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Chats with Duper, Geno, Flower and Max plus some words for readers

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GETAWAY DAY GIFTS

Sorry for the few days between updates. Perhaps over the course of the summer I will detail the days of a beat reporter to provide readers a clearer view of my schedule. A peek at the past few days, however, would show that I spent a lot of time updating phone numbers of players, composing year-end and look-ahead analysis pieces to the Trib, and trying to get an early idea of what the next few months might look like in Penguins Land.

I expect them to be interesting, and in Sunday’s print product you can read my three suggestions for getting the former champs back on that Stanley Cup track.

Anyway, some give-and-takes I shared with players at getaway day on Friday. Please note these aren’t news items, just a personal touch or two for those of you that like that stuff:

— LW Pascal Dupuis and I discussed a before-the-season list of goal projections I made for every player. I’d handed the list to head coach Dan Bylsma, and based off some jabs I took from players over the season, I can only presume the list found its way to them.

Anyway, while chatting with Dupuis about his off-season plans, this exchange occurred:

PD: Hey, do you remember how many goals you had me down for?

RR: Oh, yeah – that list. Let me guess, I had you down for 10. (Pause) Actually, I thought you were going to have a bounce-back year, right? I’ll say 15.

PD: Eighteen.

RR: Wow.

PD: Yeah, you got it exactly right.

RR: Well, you’re a free agent after next season, so maybe I should forecast 26 for next year.

PD: That’d be great. I’ll see what I can do.

— C Evgeni Malkin, who donned a mask-like creation while clowning around with teammates, finally let me in on a joke that was a week old. During an off-day in Montreal I had told Malkin how impressed I was with his willingness to speak English to the French Canadian press, and I also complimented his rapid improvement with the language. His response was to tell me that he was using a new stick during the playoffs and that I should keep it a secret.

I caught Malkin on Friday before his meeting with Bylsma, and this exchange occurred:

RR: Geno, I’ve got to ask…

EM: My stick. Did you keep it a secret?

RR: Was that true? I thought you were joking.

EM: (Smiling) Maybe. You never know.

RR: Well, if you get a new stick next season will you tell me – like, for real?

EM: Maybe I won’t be here.

RR: Oh, God; not you, too.

EM: Trade me. That is what everybody says. You will say it.

RR: Yep, trade you for some sticks.

EM: (Smiling) New ones.

— G Marc-Andre Fleury looked exhausted with gray spots beneath his eyes and that usual smile half-forced. I suggested he’d heard much of the criticism that has come his way, so I shared some e-mails from dear readers who felt fine criticizing me because I refused to blame him for the Penguins’ playoff shortcoming.

That led to this exchange:

MF: Well, at least I can get everybody to like me again by playing better, you know.

RR: That’s fair. And you get to go home to Montreal to get away from it. I’ll be here all summer, mostly.

MF: Montreal? No, that won’t be any better for me.

RR: Good point. So you can spend the summer on a real vacation.

MF: I like the resorts, but some guys are going to Africa.

RR: Africa?

MF: Yeah, a safari.

RR: Marc, I’ve seen you stick handle; I’m fairly confident shooting a guy isn’t in your best interests.

MF: Me shoot a gun? No, no. I’ll be in the back of the jeep, ducking down with my hands over my ears. It will be fun, right?

RR: Probably not for the intended targets.

MF: Oh yeah. Well, fun for us. Relaxing. I think. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just go swimming instead.

— C Max Talbot carried a hockey bag over his left shoulder and a garbage bag filled with random items on his right hand as he headed to his car. He stopped to chat with several members of the Pittsburgh media before finally catching up with the beat reporters.

That led to this exchange between us:

RR: Um, tell your agent to work another bag into your next contract.

MT: I know, right? Look what I do to save the Penguins money.

RR: I’d think a guy who scored the only two goals in a Game 7 victory to win the Cup would at least get a garbage bag with strings.

MT: It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, right?

RR: True, and you guys are done, so…

MT: Wow, Rob. (Smiles) You really are a beauty.

RR: I’m just trying to match your standard, sunshine.

MT: Yeah? Well then you’re doing a good job.

YINZ DO SAY

OK, so I asked for some pregame rituals, and not surprisingly the dear readers obliged. Here are some of the best from the e-mails. Thanks to everybody for reading. We should try this back-and-forth more often.

