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May 22, 2014
by Josh Yohe


37 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: Losing Niskanen could cripple Penguins

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Greetings, hockey fans.

 

Matt Niskanen, anyone? Hear me out.

 

This is what we know about the Penguins’ current defensive unit.

 

= Kris Letang is coming off a fairly strong postseason. His best hockey of the season actually came after he sustained a stroke in January. Good for him. Still, during the past eight months, Letang has endured a stroke, an elbow infection, a significant knee injury, a broken hand and an injured foot that, according to his agent, isn’t broken. His new contract kicks in on July 1 and with it comes a pretty heavy no-movement agreement. Is Letang’s value, because of the injury, strong enough to make him legitimate trade bait? No, not at $7.25 million for the next eight years. And really, don’t you have to wonder how healthy he’ll be able to stay? Letang has also endured numerous concussions in his career, among many other minor injuries. Do you trust him to stay healthy?

 

= Paul Martin is coming off a magnificent season. What a hockey player. He was easily the Penguins’ finest defensemen during the 2013-14 season. So, what else do you need to know? Well, he’ll be 34 before the next postseason arrives and he’ll be a free agent in about 13 months. Those are two pretty significant items. Oh, he also sustained a broken leg and broken hand during last season. Do you trust him to stay healthy?

 

= Rob Scuderi is coming off a dreadful season. You all know this. He’ll be 36 in December and still has three years left on his contract. Also, the Penguins can’t use an amnesty buyout on him because his most recent contract was signed following the latest CBA. Ouch.

 

= Brooks Orpik, among the finer warriors in Penguins history, probably isn’t coming back. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and will be 34 in December. Also, he suffered a pretty serious knee injury in Game 4 against the Rangers. His body is starting to break down.

 

= Olli Maatta enjoyed a wonderful rookie season. He’s also scheduled to have shoulder surgery this week. The Penguins aren’t going to make a timetable for Maatta until following the operation, but it sounds fairly serious. Shoulder surgeries aren’t easy for hockey players to return from. Maatta is young, of course, and the odds say he’ll be fine. But still, you wonder if he’ll be ready for the beginning of next season and you wonder about his form next season.

 

= Deryk Engelland is an unrestricted free agent. You know, he’s not a great player by any stretch, but he’s perfectly serviceable, adds a physical edge and can help on the fourth line. Someone is going to give Engelland a decent contract this summer. I doubt it will be the Penguins.

 

= Robert Bortuzzo enjoyed a nice season. He’s limited offensively, but if you like your defensemen physical and sound defensively, he’s your guy.

 

= Simon Despres’ confidence level is always in question. The coaching staff never figured out how to handle Despres at the NHL level. Is this Despres’ fault or the fault of the coaching staff? I don’t know, honestly. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around. Would you trust him at the NHL level next season? Probably not.

 

= Brian Dumoulin is playing really well for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton right now and has an NHL future. But his NHL experience is so, so limited.

 

= Scott Harrington is another guy having a really good year in Wlkes-Barre. He has an NHL future too. But how many rookies do you want on next season’s roster?

 

= Derrick Pouliot? He just had shoulder surgery and probably won’t be ready for action when the season begins. Even if he improves quickly, Pouliot was probably set to start the season at the AHL level anyway.

 

What’s my point, you ask? My point is, specifically regarding the 2014-15 season, the Penguins could be in a world of trouble if they don’t re-sign unrestricted free agent defenseman Matt Niskanen.

He is going to command plenty of cash, and understandably so. He’s a hot commodity. Niskanen isn’t a great player, but he’s a good one. There’s something to be said for having a right-handed, mobile, strong two-way, 27-year-old defenseman who is one of the truly good people in the game on your team.

Letang and Martin are both wonderful players, but very little data suggests that either will come close to playing 82 games next season. Letang, in particular, has dealt with serious health problems. Martin is older than you think.

