Some quick observations and notes off the Pens’ 5-4 home loss to Ottawa in Game 1 of the EQF on Wednesday night:
— LW CHRIS KUNITZ played 14:12 with a bum shoulder and delivered five hits. He, C JORDAN STAAL and LW RUSLAN FEDOTENKO combined for 15 knocks. Toss that output from those three at me before the game and I’d have said the Penguins would be up, 1-0, in this series.
— If Staal, LW MATT COOKE and RW TYLER KENNEDY are “the Nightmare Line,” perhaps LW JARKKO RUUTU, C CHRIS KELLY and RW CHRIS NEIL, a trio that combined for three goals and six points to go with nine hits, will need a catchy nickname if the Penguins allow them to continue at such a productive pace. I thought before this series the Senators No. 3 line could influence these games without producing points. If they are producing points, I need to think about how realistic the chances are that these Penguins can advance.
— G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY in the last two postseasons after a loss: 8-3, 2.10 GAA, .931 SV%. He’s not known as a big game goalie for nothing.
ON THE BEAT ROAD: ALEX GOLIGOSKI
As readers may know from past posts, a player often earns high marks with beat reporters in moments after losses. How a player handles himself in the dressing room during trying times is a measure of his character, and to a man this group of Penguins earns high marks from me.
Goligoski provided a case-in-point example after this loss. His goal late in the third period was his first in the playoffs, and it came during a stretch when he has felt considerable heat from players and select media members for a disappointing finish to his first full regular season.
Sitting at his locker bench with no media around, I approached Goligoski to speak about the game and, specifically, his goal. He responded with a quizzical look at me then in the direction of FSN Pittsburgh’s Stan Savran, whom I was unaware had targeted Goligoski for one of many one-on-one on-camera interviews that go to a club’s broadcast partner.
“I don’t know who I am supposed to talk to,” Goligoski said.
“Go ahead and talk with Stan,” I responded, knowing that I was in desperate need of tracking down other Penguins players and with limited time before I had to provide the Trib’s night sports desk with a (inside newspaper lingo alert) Quoter — game story with quotes, duh!
Several minutes later as I stood in the player’s lounge area awaiting a player, Goligoski passed me on his way into the training room.
“Rossi, did you still need to talk to me?” he asked.
Times like these are the ones that leave beat reporters fairly snarky when it comes to their territory, and I am no exception.
To be with a team daily for an entire season, or in my case several seasons, is to feel a sense of awkward connection to players. They are not my friends, and at some point I will write something that every one of them hates; but they are, in a way, my guys — and never is that more so than during the playoffs when TV and radio stations descend upon the hockey rinks as though they were the football field on the South Side. That contradiction-connection is equally uncomfortable and gratifying for me.
“Not now, ‘Goose,’” I said to Goligoski. “I wanted to ask about your first playoff goal.”
He had figured as much.
“When I score one in a win, I’ll get you then,” he said.
Good enough from one of my guys. I’ll hold him to that.
— BY ROB ROSSI