MIKE PHILLIPS of Forest Hills

“It’s all about the mini-burgers at Bettis’.  I have season tickets and when the girlfriend can’t make the game, I have a list of co-workers more than willing to step in.  Usually the pre-game meal is at Bettis’.  Last year, every time I got the mini-burgers, they won.  Once, we went elsewhere and they lost.  What more proof do you need?  This year, I’m on a diet (perhaps too many mini-burgers?) and have yet to have mini-burgers as my pregame meal.  Except for tonight.  This game is too important for me to worry about something like my health.”

Rossi: Once, while dining with “Uncle Scotty” Burnside of ESPN.com, I took a dare and ordered the deep-fried burger at Bettis Grille on the North Shore. I finished three bites before acknowledging defeat, though it was as delicious as anything I’ve ever tasted. Said Scotty: “Robert, you may not make it to Round 2 if you finish that burger; but everybody will know you went down swinging, I promise.”

RYAN ALEXANDER of Morgantown, W.Va.

“The Pens game ritual consists of putting on a Pens whiteout shirt underneath my ’05-’06 Talbot jersey (I was a Talbot fan when he played on a line with Chris Thorburn before he became “Superstar”).  I crack open a Labatt Blue Light, transfer it into an icy mug from my alma mater and sit in my chair.  The remote and my cell phone must be parallel to one another, facing the TV.  Then hope for the best.”

Rossi: I was with you through the alma mater mug, but mostly because I’m presuming we share the same alma mater. I must say, Ryan, that remote/cell phone parallel bit is, well, Crosby-esque in terms of superstitions.

GEOFF JONES of Jupiter, Fla.

“The following practice does not apply during the first game of any playoff round, but since the Pens invariably lose those games, the ritual must apply to critical playoff games.  I watch the game but I cannot speak by telephone (or, these days, text) before or during the game with my Pens-fan bud who also lives in Jupiter, Florida (Pete Lascheid – yes, Vince Lascheid’s nephew, WVU-’82).  We can only do a post-mortem post-game.  Whenever this rule has been violated, the Pens lose; it was broken in Game 7 in ’93 (watched it together) and in ’96 (in Key West for a wedding – had to watch with all Panthers fans – but spoke with Pete via telephone).  When complied with (last year against the Caps and Wings), Pens win.  Since these rules will be complied with for Game 7 against the Habs, Pens in 7.”

Rossi: Well, Geoff, it was a good plan. Certainly better than ABC bringing back “Scrubs” for a ninth season. That said, same results, with neither the Pens nor that show making it to the third week of May.

OK, folks; I’m taking next week off unless something big happens. Thanks for reading during the playoffs, and enjoy the warm weather while trying to find a rooting interest in the Eastern Conference final. I can’t imagine either option – Flyers or Habs – is one Penguins fans will enjoy.

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Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Comments

  1. CL says:

    “I suggested [Fleury]’d heard much of the criticism that has come his way, so I shared some e-mails from dear readers who felt fine criticizing me because I refused to blame him for the Penguins’ playoff shortcoming.”

    You decided to show Fleury e-mails from fans who blamed him for the loss? Just to suck up to him because *you* defended him in the face of criticism from random stupid people? If you were going to make him read anything written by random fans, couldn’t you show him that many, many fans have been defending him on blogs, twitter, websites, and so on? But no, you had to give him the impression that your readers don’t support him when it’s not true. Some people blame him, but many people love Flower and understand that it was a team failure.

  2. CL says:

    I’m also very sad that Malkin thinks everyone wants him to be traded. Real fans love Malkin and support him — stupid people in the media, and bandwagon fans who don’t know anything, might want him to be traded. But real Pens fans would never trade our Stanley Cup MVP in one million years.

    It makes me really sad that Fleury and Geno are leaving town thinking that Pens fans hate them and want them gone. It’s not true at all. Most fans just have no voice in the hockey media.

  3. Rob says:

    Last year, before the playoffs, the bandwagon fans were saying “Trade Crosby while we can still get some value for him….” This year, the bandwagon fans are now saying “Trade Malkin while we can still get some value for him….” I feel sorry for both of them as they’ll likely continue to hear such crap whenever one does better than the other. The real fans certainly appreciate both of them and recognize how truly awesome they both are (as players and as people). We love Geno, and hopefully he stays a Penguin for a very long time.

  4. concernedpensfan says:

    This doesn’t exactly fit here, but I saw this on the internet and thought it was an interesting bit of information regarding the style the Habs used to beat Wash and Pittsburgh.