Orpik? He’s almost certainly gone. Engelland? Same thing.

Scuderi was brought here to be a top-four defenseman and to play with Letang. He might not even be a top-six defenseman any longer.

Bortuzzo is a legitimate NHL defenseman but still in the 5-6 mold as opposed to a clear top-four guy.

Maatta’s injury sounds serious. Pouliot’s, too. Harrington might not be ready yet. The same thing goes for Dumoulin, and really, do you want multiple rookie defensemen on the blue line at the same time if you’re interested in winning a championship next season?

For that matter, do you trust Despres?

All of this brings us back to Matt Niskanen. Or, as I prefer to label him, Matt Ni$kanen.

Once such an extraordinary strength on paper, the Penguins’ blue line is in shambles long before next season begins.

Niskanen can make things better. He’s not a guy you want to overpay. Those who fall in the “good but not great” category often make more money than they should at the NHL level. But Niskanen brings much to the table. He’s legitimately good, he’s durable, he’s young, but he isn’t too young. Although Niskanen will never be a top-two defenseman, I believe he is a reasonable answer as a top-four defenseman. He’s good on the power play too, which is no small thing, since the Penguins rely heavily on special teams.

What has become disturbingly clear during the past couple of days is that the Penguins, for all of their organizational depth on defense, might not have many answers on the blue line next fall.

Signing Niskanen soon – even if you have to overpay him slightly – would solve a lot of defensive problems, especially in the short term.

I realize that the Penguins are oozing with young defensemen, but you can’t bring all those guys up at the same time. You don’t want multiple rookies on your blue line, especially near playoff time. The NHL just doesn’t work that way.

Niskanen can be a bridge from the Orpik era on the blue line to the Maatta era.

And judging by so many things – health, free agency, bad luck, youth, old age – Niskanen is starting to look like a necessary bridge.

- Yohe

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May 21, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Gorton, BriseBois mentioned as good fits for Pens

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This being a first go at a general manager search, one aspect has become clear. A lot more names are floated than it seems are being considered for the Penguins’ vacancy. As of Wednesday morning, there was no indication Penguins ownership had settled on a list of candidates to replace Ray Shero, let alone conducted formal interviews.

Of course, it has only been about a week since the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs. Other teams have taken almost a month on their general manager searches.

 

>> Perhaps, though, cross Boston’s Jim Benning off the list. TSN reported Wednesday that Benning will take over Vancouver’s hockey operations department and become the Canucks’ general manager: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=452733

 

>> Shero remains quiet since his dismissal, but Katie Carrera of the Washington Post reports the Capitals have reached out to Shero: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capitals-insider/wp/2014/05/20/capitals-enter-fourth-week-of-general-manager-search/

Also, in that report, the Capitals are interested in Boston’s Don Sweeney and Nashville’s Paul Fenton.

Some thoughts to ponder:

If Sweeney heads to Washington, leaving the Bruins without GM Peter Chiarelli’s two assistants, would Shero perhaps join the Bruins in an advisory role? He and Chiarelli are good friends, and Shero’s son is headed to Boston College to play hockey. Taking an advisory role would allow Shero to stay in the NHL and wait on another opening while collecting his general manager’s role salary from the Penguins. It would also give the Bruins some insider information on the Penguins.

If Fenton heads to Washington, could Shero join the Predators in an advisory role? His mentor, David Poile, is the general manager with Nashville. Or, could Shero head to Nashville with the understanding he will become the general manager, say, after Poile’s potential last season before taking a different role in that organization?

Those are just some thoughts regarding Shero, who is sure to have options.

 

>> One name that keeps popping up regarding the Penguins is Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton. Something to consider: He was Boston’s interim GM before the Bruins chose Chiarelli – largely because Shero picked the Penguins in May 2006. During his interim run, Gorton orchestrated the trade that brought Tuukka Rask to Boston.

