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Pens Push: Why Malkin should sit out trip and some fans don’t get it with Staal.

Some quick post-game observations after the Penguins’ first regulation loss on this NHL season, 3-2, to the Buffalo Sabres at Consol Energy Center:

 

= The Penguins didn’t win a game all last season during which they trailed entering the final period (0-19-1) and they are off to a similar start. Of course, this was the first game in which they trailed entering the third, and it was also their sixth game in 10 nights – not that coach Dan Bylsma would dare offer that as an excuse for this loss. “I don’t think in any way, shape or form (us) being tired factored into the equation tonight,” he said. “We should’ve been the fresher team playing tonight given the situation.”

The situation: Buffalo played on back-to-back nights for the second time in its five games. Still, the Penguins – and, yes, this has been mentioned by a certain someone before (ahem) – will have played eight games in 13 nights by Wednesday morning, with those contests coming in five cities and four time zones.

 

= Also, as my trusted Trib colleague Josh Yohe noted after this loss, three of the past four games – and the Penguins are 1-1-1 in those three – were without C Evgeni Malkin. As was demonstrated last season over the final two months without Malkin and C Sidney Crosby, the Penguins appear to exert such energy simply creating quality scoring chances without the “MegaPowers” pivots. Obviously, Crosby hasn’t played this season, and there is no timetable for his return.

As for Malkin’s status, well, I know the guy pretty well, and one thing has been consistent with him over my tenure covering him: He doesn’t fail to dress unless he’s really in pain, and he’ll never publicly admit how much pain he’s in. (Case in point: In the 2008 Cup Final, which he played without the ability to take deep breaths because of a rib/lung injury – well, Malkin still hasn’t publicly acknowledged that injury.)  

I caught a glimpse of Malkin the other night, and I’m not sure how he played on Thursday against Washington – let alone deliver two assists. The right knee he had surgically repaired last February is flaring with troublesome scar tissue, or so I suspect based on asking a few questions of Penguins personnel this week. Malkin has spent a lot of time after practices – and more after the game Thursday – receiving treatment on that knee.

I’m wondering if it’s even worth taking him on this trip to Winnipeg and Minnesota, with back-to-back games in those cities. The Penguins are home next Thursday, and they are scheduled to be off Wednesday. If Malkin doesn’t take this trip that would give him six full days to rest that right knee dating to the last time he took the ice on Thursday.

 

= G Marc-Andre Fleury has battled the flu all week, and he still looks runs down to these eyes. Still, and he’d be the first one to say this, he’d like to have what became Buffalo’s winning goal back. It hasn’t happened often to Fleury dating to mid-November, but his angle wasn’t sharp on that one. I asked the wonderfully wise Eddie Johnston about that goal, and he agreed that it’s now surprising to see Fleury beat the way he was on that shot by Sabres RW Drew Stafford. Of course, that wasn’t exactly an ordinary shot by Mr. Stafford, was it?

 

= C Jordan Staal has two goals – one an empty netter, but those do count (and, sorry, but only a coach’s most trusted players tend to be on the ice on those situations) – and five points through six games, and after tonight he’s a plus-2. This was his fourth straight game at 20-plus minutes. Still, I’m supposed to not laugh at the Tweets/emails I’ve received over the past few days that said not only isn’t he a very good player, but that some people think he’s either overrated of flat-out stinks. It’s often said to me that I don’t really know hockey, which is fair – but I talk daily with a lot of people within hockey, and I can tell you this: Their comments about Staal are all similar, that you have to know hockey to realize how good he is and what he brings to every shift. How good much did anyone notice Capitals C Nicklas Backstrom or Sabres C Derek Roy the past two games? Who do you think was responsible for their combined three registered shots and four missed shots? Uh, yeah.

 

= The Sabres are a popular dark-horse pick to represent the East. It’s only one game, but with the way that defense can activate, I can see why people are picking them. Impressive-looking group, indeed.

 

Cheers,

Rossi

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

Comments

  1. Leah Backus says:

    Thanks for the sanity and the perspective. Count me among the people questioning Geno’s

  2. Todd Katres says:

    I think Paul Martin has to step it up in all 3 zones. I like him as a person and he seems like a good teammate but they need $5 Mil play from him without 87 & 71 $ 44.