    The post suggested that the Habs are using the “Catenaccio”, an Italian style “web” defense that soccer clubs have perfected over the years to stifle talented attacking teams/players.

    Apparently with this WEB defense strategy of play, the amount of time the opponent has the ball/puck becomes far less important since it is difficult for the opposition to score with the “web” like coverage in front of the net, taking away shooting lanes. It also requires a strong performance from a goalie.

    Subsequently, the opponent becomes complacent because they have the ball/puck for so long in attack that players tend to overcommit themselves.

    This overcommitment leaves the opponent very vulnerable to quick counterattacks. The attacking/scoring philosophy of this system is to seize these chances, then get the ball/puck out of the defensive zone as quickly as possible and to the forwards, who score quickly against the opponent since the opposing team is worn down PLAYING OFFENSE. (a total reversal of normal hockey gameplanning, where Bylsma thinks he is wearing teams down forcing them to play defense….which is what this style wants to happen…and exactly what happened to Wash and Pitts, with both teams outchanceing, dominating offensive zone time and outshooting the Habs…in fact, the wider the margin of outshooting, the less likely victory) The articles reports that in past years soccer teams in England, Germany and Spain have also used this system.
    Thought this was interesting.

  5. fatboy says:

    Anyone who thinks that Flower is responsible for our losing does not know anything about hockey, let alone sports in general. This was a total team “failure,” plus the fact that the Habs had a heck of a defensive series (two of them actually!)!!!

    I say all the time that Flower is good for one “bad” goal a game… but he does not give up three or four bad goals a game. Those have been coming from his defensemen turning the puck over right in front of his crease. Those three or four bad goals are guys not getting back to help out short handed defensemen because four guys are 200 feet away from their own goalie.

    As much as I like Crosby, Geno is my favorite player. His abilities, his humor, his desire to make everyone happy, his interviews showing his effort to learn Engligh… He’s a very emotional player that cares very much about what people have to say about him. I’d like to see him lifted up, rather than brought down, by those fans that shouted MYP MYP MYP last season (how many of them are now calling for his head?!?!).

    I’ll be insanely disappointed if the “fans” that are all over Geno stop his parents from being a part of the family again next season. It’s truly awesome watching them in the stands and I don’t want my last memory of Geno’s father being that of him pleading with the team to get a goal!

    I’m originally from Saegertown (100 miles north of Pittsburgh) and have lived in Los Angeles for 20 years… I can’t thank Rob Rossi and the Trib Live staff enough for making this season enjoyable from so far away. I find this site to be more helpful on keeping up with the team than the actually team site! Thanks again for a great season, I’m proud of our players!!!

    fat

  6. Katie says:

    I feel really bad that any of our players have to feel like the fans hate them. That isn’t going to make them want to come back and play better. Just like in the playoffs to hear some of the fans booing them and leaving the game before it’s finished…that does more harm than good. I’m sure it doesn’t make them feel at all very good to see that those people were leaving. I am glad that those TRUE FANS stayed behind until the very end because those are the real fans. The fans that start to blame one player for a teams collapse in the playoffs are not fans at all.

    I think people forget that as inconsistent as Marc can be sometimes…if he had let that goal in last playoffs they may not even have a Stanley Cup to their names. He’s a damn good goalie and a lot better then half of the goalies out there. A goalie can’t exactly stop everything if the guys in front of him aren’t doing much to help him in which the last series they weren’t. I can’t stand even thinking that you are having two of the most important members of the team leaving Pittsburgh or in Geno’s case already left Pittsburgh thinking that the fans hate them! That’s unacceptable and as a fan I’m deeply disappointed in those people who call themselves fans and still say things like that. There is no I in team win or lose they do it as a team and it is never just one guys fault. It’s just unfortunate that a goalie gets blamed for his team not playing to the best of their ability. If the Flyers can completely own the Canadiens there is no reason that anyone else couldn’t have done it.

  7. Dawn says:

    Poor Geno. I don’t understand why so many people keep saying to trade him away, when the Pens very deliberately built a team to be deep at center. I hope he doesn’t think the fans really want him to be traded — I’d hate to see him on any other team, just because he’s wicked good!

    And Flower isn’t the only guy on the ice. The losses are not his alone. I’m sure he knows that, but maybe someone should tell some of these loud-mouthed fans!

  8. concernedpensfan says:

    Hey folks, lets not forget that just last year there was talk raised by the Pittsburgh media about trading Crosby while they could get the best offers. The Pittsburgh media just likes to keep things stirred up. It’s what sells papers and compels people to log on and read.