Gorton is mostly behind-the-scenes with the Rangers, but he is viewed by people within the NHL offices as a rising star – very much in a manner similar to what was said about Chuck Fletcher before he left the Penguins during their 2009 Stanley Cup run to take over the Wild.

 

>> The other name that keeps getting dropped, though perhaps because the good relationship between Penguins and Lightning ownership is well known, is Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois.

If the Penguins really like what current interim GM Jason Botterill does well – manage the salary cap, negotiate contracts, and scout – but believe Botterill is too close a link to the Shero era, BriseBois would make a lot of sense. Botterill and BriseBois are both young and viewed as up-and-comers that are ready to lead an NHL franchise.

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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May 20, 2014
by Rob Rossi


24 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Pens likely to keep nudging Brisson

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Technically, the Penguins’ general manager search started Friday, but it still has not intensified.

NHL super agent Pat Brisson pulled his name from consideration on Monday, telling the Tribune-Review and many other outlets he wishes to stay in his current role as representative to many stars such as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.

Still, the Penguins are not done pursuing Brisson – and the interest of ownership is said to be real, specifically from Ron Burkle.

The Penguins believe Brisson is interested in a role with a team, but is hesitant to leave Southern California and a lucrative agent business. Those close to him have said Brisson does not want the Penguins’ GM job, but is open to working for the Penguins.

Keep in mind, too, that Brisson was somebody ownership thought worth a look during the search that landed Shero eight years ago.

Expect the Penguins to keep trying to sell Brisson on a role within the organization. If not as the next general manager then perhaps as Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, which would find him working with a GM that focuses more on scouting and the salary cap – and likely a coach with significant say in player personnel matters.

Also, it is said Brisson might covet being President of the Penguins. Currently, CEO David Morehouse is holding that role. However, only a few years ago, there was a management structure that featured Ken Sawyer as CEO, Morehouse as president and Ray Shero as GM.

The Penguins are said to be open to a non-traditional management structure depending on the candidates for GM. Only Morehouse, though, will report directly to ownership.

 

>> The Penguins’ last GM search did involve Burkle and majority co-owner Mario Lemieux, but it was led by Sawyer, who had 14 years experience as the NHL’s chief financial officer. It’s the same dynamic this time around, only Sawyer’s role is being filled by Morehouse.

There really is no rush, because ownership is confident that interim GM Jason Botterill can steer the organization right up to and through the NHL Entry Draft if necessary. Also, it is believed Botterill will remain with the organization in some capacity – or at least it will be his choice – even if he does not land the full-time gig. He is a candidate, Morehouse said.

 

>> The Penguins are one of three teams looking for GMs. The others are Vancouver and Washington.

As of Monday, Boston assistant general managers Jim Benning and Don Sweeney were being mentioned in conversations around the league as candidates expected to get serious consideration for the vacancies. Benning is believed by some to be the favorite with Vancouver.

Sweeney is on Washington’s radar, per Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington: http://www.csnwashington.com/hockey-washington-capitals/talk/plenty-questions-surround-caps-gm-search

Within the hockey community, there seems to be no feel for where the Penguins want to go with the next general manager. Mostly, there remains lingering shock that Shero was fired.

Will DePaoli of Inside Pittsburgh Sports first reported Brisson as a possibility last week, and now reports Rick Dudley on the Penguins’ radar: http://insidepittsburghsports.com/story/rick-dudley-among-shortlist-of-potential-gm-candidates-emerging-on-penguins-radar/65226/

A name gaining traction as a dark-horse candidate to land a GM opening is New York Rangers assistant GM Jeff Gorton. Also, as the Trib reported on Friday, Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois intrigues the Penguins.

Ownership is said to favor emphasizing drafting and development when it comes to the next GM.

 

>> Nobody still with the Penguins, from coaching staff to hockey operations employees, is sure how the franchise’s hockey side is expected to run efficiently right now. Nobody is permitted to speak (on the record) with the media, though. There is a lot of frustration among remaining employees – mostly because everybody is being kept in the dark. Words used to describe the current situation are strange and uncomfortable.