  3. Justin says:

    My problem with Staal is that he is a nice player. And when you draft #2 overall in a LOADED draft, you don’t target checking, 3rd line Centers……you target franchise players. In my opinion, Shero does not receive enough blame for not maximizing this big draft choice. Shero passed on Towes (who by the way is a Selke candidate himself while being a big time scorer). I think that the Pens fans’ frustration is that the team was so close to being a ridiculous powerhouse if they had simply drafted Towes over Staal.

  4. Joe Starkey, for one, is getting sick and tired of these stupid hockey fights just I am, and since there’s no fighting in the minors and on olympic hockey teams, the NHL ought to ban on the ice battles as well.

  5. Derek says:

    I have to “know” hockey to understand why Staal’s offensive capabilities are about as good as Fleury’s? I have to “know” hockey to understand why Staal constantly gets knocked down by people smaller than him because he doesn’t know how to utilize his size? I have to “know” hockey to understand why Bylsma puts him out there at the end of games when his faceoff percentage is the fourth best on the team? (Which is probably Disco’s fault, but it still illustrates his faceoff ineptitude). I have to “know” hockey to understand why Staal is a career -16 in the playoffs?

    But, of course, the Staal fanbois will say, “Oh, well he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal with his SHG in game 4 in 09.” Really? That was a great moment, sure, but when there’s only one major thing you can hang your hat on after 5-6 years of playing, is that what anyone wanted out of a second overall pick (when guys like Toews, Kessel, and Backstrom were out there, remember)?

    You know what really says a lot to me, though? Even without Crosby and Malkin so far this year, Staal still isn’t seeing first PP time. I suppose Bylsma and co. must “not know anything” about hockey, yes?

  6. sabu says says:

    Joe Starkey should put on a sundress. Another Wash Crap took a shot at one of our top guys and got his @ss beat for it. Finally. Asham has nothing to apologize for.

    Now its scar tissue issues with Malkin. This surgery was performed back in Febraury?March and its still not right. He shouldnt be having issues with this. Was it botched?Next it’ll have to be opened up again and cleaned out.

    Again I ask…..maybe is it time for a reevaluation of the medical staff.

    Until this team gets away from these persistent medical issues, they are going to struggle.

  7. Shawn says:

    I think the problem is that people see Eric Staal.

    Then they see Jordan with the skill set and wonder why he doesn’t put up the same numbers.

    Opportunity aside…Jordan doesn’t have the offensive instincts. He does not think the game like Sid or Geno or even Eric. He will score because of his tenacity and talent, but he’s never going to be a point a game or even close type of player.

    Instead, he’ll ONLY be the best third line center in hockey.

  8. Mike says:

    Rob I respect your opinion about Staal, but you can do better than simply citing the fact that Backstrom and Roy happened to not have any points the last two games. Fleury, the defense, and the other two way forwards we have don’t have anything to do with those guys not having good games? How about the system? How about the fact that I never see Staal matching up with someone one on one defensively? What about the other players on the team that are more dangerous? Thomas Vanek had a good game and Ovechkin scored. Is Staal only limited to “shutting down” centers and not wingers? There’s also the idea that maybe things simply didn’t go the way of the two guys you mentioned in one single game each.

    Listen I think Staal is a good player to have. He puts up respectable numbers, has very nice size and wingspan, and knows what he’s doing in all three zones. At the same time historically it’s not a stretch to say that star players do pretty well against us the last few years and again, last year without Staal the Penguins were clicking on all cylinders defensively without him. Maybe I’m one of the ones that just doesn’t get it, but I think there’s something to be said for the points above.

  9. Lisa says:

    Some of us have always liked Staal. But, I was exremely disappointed in him last season, however, without Sid and Geno, that he never *stepped up* and took the team on his back. Maybe he just doesn’t have it in him? What does he work on during the off season? And that stupid penality he took tripping Ovie in OT was one of the most bone-headed things I have seen him do. If he was a rookie I could forgive him but he’s not. I still like and appreciate Staal but I hope he really steps it up this season.
    Or, he will just be a *good* third line center.

    As far as Malkin goes what is wrong with him? if you are *in the best shape of your career* you do not get injured in the first game of the season! Or second game, etc.
    I also have high hopes for Malkin and expect him to step it up, work through the pain and deal with it. I remember reading that Getzlaf had a torn tendon in his foot during the Olympics and look at how he played…..that is what I expect of everyone who wears a Pens jersey and is paid a ton of money. Period. It’s also why Getzlaf is my second favourite player behind Crosby in the NHL.

