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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.

Comments

  1. harp says:

    Michalek barfed up the puck for the first Montreal goal by not taking the body.
    He was -1 on the game and is now -6 yet Letang and Golioski are +20.
    Does anybody see a problem with this when he’s being paid as a top D man?

    I thought he was overrated when Shero picked him up, he had one good season but his lifetime is -28. Good players are not negative.

    I still say trade him for a top line winger for Crosby and let Lovejoy do the same job for a fraction of the cost.

  2. Shawn says:

    harp,

    If you don’t know that Michalek is the best defensive defenseman on this team, you either need to start watching a lot more hockey or stop altogether. He defends like Ulf and moves the puck like Murph…what is not to like?

    He is a -6 player for two reasons. Being matched up against top forwards. And playing with Paul Martin, who I am coming to understand is a D-zone liability if you pin him in.

    The dropoff between Michalek and Lovejoy is far bigger than that between Dupuis and whoever we’d get. And besides, Malkin is the one who needs a winger, not Sid.

    As far as Letang, I really don’t care if he does miss the net. I’d rather a guy try to shoot for the corners (even if he misses) of the net than the logo on the goalie’s chest any day. The problem is that when we take hard points shots from one side, the other point man doesn’t automatically move to cover the other point. He only moves after the puck starts careening out of the zone…which it almost always does.

    As far as the Montreal rivalry goes…I honestly might hate them more than the Caps or Flyers right now. I loathe Cammalerri and Subban. Lapierre was the worst though, still can’t believe they traded him. I haven’t wanted to see the smirk get punched off of a guy’s face so much since Barnaby was a Sabre.

  3. wvuguy says:

    I always love comments like that from harp…..if Michalek indeed is the overpaid bum you seem convinced he is, why would anyone give up a “top line winger” for him ?? Perhaps Ray can finagle Corey Perry in exchange; and also get them to pay any difference in salaries as well.

  4. dwf says:

    I have to agree with harp’s post about Michalek. He is grossly overrated! Aside from blocking some shots he always appears to be out of position. Take Montreal’s first goal last night, Michalek was NOWHERE near the play! Half the season is over and the “still learning the system” excuse can no longer be used (sorry diehards).

    But, sadly, we the fans are going to be stuck watching Michalek’s “version” of a NHL defenseman for a very long time! As I see it, this was one of Shero’s key free agent signings and there is NO way he is going to admit that he made a bad choice and give up on Michalek. Also, what team is going to give up anything of value for a overpaid and under performing d man?

    Perhaps a few nights enjoying the game from the press box will give Mr. Michalek a better idea of how to play his position effectively?

    On a side note, if the Pens need to have opposing players taunt them (ie Carey Price) in order to provide motivation to win games, then someone is not doing their job.

  5. Mike says:

    Harp,
    Replacing Mickalek with Lovejoy? Comparing Mikalek to Goligoski? I don’t think so… that’s like comparing Kunitz to Adams! Everyone has a role to fill and he has a specific and important one! Yes Mikalek is a minus player but you are talking about a guy that plays serious minutes against top lines and on the PK… he always has. Goligoski is not a shut down D-man neither is Lovejoy. He is a team player that will sacrifice his body at any time to block a shot or a pass. I do believe he has room to grow, he needs to be a little more physical and maybe stay on his feet a little more. Blocking shots is great but it can get you caught out of position as well. Shero has been spot on 90% of the time bringing guys in that compliment this team… I firmly believe that defense wins championships. In Pittsburgh’s case our defense has to be able to move the puck quickly, play physical, make a quick and accurate first pass and be sound positionally. Mikalek is good to go… think Scuderi with offensive skill.

  6. Mike Tython says:

    Did you and Staal have a romantic night after the game?

  7. Aron says:

    harp,

    Michalek is constantly playing against the other teams top line in the shutdown role, so comparing his +/- to someone like Goligoski, who is getting the easier assignments is unfair. Most often his d-pairing will be out there with the grunts who’s purose is also to shut down the top lines of the other teams. Grading defensive players on +/- is not the best way to go about it. Michalek is exactly what this team needed and trading him would be ridiculous at this point. Comparing anyone to Letang is going to make them look bad so far this season, as Rossi pointed out in the article he’s playing probably the best of any defensemen in the entire league.