 

>> Head coach Dan Bylsma is said to have expressed his displeasure to ownership about the situation that finds him employed but unlikely to be retained. Ownership is said to have understood his concern, but remained unwilling to let him out of his contract.

Bylsma wants to coach somewhere next season. He is said not to be interested in another job with within the organization. His salary, over $2 million, would seemingly make him overpaid for anything other than head coach or team executive.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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May 17, 2014
by Josh Yohe


40 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: In defense of Shero

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Greetings, hockey fans.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard much criticism thrown in Ray Shero’s direction. Some of the criticism has come from fans, some from Penguins ownership. I’ve heard that Shero drafts poorly, that he didn’t have long term vision, that he’s left the Penguins in a bad spot regarding the salary cap. I happen to believe Shero did a far better job during his tenure as Penguins general manager than many care to acknowledge.

First, let’s take a look at his drafting record. It was undeniably questionable, especially when you consider how few forwards have made their way to the NHL from Shero’s draft classes. That’s fair. But let’s not act like Shero drafted a bunch of stiffs. Did you watch Olli Maatta play this season? Not a bad pick. By all accounts, Derrick Pouliot is going to become a terrific NHL player. Scott Harrington had a terrific season in Wilkes-Barre, and many believe he will be NHL-ready next season and a strong NHL player for a long time.

Also, don’t criticize Shero for the selection of Simon Despres. He’s a great talent, and Shero did well to find him with the final pick in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Maybe the Penguins coaching staff should have done a better job with Despres, whose physical gifts are quite evident.

Don’t blame Shero for the selection of Beau Bennett, either. Shero can’t predict a player’s health. Bennett is very clearly a talented player who might still blossom into a good NHL player.

Shero’s draft record isn’t great. In particular, the Penguins have struck out mightily in later rounds. Is this Shero’s fault, or are the Penguins in need of a revamped scouting staff? You be the judge. But the fact is, the Penguins never have a high draft pick. On the one occasion that they did – the Jordan Staal trade made that possible in 2012 – they selected a player in Pouliot who the organization absolutely loves.

And really, was Ray Shero’s job ever to concern himself with the long term, with the future? Absolutely not. When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, it became clear that the future had arrived. And, it had. Shero responded by giving the Penguins a roster to compete for a Stanley Cup from 2010-2014. And that’s exactly what he did.

Injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin made the 2011 postseason a lost cause for the Penguins. However, starting in the 2011-12 season and going through this past campaign, Shero gave the Penguins exceptional lineups. In fact, the 2011-12 and 2012-13 Penguins were, in my opinion, the most talented teams in hockey. They should have at least reached a Stanley Cup Final during that stretch, if not won a championship. Jussi Jokinen was a healthy scratch on last season’s team, which illustrates just how talented that team was.

You can thank Ray Shero for that. He did what he was supposed to do. Shero looked at the Penguins, recognized that being aggressive during Crosby and Malkin’s prime years was prudent, and went for it. Did he fail? I guess you can say he did, because no more championships came to the Penguins. But I would strongly suggest that the players and coaching staff failed even more. Did Shero sacrifice some of the future to load up the Penguins during the past few years? Yes. Would he have been roundly criticized had he been more conservative, opting against loading up for recent championship runs? Yes.

Historically speaking, Shero should be remembered fondly. He made some mistakes in free agency – Rob Scuderi, in particular, was given far too much money over far too many years – but also made some strong decisions. His trade record is exceptionally good. Shero did remarkable work in bringing the likes of James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh. Even last season, he gave up little while acquiring Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jokinen.

Shero wasn’t a perfect general manager. No such thing exists, of course. All things considered, I’d argue he was one of the five best general managers during the past decade. If you think replacing him will be easy, you’re wrong. That he was always an honest, good person only adds to the curious feel of the past few days.