    I have always wondered if HCDB is too soft as a coach and tries to be the players
    friend instead of their coach. That’s just my opinion. I like tough coaches that are fair and are not assholes. Babcock comes to mind.

    Good points and good comments, in all.

  10. Rich says:

    Jordan Staal scored 29 goals as an 18-year old and spoiled Penguin fans. After that season naturally expectations increased, despite the fact that he never scored more than 28 in juniors. After 29 as a rookie, fans expect 30-35 each year following, even though his pedigree suggests he won’t reach such numbers. When it’s all done for Jordan Staal, those 29 goals may represent his single season high.

    Unfortunately, too many look only at the number of goals scored when determining a forward’s worth. Staal brings so much to the game with his defense, shorthanded work and occasional offense. Remember the great shorthanded goal he scored in game six of the Cup finals against Detroit? He’s a great third-line center who knows how to fill his role. He’s not Crosby or Malkin and it’s not fair to expect him to put up numbers typically associated with those two.

  11. Lori says:

    Thanks for shedding some light on Staal’s play. He’s one of their best guys out there. I’m sick of trying to defend how good he actually is to others who don’t see it.

  12. Leyte dragon says:

    One torn tendon in a foot does not equate to the ACL and MCL in a knee. It’s not even close. One is painful. The other can risk a career. Scar tissue, if not handled well, is serious. It can restrict motion and for my money makes a player at risk for tearing ligaments. It also can result in extreme pain. The knee is far more sensitive than feet because of the amount of nerve tissue. Malkin’s been a trooper his whole career, but he doesn’t need to deal with this in October.

  13. tennpen says:

    The problem with staal is players like him can be found in the 2,3,4 round. Shero blew a #2 pick on a 3rd line checking center with no hands and no offensive creativity. Nobody will admit as much because that would be critical of shero and most pens fans think shero can do no wrong. He makes mistakes just like any other gm.

  14. badvibesdude says:

    Nobody knows what Toews would be at this point if he had been on a team with Crosby and Malkin his whole career. He very well might have taken a different career path similar to Staal’s career thus far. Toews has played top-6 minutes and top-line minutes pretty much his entire career in Chicago and he did it with good, complimentary wingers. It’s no wonder his scoring numbers are better than Staal’s. If you’re going back and doing it over, you take the goal-scoring winger (Kessel), not the guy who is a natural two-way center and might not fit as a top-6 winger.

  15. badvibesdude says:

    And all that being said, I still don’t think Staal was a poor decision at number two overall. It’s way too early to make that call. Maybe he wasn’t the best player available for what the Penguins need right now, but at the time we didn’t know what Malkin’s deal was.

    Staal still has some offensive upside. People forget that he wasn’t rounding into midseason form until April last year because of injury. It’s early in the season. People need to settle down. Staal was settling into and getting more productive in Bylsma’s system before he got hurt in the playoffs in 2010. He could be on the verge of his most-productive season here. Last year, coming off a major injury and missing summer workouts as well as the first half of the season, Staal produced .71 points/game, which is a career high and averages out to a 55-60 point season. With the right linemates and playing as a top-6 center, I think Staal is perfectly capable of producing like Toews.

  16. tomas says:

    Pens don’t win Stanley Cup in 2009 without Jordan Staal, so that ends that argument What is more concerning outside of Bylsma’s love for AHL’ers like Letestu, Lovejoy and Englland is how little Jordan Stall has progressed as an offensive presence under Bylsma. He holds on to the puck too long & gets stripped, tries very difficult passes and obviously doesn’t believe in his shot to actually beat the goaltender. When he broke in at 18, he shot the puck constantly because I believe he didn’t want to be returned to juniors. This kind of desperation or at least responsibility to produce offensively must come from Bylsma, if not then Bylsma is the wrong coach for Jordan Staal to be playing for.

  17. sidelinespensfan says:

    Frankly, this might not be the correct approach, but I am just tired of our best players sitting out for “precautionary” reasons. I’m frustrated that our stars seem to be made of glass. I would be willing to bet that by the time Crosby comes back, Malkin, Staal, or Fleury will be ruled out for a long stretch of time.