  8. Roy Bauerlein says:

    Great Story Rossi,

    I love the behind the scene stuff. While I was reading, it reminded me of 24/7 only in print..Good stuff. Also ,
    I think Letang has been so good this year is because he has been paired with Orpik. He has had the freedom to be more agressive because #44 will cover him.

  9. Tracey says:

    Love to see that Staal is getting back to his game; it’s pretty obvious that has to do with being reunited with Cooke & Kennedy. Hopefully when Crosby returns Malkin is able find some kind of chemistry with Cooke & Staal . The Conner, Letestu, & Kennedy line definitely seems to work so splitting them up wouldn’t make a lot of sense after Sid’s return.

    Hasn’t Asham’s game suffered enough with his injuries & illnesses; now he’s having to dodge beat reporters flying at him in the locker room. Would’ve loved to have seen the injury report if a collision had occurred; and any video replay if it would’ve been available.

    I know your job is to get the story; but in the future do you think maybe you could refrain from possibly injuring the players while you do it?

  10. Jay says:

    Harp,

    How many shots does Michalek block? How many does Lovejoy block? If you think Lovejoy is as good a defenseman as Z you are out of your mind. Z may not be Scuderi but he blocks more shots than anyone the Pens have and kills penalties, lots of them. Lovejoy may turn out to be a great Pens defenseman but he’s not yet and if someone goes down than what are you gonna do? If you trade Z you’re gonna bring up someone from Wilkes-Barre and they are gonna in their first season up have to make a long playoff run, I don’t think so. Look how long it took Letang to develop.

  11. Rob says:

    +/- does not tell the whole story of a defenseman. Michalek is solid, learn more about hockey. You don’t trade one of the best shutdown d-men in the league months after you signed him to a 5 year deal. You’re dumb if you think Lovejoy is going to adequately replace Michalek.

  12. Travis says:

    Remember how hated Gonchar was only 6 years ago? I can remember beign at the Igloo and hearing thousands of boo’s rain down every time he touched the puck his first year with us. Shero isn’t stupid, give Michalek time. He’s moved from West-coast hockey to the Penguins system, not an easy task. Give him time.

    In another season, he’ll be worth EVERY penny.

  13. Greg says:

    dwf,
    Montreals first goal was not on Michalek, Letestu abandoned his man and left Michalek to cover two guys infront. Fowards need to provide defense also and should not be overlooked.

  14. Matt says:

    Mike,

    +/- stats do not include powerplay goals, it is only affected when teams are even (5v5, 4v4, 3v3) or when a team scores a shorthanded goal. Your other point is extremely valid though. Michalek is usually playing with the 3rd and 4th lines, who haven’t scored many goals this year (4th line more so than 3rd). Goligoski and Letang are usually on the ice with Crosby or Malkin, so of course they’re gonna have a higher +/-.

  15. Pistol Pete says:

    Although +/- is not a perfect measurement and clearly from the PK and goals against numbers the Pens overall defense has improved signficantly, I share concerns raised about Martin and Michalek and their long term expensive contracts – Except for Engleland, if you go to the games, you know that M&M make most of the defensive mistakes that allow goals (and scoring opportunties where Flower makes up for those mistakes) and they are earning their +/- numbers with their play (my sense is that Bylsma feels the same way) – Orpik/Letang is clearly the top pairing and face the opponents top lines and they are both playing outstanding defense (Letang’s +/- is no accident) – GoGo has made signficant improvements defensively and Shero was wise keeping Letang and GoGo rather than Whitney – my hope is that M&M will improve in the second half (Gonchar was terrible the 1st year with the Pens and with Ottawa) – otherwise, these contracts could be an albatross for the next 3 years(and make you wonder whether it would have been better to keep Skuds)

  16. harp says:

    I did not say he was as good as Michalek, he’s still young and he was impressive in WB. He would block shots if asked to, the fact is she’s a 7th D right now so he’s not seeing that much ice time to judge him but in the games I have seen Michalek just does not seem to be in position and he makes some glaring mistakes.
    No golioski is not the defensive type, that is why he’s paired with a stay at home type to back him up so he can pinch. I have seen because of his speed the ability to backcheck and break up plays quite well.

