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Pens drop Habs, with thoughts from Orpik and a Staal story

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Some quick thoughts after the Penguins’ 5-2 win at Montreal on Wednesday night – their first victory since C SIDNEY CROSBY went down with a mild concussion Jan. 5.

= D BROOKS ORPIK wasn’t pleased with my story off the loss Monday night at home against Boston, particularly the sixth paragraph: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_717582.html

He thought that graph was a cheap shot. We chatted about it briefly before the game at Montreal. This isn’t an uncommon part of my job, explaining what my words were intended to mean, what they might have looked like were deadlines not greatly influencing the composition of stories.

Oddly, this is one of the parts of my job I most enjoy, because it provides me a good sense of where I stand with a player.

Anyway, I made a point to seek out Orpik after the victory. As noted in the post-game blog Monday — http://blog.triblive.com/chipped-ice/2011/01/10/are-these-penguins-who-we-think-they-are/ — Orpik has (correctly) picked up on the trend for Pittsburgh’s media to hit him up after every home loss.

He was surprised, maybe even slightly amused, that I wanted to speak to him after this win. “That never happens,” he said while riding a bike in the visiting training room.

“Special teams were crucial for us,” he said after the game. “I mean (four) PP goals and the PK was 100 percent. That’s as good as you can get.

“If you look at the league that’s what (decides) games. The parity in this league, especially 5-on-5, is so close. There’s usually not much separation there.”

By the way, here is something that needs to be said about Orpik, who is as standup as standup gets in this business: He’s playing the finest hockey of any season that I’ve covered this team. The only reason he isn’t the best defenseman on the team this season is because D KRIS LETANG is on the team, and Letang might be the best defenseman in the NHL right now.

(Regarding Letang: To me, his transformation is evident not in the goals and points, but the frequency with which he’s getting his shot on net – especially on the power play. Remember when that was the knock against him only last season?)

= So, the visiting NHL dressing room at Bell Center is tiny – not Civic Arena-like tiny, but enough to feel like there is no room to move. For whatever reason after this game the room was nearly impossible to navigate, and upon arriving at the entrance a certain beat reporter had to make a mad dash toward the locker stall of C JORDAN STAAL.

There was a problem. Staal was positioned across the room to my right. A pillar was between us, not to mention a large group of reporters waiting to speak with G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY and D KRIS LETANG – always popular around here because they are French Canadian players.

D ALEX GOLIGOSKI was sitting at the bench along the left-side of the room, with nobody to his left. About three reporters were talking to him.

I leaped onto the bench to get a look at Staal, who was now talking to another group of media across the room. Goligoski shot me a puzzled look – fair enough, as not often does a reporter stand next to a player on the bench as the player is sitting on that bench.

His equipment bag was at his feet. I considered leaping over it to get a path towards Staal. Actually, I had already decided to jump. As I did, it hit me that I had failed to notice RW ARRON ASHAM approaching Goligoski.

So, midair, I slightly shifted my body rightwards and hoped A) not to hit Asham; B) not to hit the pillar, which was closer to Goligoski’s stall than I had originally thought; C) not to blow out my knee if, by luck, I stuck the landing.

I did stick the landing, thank you. I turned to look at Goligoski, but he was at a loss for words having watched the scene develop. Asham, standing in seeming disbelief that I possessed any athletic ability, shook his head and blinked. Near Staal, to whom I was now walking somewhat gingerly, LW MATT COOKE broke from his laughing at my act and said, “Holy (expletive), Rossi – you must really want that interview.”

 I did, and since very little of what Staal said made my game story for Thursday, here are some of Staal’s highlights:

On his winning goal: “I saw it sneak in behind (Canadiens G CAREY PRICE). Yeah, that was it pretty much.”

On breakout out offensive against Montreal: “Yeah, I guess (it is poetic justice). They play us hard every time. The way that ended last year in the playoffs, obviously we wanted to give our best effort and with the way things were going we wanted to rebound.”

On the importance of scoring his first goal in exactly eight months: “It definitely feels really nice. It was nice just to get into a game, and I’m obviously trying to just get my legs going under me. It was nice just to get going (in the goal-scoring department).”

= Lastly, I wasn’t aware that Price’s crossed-arms celebration last week in a shootout win over the Penguins was that big of a deal, but judging by Fleury’s imitation after this game – well, that just goes to show players pay attention to everything. (As if my talk before this game with Orpik hadn’t already shown me that point.)

Penguins-Canadiens isn’t quite Penguins-Capitals or Penguins-Flyers, but this rivalry is fast gaining ground. These teams clearly do not like one another, and I don’t sense that feeling is simply from the Penguins having dropped that playoff series to Montreal last season. There is something deeper going on here, and I’d love another postseason meeting between the Penguins and Canadiens to see what level this rivalry can hit.

 

Cheers,

Rossi

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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.

 
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