  18. Carol says:

    We passed up Toews, Backstrom and Kessel right after Toews in round one of the draft. I’d take any one of those three players over Staal — especially Toews, who was the obvious pick at the time. Only a Penguins apologist would deny that Ray Shero and his staff his blew it.

  19. tomas says:

    @Carol Backstrom and Kessel have shown very little heart when it counts (playoffs or getting to the playoffs) for each of their teams and only Toews gives you pause about drafing him over Jordan Staal.

  20. Christian says:

    Rossi is dead-on. The individuals calling out Staal do not know hockey. You cannot measure his contributions on your typical stat sheet. He is a true shut down centerman, andis perfect for this team. How many true shut down centers are there in the league? Not many. The criticism of Staal reminds me of the criticism Ike Taylor sometimes receives. Ike covers the other team’s best receiver, no matter where he lines up. Everyone loves Asomugha, but he only stays on one side of the field. But Ike receives criticism because he doesn’t get picks. Same as Staal. He is an integral part of this team, a tremendous leader, and a solid hockey player. Plus, he earns $4 million a year, which is a very fair wage. Staal also deserves credit for checking his ego at the door. Staal being the elite defensive forward he is allows Sid & Geno to concentrate primarily on offense. Staal should be more appreciated.

  21. Jared says:

    I think the whole Staal debate turns on what you want or expect him to be. I personally regard him as being a lot like Mike Peca…but without the hitting or faceoff abilities. Peca (as the slightly older among us will recall) was an outstanding defensive forward…with a bit of a scoring touch here and there. His career high was 27 goals…but most years he ended up with fewer than that, and he only broke 25 twice. Sound familiar? But he had more of a physical edge to his game…and he certainly was far, far better than Staal is on faceoffs.

    Now…Peca was chosen in the second round, 40th overall. You also might be tempted to draw comparisons to John Madden…who was never drafted. Or maybe Kris Draper (drafted 62nd overall) or Jere Lehtinen (taken 88th overall). Point is…guys who consistently are among the elite defensive forwards tend not to be drafted #2 overall. Heck, even Pavel Datsyuk (to whom I am NOT comparing Staal) wasn’t drafted until nobody was paying attention to that year’s draft anymore (171st overall).

    I love Staal’s defensive abilities. I love the way he thinks the game in the defensive zone. I love his willingness to play with pain. I love that he’s definitely a team player. I love his penalty killing abilities and instincts. He has “leadership guy” written all over him. But let’s be clear here…he is not a top two center at this point. He thinks the game a little too slowly in the offensive zone. His shot is just a little to weak and a little too inaccurate. His passing is just a little too erratic. He’s not a terrible skater, by any means…but he doesn’t appear to have quite the top end to hang with the truly top end forwards. I’ve heard people say “if he was playing next to a star winger…” But I don’t know that I believe that it would make a difference…precisely due to the aforementioned lack of high end offensive skills.

    As a third line center…he’s the best in the game these days in my opinion. As a top two center…it just isn’t there for him at this point, and I don’t see a ton of evidence that his offensive game is evolving much. And in a salary cap world, that ultimately boils down to me not loving that the Pens are paying their 3rd line center $4 million a year.

    But to heap scorn upon the kid…I think is way unfair. I don’t think he was drafted to be a top two center (although part of me has always wondered if Shero’s strategy was to draft 3 stud centers, and then trade the one that he deemed to be the easiest to live without at some point). If there’s an error in judgment or ability in drafting a spectacularly good #3 center before people are even all sitting down at the draft, that belongs to Shero. If Staal has latent offensive abilities that are simply not being developed…that’s Bylsma’s fault at this point. But as far as I can see…Staal himself is doing what he’s being coached to do.

  22. Guy says:

    My wife and I watch the Penguins mainly to see Jordan Staal play, we have since he came into the league at 18 years old. We love Crosby and a few others, but Jordan in my mind is the most important player on the team.

    See the comments made recently by one of the Sedin twins about Jordan Staal, how much he respects Jordan and expects him to be one of the elite players in the league within the next couple of years. We don’t follow Vancouver much due to the late game times, but the Sedin’s seem to know a litlle about hockey and perhaps are even good judge’s of talent and character….