    I know plenty of hockey rob but he’s 4M and just because he had one good year in Phoenix does that make him the best defensive defenseman out there?
    Crosby plays against the top lines as well and he’s +22 so why is Michalek -6? He’s 2nd line, not even first.

    Michalek was undrafted and now he’s the best yet Lovejoy gets downplayed like he’s worthless, I don’t get that. Who’s to say Lovejoy with more ice time and practice could not be just as good if not better for much less pay?.
    That was the point, performance vs pay.

  17. dwf says:

    Greg,

    What game were you watching? I watched the game live and went back and looked at the replay of Montreal’s first goal several times. And, you couldn’t be more WRONG on your analysis. Allow me to review, Michalek had the puck down low and was “puck handling” behind the Pens goal. Montreal had Darche along the boards just above the right face off circle. Michalek had Martin skating behind him. But, instead of reversing the puck back to Martin, he tried to clear it up the boards on the same side that Darche was on. It was an easy play for Darche to knock down the weak backhanded clearing attempt by your “boy”. Letestu had his man and Martin was in front of the net while Michalek was observing from below the goal line. The rest was history!

    The more I watch Michalek play the more I feel either a) this system is too difficult for him to grasp or b) he is simply not as good as everyone thinks/thought he was. I’m leaning more towards “b” myself. Either way the Pens are having to deal with a lot of his mistakes and mental gaffes. He is becoming a liability that other teams are starting to exploit.

  18. espo33 says:

    I think everyone is a bit right in their versions.

    Michalek is a good player, but just not playing as well as he should be. I thought he was more physical, but he plays a little like his brother and when he doesn’t take the body he turns the puck up for goals. And when he touches the puck and tries to do anymore then make an easy pass it is a turnover.

    Martin-hasn’t been all that great either. he is more of a chaser of the puck and leaves his position.

    Letang-has been really good and just get the puck on net when there are guys in front of the net for the deflections. It is hard to deflect a shot if the shot is going really wide to start with.

  19. espo33 says:

    I got one for you though. Let’s say Crosby is healthy. Would you do the following if both teams agreed to it.

    Trade Malkin, Dupius, Kennedy for SJ’s Heatley, Ryane Clowe and Logan Couture.

  20. Shawn says:

    I wouldn’t trade Kennedy straight up for Heatley. I wouldn’t trade a conditional 5th for Heatley. You can’t win with losers on your team. This is why the Whitney trade was Shero’s best.

    No heart, no guts = worthless.

    I’ll take a warrior like Craig Adams over a punk like Heatley any day. Who has more rings, by the way?

    Michalek is so much better than Scuderi, it’s not even close. Michalek is bigger, more physical, a better skater, a better shooter and he is one of the best outlet passers in the league. Every bit as good as, say, Whitney’s and his outlet passing is his ONLY skill. All 3 players make about the same.

    The reality is Paul Martin is the guy making Michalek look bad. Martin is a phenomenal skater, puckhandler and passer. He can’t (or more likely simply does not) shoot and is the least physical defenseman I have ever seen.

    The Penguins defense is designed to move the puck out of the D zone ASAP. There isn’t much of a plan B when the other team pin them into the zone with good possession. At that point the play usually breaks down because of a lack of physicality in front of the net.

    I remember after the goal Harp insists on blaming Michalek for that my first thoughts were, “I wonder if we could/would trade Martin.”

    Understand that Simon Despres will necessitate trading one of our current D men…I don’t know that Shero would move a guy he just signed like that, but…

  21. Lisa says:

    That would be a very interesting trade. It’ll never happen but it
    would be interesting. My question: who could we trade for Bobby Ryan?

 
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