughout the day.
1. What was up with scratching Simon Despres and will we see him tonight?
I would think so. He really has been pretty good so far – 1-3—5 in 17 games, a plus-7 – but his game is much more easily replaced by Robert Bortuzzo.
Fact is, by scratching Rob Scuderi, you’re also disrupting your penalty kill, as Scuderi averages 2:59 on the PK, third-most among Penguins defensemen.
Despres (3.1 hits per game) and Bortuzzo (3.4) are simply the most interchangeable of those Penguins defenseman you would reasonably consider scratching. (Would you scratch Kris Letang, Olli Maatta or Paul Martin? Didn’t think. Christian Ehrhoff makes $4 million and has shown signs of improvement recently.)
Head coach Mike Johnston pretty much ducked the question postgame, but he did say that he didn’t want anybody sitting for too long. Presumably this excludes poor Scott Harrington’s stretch earlier this season.
“A lot of our defensemen have been playing well,” Johnston said. “I don’t want to keep anyone sitting for an extended period of time. We won’t be on a rotational basis, but that was a decision we made (Friday).
2. Are teams really taking so few penalties against the Penguins?
Well, the numbers say so, anyway. Whether they’re truly being more cautious because of the Penguins’ top-ranked power play can be debated.
This much we know: Referees have awarded the Penguins one power play over the past 125 minutes – a slashing call on Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk at 19:01 of the second period on Tuesday.
You could split hairs and question non-calls, but I’m not going to do that. Especially since the Penguins coach seems to think that everything was OK, even though I doubt many of his players would agree.
“I thought it was a well-reffed game,” Johnston said. “I didn’t think there were any penalties that deserved to be called out there. We had the one against us, but other than that there wasn’t anything. Usually in a hard-fought game like that, it’s physical; there’s going to be some penalties. But they didn’t try to overcall the game.”
3. Is Malkin’s line starting to find something?
Early on Friday was a struggle for Nick Spaling, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. They were on the ice for two of the Islanders first three goals. Then again, few Penguins excelled in the first period but more on later in the next point.
I don’t ever think this line is going to be considered your shutdown group, but the offensive upside they provide, like juicing a point out of a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals late, allows you to overlook some of their early defensive lapses.
Or at least that might be how the argument would go.
4. Do the Penguins need a better start tonight?
Uh, yeah. I’d say. Brandon Sutter scored on a deflected, then everything went downhill.
The Penguins finished the period with five shots. That’s half as many as Johnston wants in the first 10 minutes, one-seventh of what he wants for the entire game.
“First period we didn’t really give ourselves a chance with the way that we played,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play well at all. They carried the play and got rewarded for it.”
5. Does Blake Comeau stay on Crosby’s line?
I see no reason to take him off, at least based off of Friday night. A lot of folks seem in this big hurry to put Beau Bennett up top. He’s fine with Sutter and Steve Downie.
Comeau has shown to be extremely strong on the puck, and I think Crosby likes that. Adds diversity to what he does and would like to do. And Comeau scoring – even if it’s bouncing off the opposing team as happened Friday – doesn’t hurt his case, either.
“He generates a lot,” Crosby said of Comeau. “It was good to see him get one there off a skate, but the way he’s skating and creating things, he’s going to create opportunities. He’s done a really good job there.”
He would never admit it, he’s too classy, but you know Comeau is loving this. Last year he was buried on Columbus’ roster. Now his linemates are Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
First game for Comeau against his old team, by the way, is Dec. 13, in Columbus.
Talk to yinz from Nassau. My first visit to the old barn. Looking forward to it and getting ready by listening to this Dead show.
Be GRATEFUL to each other,