    Anyway, that said, there do seem to be a lot of fans who are so upset with Geno…and Geno is not helping his cause going to the Worlds. Given his “tired” affect and his failure to play up to par all season and playoffs for the pens, he is really going to make the fans angry if he lights up the ice at the worlds.

    It;s a lose lose for him going. He should have rested.

    Also, regarding the Habs, remember, Pens chased Halak from the net the first game as well. Be intersting to see how the series goes.

  9. #4Orrfan says:

    Pens fans – I first heard the trade Malkin idea the day after the Montreal loss. It was started by a reporter for the Hockey News (John Grigg). It was promoted by local sports reporters and it’s being perpetuated by local sports reporters. I’ve listened to hours of local sports talk radio since then and have counted up the number of fans who agreed with it. That number is ZERO. So far, zero Pens fans that I know or have heard reply to this nonsense have agreed with it.

    On the other side I can believe that these sports reporter think huge numbers of fans dislike Fluery. They defend him and people who disagree contact them. Most people who contact them are probably doing so to disagree. That’s human nature but it in no way reflects overall sentiment.

    We need to let the players know that sports reporters don’t speak for us and it’s pretty clear don’t really know us.

  10. RMalcolm says:

    How could any self respecting Penguins fan even consider rooting for the Flyers? We have to root for the Habs, because seeing Philly get to the finals would be miserable. I would root for the Red Wings, Rangers, Devils, and even the Ravens on skates before I rooted for the Flyers.

  11. Doreen says:

    I have found myself, in the past week, wanting to express my feelings about the abrupt end to the Pens season but realizing that there was no ‘official’ place to do that. It feels kinda like if a friend had to suddenly leave and you didn’t get the chance to say good-bye. I took so much from the Penguins this year and didn’t get the chance to thank them. Where do I go to do that?
    I’d love to tell Sidney Crosby how much I appreciated the way he handled all of the media maddness. He is such a bright and articulate voice for the team. He handles all that comes with the position of captian with such grace and poise and always speaks supportively of his team even when others try to get him to waiver from his stance. I’d also like to tell him how much I appreciate his work ethic and how hard he worked to improve an already impressive personal game.
    I’d like to tell Geno that we don’t want to see him traded. When Geno is on his game or in the zone (whichever you choose) he is a joy to watch. He has seemed to have a heaviness or a darkness, if you will, to his mood this spring. Hopefully he will get some rest this summer and return as the fierce Geno of old.
    I don’t think enough people realized how hard Max had to work this year to rehabilitate his shoulder. It is hard for the average person to come back after shoulder surgery let alone a professional athlete. I’d like to tell him “Thanks for pushing yourself and all the pain you endured to come back to the team. Thanks also for being that guy on the team who goofs around, gets flower fired up, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves for the team.”
    I’d like to let Flurey know how much I appreciate the mental toughness he displays when he bounces back after a tough loss. It’s too easy to blame the goalie when it is usually more of a team thing. How about telling ‘Duper’ he had a great season and it was fun to watch him or thank Staal for the way he came back from having his foot slashed and always finishing his checks.
    Where does one go, Mr. Rossi to express gratitude and support in the face of disappointment? Thanks.

  12. Arnie says:

    Man, I really hope Malkin realizes that the Rossi’s of the world only write awful articles to get people to talk. Tabloid journalism at it’s best. At least Rob is consistent when it comes to taking shots at Geno.

  13. Dave D. says:

    When people say ‘trade Malkin’, they seem to forget that he and Crosby did roughly the same amount of damage against Montreal (neither was enough). Ps. Let Fleury know we give him a break. He’s still young, learning and has a cup to his credit. He did post a shutout and over the 4 games we lost you’d think there’s at least one time we should have scored enough goals to bail him out.

  14. Jake says:

    Reasons for Pens Exit; 1) ‘Dumping the puck’ Pens are skilled enough to carry it in and set up a play. Neither Flyers nor Habs ‘dump’ 2) ‘One-timers’, when you have to fidget with the puck, it gets blocked…way too many blocked shots. 3) It seemed like the Pens had no set plays, and looked as if it was training camp games they were playing. 4) Goligoski is a bust. 5) ‘We’re tired from all this hockey’ mentality. If guys in their 20′s can’t regenerate after being off all summer, something is wrong.

 
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