-          Yohe

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May 17, 2014
by Rob Rossi


7 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: A Good Man Is Hard To Find (PIttsburgh)

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Rejean Shero always seemed like a really good man.

That is a dangerous presumption to make in this business, because reporters only get to see so much. There is always a lot more that we don’t know than we do about the people and situations we cover.

However, something happened four years ago that provided pretty compelling evidence that Shero was made of the good stuff.

The Penguins’ Stanley Cup defense season had just ended, and Shero’s mother had just passed. Disappointment met tragedy, and it was a lousy match.

At the funeral home, Shero was shown support by a small group of friends, family and colleagues – but it was a couple of Penguins players who stood out. Actually, they were soon-to-be former Penguins, and Shero had explained that to these men only a few weeks prior.

The players were Ruslan Fedotenko and Mark Eaton. They were veterans, family men themselves, but also impending free agents. After the season, Shero had told both men they were not in the Penguins’ plan going forward.

That must always be a tough conversation to have, probably tougher when having it with guys for whom a person is forever linked. Eaton was the first free-agent Shero had signed with the Penguins. Fedotenko was one of a couple he brought to Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup run in 2009.

Eaton and Fedotenko’s time with the Penguins was over by the summer of July 2010; but there would be other summers, ones with title team reunions – and those summers would offer a brief reminder to everybody associated with that 2009 Cup team that history was theirs.

Or, to put it another way, everybody associated with that Cup team was forever a family, as Rejean Shero’s late father, Fred, probably would agree.

Still, hockey is a business, and Rejean Shero had to move on from Eaton and Fedotenko to move the Penguins forward. So he did.

Maybe it says more about those two men that they showed up at Shero’s mother’s viewing only a few weeks after he told them their time with the Penguins was over. Probably, though, it says everything about Shero as a boss and a man. Respect is earned, and it was shown to Shero on that day four years ago.

Ray Shero was fired Friday.

There is a lot of spin regarding his tenure coming from the Penguins organization, which is owned by men a lot more ruthless than a fan base cares to acknowledge. That is a good thing for the fan base, because cold, unemotional and ruthless assessments by owners are what distinguish the great franchises from ones that are just around.

The Steelers have won more than any NFL team in the Super Bowl era. For the most part, when it came to personnel moves, Dan Rooney was ruthless.

Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle want to win. They have spent a lot of money on players and for players, and their careful assessment is that the Penguins need different types of players, maybe some better players, to win again.

It has been five years since the Cup, and clearly Penguins ownership has pegged that silver chalice as the definition of winning. So Shero lost his job, even if he is a good man.

Keep this in mind, though.

Lemieux and Burkle have owned the Penguins since September 1999. Their only tangible on-ice success came with Shero running the hockey side of the franchise. Sidney Crosby is in Pittsburgh because a lottery ball bounced the Penguins way in 2005. The other stars of the Crosby era – specifically Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury – arrived because ownership had allowed the franchise to bottom out completely.

That was a smart business decision, by the way. It was cold, unemotional and ruthless.

It was very corporate, and so are the Penguins in many, many ways. That is why they will probably win again with a new general manager. The game of hockey is a business, and the Lemieux and Burkle, for all their riches, really want to win.

Still, they won with the general manager they just fired – and that is something everybody should remember a day after a seemingly good man lost his job because his teams did not win everything enough.

Shero brought the Penguins into the modern era at a time when their records were kept on legal pads in filing cabinets. He created the hockey operations department from scratch and turned it into something that, until this season, Penguins brass boasted about being best in the league.

Shero’s first order of business upon signing Eaton in 2006 was to order flowers sent to Eaton’s wife. He wanted the Penguins to be the organization that treated players like family. It was not a novel concept, and Shero never sold it as one.

It was Shero who repeatedly said he cared only about Crosby the person during the captain’s concussion saga. There were a lot of agendas, within and outside of the Penguins, during that period of time from January 2011-March 2012, but Shero had only one – doing right by Crosby.

