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Pens Push: Leader of Staalpologists, why ‘Z’ would be missed, and my charitable pledge to Neal.


Quick thoughts after the Penguins’ 4-1 victory over The Devil at Consol Energy Center:

= So, yeah, I’m a Staalpologist, but I’m guessing a game like the one C Jordan Staal had against the Devils doesn’t make me the only one. Dating to his return last season Staal has scored 16 goals and recorded 38 points over 52 games – a pace for 25 goals and 60 points if played out over a full regular-season. If those are his totals at the end of this season, and he maintains this pace for overall ice time (20:51) and PK time (2:31) and faceoff percentage (52.1), well, will THAT be enough to justify $4 million as a cap hit? It should be enough for his first Selke Trophy.

Best part about Staal’s performance was after the game, when he seemed genuinely irked when somebody (ahem) congratulated him on hitting the 100-goal plateau – as if he thought, Took me long enough!

Staal’s progression as an offensive force, which I write about in the game story for Sunday, is also explained well here by coach Dan Byslma:

“The one play he made on a play to (C) Dustin Jeffrey on a power play breakout was an elite play, a great play, a skilled play,” Bylsma said. “He’s such of a big guy. He can hold on to the puck down low for 10 seconds, giving him the ability to make a play. The biggest thing you’re seeing is his skating ability opening things up.”

The biggest thing you’re seeing is him making the Penguins an even more imposing threat when those other centers get back in the lineup. As Bylsma once told me: “Dominance down the middle and two great defense pairings; add a great goalie and it’s a Stanley Cup recipe.”

Potentially, the Penguins are set up to master that recipe, but it’s fair to wonder if the hockey gods are ever going to let them use all those ingredients.

= Devils LW Patrik Elias appeared to clip the face of Penguins LW Steve Sullivan in the third period, but it was Devils RW Petr Sykora who served the double-minor penalty for high sticking. So, of course it was Elias who netted a tying-goal early in the third. Sykora admitted after the game that it was Elias’ stick and publicly apologized to the on-ice official for stretching the truth, which Sykora did because Elias is a top penalty-killer for New Jersey.

“It was unrespectful to the referee for me, but I was trying to help my team and I didn’t want to have (Elias) go in for four minutes to the penalty box, we need him on the (penalty kill),” Elias said. “I just got the idea and it worked out and (Elias) actually got a goal there.  After that, (the referee) came up to me, he wasn’t happy and I apologized to him and it was unrespectful for me.” 

“On the other side I really want to do (whatever) I can do to help this team.”

“I was kind of hoping (the referee) wasn’t going to figure it out, but he did.”

= Bylsma said D Zbynek Michalek sustained a hand injury. A lot of fans have been down on Michalek this season, but his loss would be significant if it’s over an extended period of time. Not just on the ice, either; Michalek has been praised by many teammates for his dressing-room leadership since this run of injuries began in January.

= So, don’t look now, but somebody is putting together a great October just one year after a particularly nightmarish one. G Marc-Andre Fleury has stopped 82 of his past 86 shots faced and is 5-2-0 with a 2.13 GAA and .926 save percentage. Considering his best hockey is usually played starting in February, this bodes well for those who called for him to finally snag some Vezina Trophy notice this season.

Fleury was strong early in this game with some solid stops on Devils Cs Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique, and his sterling play in the second period, where the Devils generated at least as many quality chances as their nine shots, probably preserved these two points for the Penguins.

Oh, by the way: Fleury earned his fifth win last season on Nov. 19.

= C Sidney Crosby, whose progress I report on in a Sunday story, does appear to be in great spirits. Something interesting from his scrum with the media before this game: When asked if the opponent or site of the game for his return mattered, his response was, “No.” He did say he would like to string some regular practices together. For more on that you’ll have to read the story, though.

= RW James Neal is now nine goals from my season projection of 17. At this rate, if Crosby doesn’t play until Nov. 11, that gives Neal five games to match my projection before Crosby plays a game – something I joked to Neal on Thursday night might be possible. Here’s my vow, I’m going to donate $10 for every goal that Neal bests my prediction by to a charity of his choice.  

Neal, on Staal: “Tonight he showed how skilled he is. You can’t say enough about him. He plays against top lines every night. The way he is skating right now… he was great.”

= A personal note to close: This week my Aunt Marie Schwartz turned 75, on Saturday my godchild Sal Oliverio intercepted a pass and scored a touchdown for his undefeated Bishop Canevin football team, and on Sunday my sister, Lisa Rossi, hits the big 3-0. I’m sure most of you don’t care, but I do – and it’s my blog, so one paragraph is the least I can do for these great people in my life.





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.


  1. Cameron says:

    Mr. Rossi, I’m behind this Neal goal charity donation all the way. If he can beat your projection of 17 goals before Crosby sees ice time, and I’m willing to give some leeway to the Nov 11 date to the tune of your suggestion, I would gladly write a check to a reputable charity for $10 a goal over your projection. Pick a date, spread the word, make it a movement, make it happen. This can only be a good thing for the Pens or some charity group.

  2. bill says:

    I hope the league will consider some form of discipline for Sykora’s actions. I think it is a bigger deal than anybody is making it out to be. Imagine if that would have happened in the finals. Teams should at least be penalized in the future for it.