    I don’t know what all of you guys and gals were up to at age 18 to 23, but I know I wasn’t anywhere near the level Jordan has accomplished for himself. Think about that, just for a second or two……

  23. Jman says:

    @Jared

    Excellent post. You obviously take your hockey very seriously and pay attention to the game in detail.

    People are expecting Staal to excel in a role his current skill level doesn’t allow him to excel at. That doesn’t mean he “sucks”, and it doesn’t mean he can’t/doesn’t excel in his traditional role at 3rd line center.

    Like you, I do believe one area of Staal’s game that must improve and improve fast is his faceoffs. Staal must improve his faceoff %. Ecspecially in the defensive zone, & most importantly in the d-zone on the penalty kill. He is killing the Pens and increasing the teams workload with his ineptitude to win crucial faceoffs. I don’t know how he is considered one of the top PK’ers in the league if he never wins a faceoff in the d-zone.

    Hell, nobody talks about it because they won, but Staal lost the last faceoff in game 7 of the Cup finals to Henrik Zetterberg almost cleanly. Also, go back and watch that Tampa series last year. Staal’s inability to win crucial faceoffs was never made a huge deal. In fact, he pretty much got a free pass aside from a few mentions I heard, but it was one of the main contributing factors Tampa was able to come back from 3-1 down in that series and win.

    So, above all else, a Centerman that is used in almost all of his teams crucial d-zone moments needs to be able to actually win a faceoff now & then. Staal is not and it is hurting the Pens, and will send them home early again this year unless something is done.

  24. Dave G in Mason, OH says:

    Some of these comments are incredulous.

    Game for game, Staal’s two-way contributions are more influential toward the outcome of the final score than Malkin’s ever will be.

    Given a choice of having to trade away one or the other, Malkin is gone in a heartbeat.

  25. sjb says:

    Staal is a great non-scoring 3rd line center. He’s a great player to have if you have the luxury of two top scoring centers like Crosby and Malkin. Problem is, his value is magnified when they are out and he just doesn’t live up to his expectations. He’s no where near as good a two-way center as Datsyuk (who was drafted 171st overall) and he’s surely not Towes or Kessel either. Staal steps up and can play a great game about as frequently as Crosby has an awful one.

    Right…trade away a Calder, Conn Smythe, Art Ross winner for a 3rd line center who’ll never be more than that. I also remember Malkin being mentioned for Selke honors 2 years ago when he led the league in takeaways above Datsyuk, so he’s not a shabby two-way center either Besides, we all know Art Ross winners usually have little to do with the final score anyway. Funny (the last two games included), I noticed over the years that the Pens win a lot less without Malkin than they do when Staal’s out…hell, last season they seemed to even thrive with him out. So what’s that incredulous non-sense about the final score Dave? Go check the stats showing the winning percentages when Malkin’s out versus Staal.

  26. sjb says:

    Sorry…Toews. Dyslexia can wreck ya.

  27. Lisa says:

    An interesting comment from Sidelinespensfan. I have always wondered that myself.

  28. Carol says:

    If all you get out of the No. 2 pick in the draft is a third-line center, then you’ve failed miserably. The goal is to get a franchise player there. Staal would be a good third-round pick, but he’s a crummy lottery pick.

  29. Jared says:

    It may also be worth remembering what the Pens looked like in 2006-07. Their roster included Ryan Whitney…Ryan Malone…Mark Recchi…Gary Roberts…Sergei Gonchar…Colby Armstrong…Michel Ouellet (who almost scored 20 goals that year, and h ad 16 in only 50 games the year before)…Erik Christensen (who finished with 18 and was regarded pretty highly by the organization)…John LeClair (who had 22 the year before)…along with Sid and Geno. there was a lot of offense and a pretty fair amount of offensive potential on that team.

    Shero was new. Therrien had just been bumped up from WBS to replace Olczyk halfway through the 2005-06 season.

    Maybe the thought process was “look…this organization has tended to gravitate towards offensively minded players for years…in order to make it into a complete team, we need to start drafting guys who are going to be defensive standouts. Guys that we could compare to, say, Mike Peca, John Madden, or Jere Lehtinen.”

    I don’t know if I buy that as being a good enough reason to take a 3rd line center (even a great one) #2 overall…but at least it would be a reason that they did it.

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