Shero was gracious, respectful and never lied.

That last part is especially impressive, but hockey is a business full with liars. Hockey, as somebody within it once perfectly explained, is a dirty, disgusting, disgraceful business, and we all sacrifice part of our soul to be a part of it.

There will be a lot of stories about Shero over the next few weeks, many assessing the work he did with the Penguins.

The read here is that he was a really good general manager.

The view here is that he was a lot better man for the Penguins – certainly, the type of person who will not easily be replaced.

 

>> LINKS TO #TribHKY COVERAGE

WHO’S THE BOSS? A look at the Penguins’ power structure:  http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6124069-74/morehouse-penguins-general#axzz31yoU6zCi

WHO’S NEXT? Possible candidates for the next GM: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6126256-74/job-penguins-current#axzz31yoU6zCi

WHO SAYS? Columnist Dejan Kovacevic’s Q&A with Penguins ownership: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6129439-74/lemieux-burkle-team#axzz31yoU6zCi

WHO STAYS? Josh Yohe on the in-limbo coaching staff: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6124075-74/bylsma-morehouse-staff#axzz31yoU6zCi

WHO UNDERSTOOD? Jason Mackey finds a puzzled public after the events of Friday: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6124073-74/bylsma-shero-cushing#axzz31yoU6zCi

WHO THINKS? Dan Bylsma is coming back. Not Kovacevic. His column: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/6101769-74/lemieux-burkle-coach#axzz31yoU6zCi

WHO-A? An A-1 story written with Kovacevic on where the Penguins are headed: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6126219-74/shero-general-penguins#axzz31yoU6zCi

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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May 14, 2014
by Rob Rossi


10 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: The next 48 hours…

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Things are busy here on the Penguins beat, so until we have something to report, on behalf of the entire #TribHKY team I just wanted to thank everybody for reading.

Please keep doing so on what promises to prove a pivotal next few days, weeks and months.

Our coverage from Game 7…

 

>> Ownership is considering big changes for the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/6097941-74/penguins-series-games

 

>> Josh Yohe reports on the stars that failed to shine (again): http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6101581-74/penguins-rangers-neal#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

>> Jason Mackey writes about “King” Henrik’s Game 7 coronation: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6101585-74/rangers-lundqvist-penguins#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

>> Chris Adamski looks at the role of the first game in Game 7, and Round 2: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6101788-74/rangers-goal-penguins

 

>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic identifies the Penguins’ big need going forward: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6101580-74/crosby-team-penguins#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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May 13, 2014
by Josh Yohe


12 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: 5 things that can help Pens, plus Game 7 prediction

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Hello, nervous hockey fans. Here are some quick thoughts before we enter the roller coaster of love, hate and vomit-inducing tension that is Game 7.

Here are five things the Penguins would be wise to accomplish if they want to advance to the Eastern Conference final.

= No Flower Screw-ups

Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t have to play a perfect game tonight and probably won’t. That would be a lot to ask. But Fleury must make sure to avoid doing something that will destroy his team’s confidence.

In other words, if Fleury knocks a puck into his own net, or gets caught behind his net while the Rangers are scoring – you know, Fleury kind of things to do during past postseasons – things could turn bad for the Penguins in a hurry. Remember the goal he allowed early in Game 7 against Montreal? It can’t happen tonight. It just can’t. And I don’t think it will. I buy into the belief that this is a new Fleury. But he’s got to prove it tonight.

= Power play life

Lots of talk in this series about the Rangers dismal power play, right? Well, the team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin shouldn’t be 1-for-19 in this series. In fact, the frequent postseason mishaps with the Penguins’ special teams are pretty embarrassing and have become a factor again in this series. The Penguins aren’t a great even strength team. They need special teams to be their friend. Tonight is a pretty good time for that to be the case.