  3. Matt says:


    First and foremost congrats to all your family on their birthdays and accomplishments! Second, Fleury is definitely playing lights out right now. The last 2 games he’s a last minute deflection and unfortunate bounce from posting back-to-back shutouts, but that always seems how it is with Fleury. Would love to see how many 1 GA games he’s had in his career. But in my opinion he’s the best goalie in the league who had nothing more than a bad month and a half to start last season. Obviously debatable but when the chips are down I’d love to hear an argument for another goalie someone would want.

  4. Jared says:

    Epic good game out of Staal. It literally would be hard to ask for anything more than that out of almost any player. If he can find that level in the offensive zone with some consistency, I would think “Staalpologist” will fall out of common usage.

    One thing that does occur…things have to be pretty good with your hockey team if you’re devoting major time to being worried about esoteric things like your #3 center’s draft position and salary. Everyone just take a second and remember the bad times, when concerns about the Pens were things like “they traded Alexei Kovalev for WHO?!?!?!?” and “who the $#@# is Ross Lupaschuk?!?”

    And just for the sake of discussion…if my math is correct (which is a huge “if” in almost every instance), Neal is currently on pace for 66 goals. Playing without either of the two most talented offensive centers on the Pens’ roster, and largely playing alongside Richard Park. Not that Park is a terrible hockey player…but the notion of Neal and either Sid or Geno playing together consistently should be the stuff of nightmares for anyone who has a GAA to worry about.

  5. sabu says says:

    I want to see this team take a run (they can maybe tie it…I dont think it wil ever be broken) at having 11 guys hit the twenty goal plateau. The last and only team to do it was the Bruins in 1978. For this to happen, at this point of 10 games in, you need to have 11 guys at or near 2 goals…the pens are there sofar. The talent to achieve this is there, pending crosby and malkin’s return. the pens have great depth and balance, and what a great way to keep the forwards motivated through the season with trying to meet a goal like that.

    That said, there’s a couple of islanders that need their @sses beat, in the Jeff Beagle style. You could throw Garth Snow, their idiot GM, in that mix as well.

  6. Christian says:

    I’ve grown tired of people bashing Staal. He is perfect for this team, and Shero and his scouts know how to build a team, not to mention quite shrewd in their evaluation of players. I think some fans judge him based on those picked around him in his draft year, which is ridiculous. Staal is a big bodied defensive shutdown center, with decent offensive skill. He is the perfect complement to Geno & Sid, as he plays against the opposition’s top line every night. Toews, Backstrom and Kessel definitely have more offensive skills than Staal. Toews: solid captain, and a legit first line center. Staal is better defensively. Would Toews have accepted his role as 3rd line center? Backstrom: Solid offensive, top line center. Disappears in playoffs and does not play defense. Kessel: Top line, skilled sniper with terrible attitude, and has not backchecked since bantam. Not a winner. Other teams cannot match up with us, that will always be one of our major strengths. I hope Staal stays in a Penguin uniform the rest of his career; he deserves it. And he deserves the respect of the entire fanbase.

  7. Ray Boniface says:

    Sykora (whom I liked very much as a Penguin) should be suspended for that stunt.

    As should the officiating crew. NHL, or WWF?

  8. Guy says:

    The game against the Devils was great to watch, love seeing Staal have a good game.

    My question is why was nothing said about New Jersey’s Kevin Mills hit on Staal. He lined him up not unlike Matt Cooke (used to do!) and Richards did, that knocked an opposing player into next week and possibly ended his career. If Staal hadn’t seem him at the last second and pulled his head back we would have been looking at another one of our star players with

  9. Guy says:

    I seem to be missing most of my reply, are we having technical difficulties?

  10. Ya Jagoff says:

    These referees blew it AND Petr Sykora was unsportsmanlike to cheat so blatantly,

  11. sjb says:

    Yup, Staal’s play has been good over the past couple games…and that’s how he should play CONSISTENTLY. Now if he goes MIA again over a stretch of games and goes back to his feminine level of physical play then I don’t see why it’s wrong to criticize him or why people need to make apologies for him. He’s been in the NHL long enough to score 100 goals, so he’s obviously been there long enough to know how play like he’s supposed game in/game out as well.

    I’m sorry if I expect more out of a 2nd overall pick and if it a forward that means 25 to 30 goals a season MINIMUM, regardless of the player’s “defensive” upside, what line he plays on, or the other intangibles there may be.

    If Staal keeps playing like he has over the past week I’ll stay off his case and even give him a pass for the off game now and then that all players have but don’t expect me to ignore the extended periods of not scoring and not playing at a level he should be at because he’s a 3rd line center, because he’s not…he’s a $4 million, 2nd overall pick, 3rd line center. BIG difference.

  12. Jay Walker says:

    Great to see Jagr flyin’ and smilin’ again. Never saw him happier than he is with the Flyboys now!

  13. Sammy says:

    I have to admit, this team bores me. Sort of a faceless bunch. Would never pay Consol prices to watch it.

  14. Andrew says:

    Yeah, we coulda, woulda, shoulda have had 68 if management wasn’t so cheap.

  15. Allan says:

    Shouldn’t beat writers report the story and not be a part of it? Or is this what modern journalism is about?

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