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

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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.

 

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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