= Crowd support

The crowds at Consol Energy Center this postseason have been OK. Nothing special, though. This is primarily an economic issue. Tickets for the playoffs are pretty ridiculous. Many hard core fans simply can’t afford a ticket, and those seats are being replaced by wealthy people who view hockey games as events as opposed to serious business. That’s not a good thing.

I’m a big, big believe that a crowd can change the course of a sporting event. I’ve seen it happen many times. It’s a real thing. If you’re going to the game tonight, you can make a difference. Players can sense nervousness, and that might not be a good thing. They can be inspired by a great crowd, too.

= Luck

Let’s not act like luck doesn’t play a role in hockey games, especially in Game 7s. It most certainly does. The Penguins could use a break from the hockey gods tonight.

= The Kid

Let’s not over-think this. In the end, when this series is through, it will largely be remembered because of Sidney Crosby’s performance. He hasn’t been himself. Everyone knows this.

But in tonight, he has an opportunity. Many of his recent troubles will be forgotten with a virtuoso performance tonight against the Rangers.

Will Crosby rise up tonight while under enormous pressure?

 

Prediction: Anyone who claims to know how this game will go is lying. No one can possibly know. It’s been a messed up series in many ways. But I’ll go against the grain and pick the Penguins, which puts me in the minority. I just think they’re a better team, I think they’re due to win a Game 7 at home, and I loved the edge I sensed from a few players in the locker room. There were some salty people in there this morning. They’re angry that the city has seemingly stopped believing in them. They aren’t viewing this as an inevitable setback, but rather, as a final opportunity to get things right in the playoffs as a group. Should be fascinating. I haven’t a clue what to expect, but I think Crosby does rise up tonight. One way or the other, we’ll remember this one for a long time.

Final score: Penguins 4, Rangers 2

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May 13, 2014
by Rob Rossi


6 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: And the winner is…

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Everything that has come before this does not matter. That is the reality about Game 7 between the Penguins and New York Rangers.

So, forget about all of the following:

Sidney Crosby’s goal-scoring slump;

Soft goals that went against and shutouts posted by Marc-Andre Fleury;

Derick Brassard’s four goals;

Martin St. Louis’ mother’s passing.

Game 7 is its own entity, one that exits outside the realm of everything else everybody has done or seen or thought about in a best-of-seven series.

It is defining and often confounding.

Four years ago, the idea of the Penguins’ Cup defense ending with an emotional meltdown at home against Montreal in Game 7 seemed ludicrous based upon precedent. A year before, the notion the Penguins could win a Game 7 on the road at Detroit was equally ludicrous based upon precedent.

Game 7 is often ludicrous, and usually what ends up being the lasting memory is not something anybody could have predicted based off what somebody had seen previously.

PENGUINS 4, RANGERS 2

 

>> I have interviewed Evgeni Malkin more than any reporter in North America. I am writing his authorized biography. He is not an easy player to quote, but over the last eight years I have come to get a really good feel when he is actually saying something profound, and when he is ending a sentence.

This is what Malkin said during his Thursday availability:

“You know (the) story. After the Olympics, Sid (came) to me and we (started) talking about my game, about life. We’re good friends. I’m excited to play with Sid on one line. It’s one team. He’s (the) best player in the world, and I (have) learned a lot. We know we can win and we (will) do it.”

Mark Messier’s guarantee Malkin’s words were not on Thursday.

The actual news from his media availability was Malkin letting slip the Penguins were staying at a hotel the night before a home Game 7.

Moving on…

 

>> Win and advance to a fourth conference final in seven years. Lose and drop a fifth series to a lower-seeded team since 2010. Oh, Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6098236-74/penguins-game-crosby#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

>> Josh Yohe’s ‘Insider’ finds Rob Scuderi sharing the secrets of winning Game 7: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6097922-74/penguins-scuderi-game#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic does not see a win changing anything: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6098449-74/won-game-penguins#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

>> Legacies get made in Game 7s, so are Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc the next new heroes? Chris Adamski reports: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6098441-74/goc-penguins-stempniak#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

>> Jason Mackey saw cool – and comfort – from the franchise centers a day before Game 7: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6098438-74/crosby-malkin-game

 

>> Contributor Denis Gorman explores the comfort these Rangers have in Game 7s: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6098237-74/game-rangers-penguins#axzz31bxkPyyQ

 

>> And, finally, Melanie Waas made pretty this page of information from Yohe and me:

Game 7 page

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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May 12, 2014
by Josh Yohe


14 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: Crosby and Malkin face the music

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ptr-pens07-051314

Greetings, hockey fans…

So, an interesting scene just took place at Consol Energy Center. There was a podium, there was Sidney Crosby, and there was Evgeni Malkin.

This might not seem like a big deal, but in reality, it is.

The Penguins have appeared horribly disjointed most of this spring. They never appear on the same page, have bursts of brilliance followed by bursts of grotesque hockey. Some nights, frankly, they don’t seem to show up to inexplicable extents.

This hasn’t been a spring of great accountability for these Penguins.

And yet, today was different.

Players don’t really enjoy press conference settings. In particular, Crosby and Malkin don’t enjoy them. And make no mistake, they didn’t have to today. They could have easily declined. But they didn’t.

Consider this: Malkin has spoken to the media twice all postseason and probably fewer than 10 times this season. He doesn’t enjoy it. The language barrier is still uncomfortable for him. He’s got some shyness in his personality and has grown comfortable leaving Crosby to absorb the brunt of the questions. Sitting at a press conference? That’s something he literally hasn’t done in years.

But there he was, answering all of the questions, pleasant or otherwise. And he did so with thoughtfulness and a touch of humor.

And then there is Crosby.

He took some very difficult questions from the Pittsburgh and New York reporters following Sunday’s Game 6. He handled them in stride, but almost certainly didn’t enjoy the experience. These are tough times for him. The greatest player in the world isn’t supposed to score one goal in his past 17 playoff games, and he knows it. He was bombarded with questions on Sunday. I’m willing to bet he would have enjoyed nothing more than a day off on Monday. (Oh, this needs to be mentioned. Crosby, arguably the world’s most superstitious man, hates speaking at the podium. No, he really hates it. He just won’t do it. It’s never been totally clear why he hates it so much. Some believe he doesn’t like special treatment, so he likes to speak in the locker room like everyone else. Others think it’s superstition. Whatever the case may be, he has only spoken at the podium in a non-medical press conference a couple of times in the past five years.)

But there he was, too.

The Penguins seem disjointed, out of sorts, not on the same page. At times, they don’t strike you as having an especially close locker room. Something just doesn’t seem right.

Crosby and Malkin, though, remain very much united. That has been clear all season, and it was especially the case on this late afternoon at Consol Energy Center.

Malkin pointed out a story from March when Crosby, sensing that Malkin was in a post-Olympics funk, pulled him aside and the two spoke about Sochi and other topics. Since that talk, Malkin has probably been the world’s greatest hockey player.

Here are some tidbits from the press conference:

 

= Malkin was in a particularly jovial mood. When Pens media relations head/Say Yes to the Dress Star Jen Bullano opened the press conference by inviting reporters to ask questions, Malkin responded, “I’ll ask the first question,” drawing some laughter. He never did ask a questions, but it was Malkin, so it was funny, because he is funny.

 

= Crosby wouldn’t bite on his conversation with Mario Lemieux following Game 6. I was the last reporter out of the locker room and saw Crosby and Lemieux having a conversation, the only two people left in the
locker room. Crosby said today that the conversation was no big deal, that they talked about the same things as usual. He also noted that Lemieux does indeed know what it’s like to be in his shoes. Crosby explained that, when things aren’t going well, he prefers not discussing them. A little serenity can be good, I suppose.

 

= Crosby said it doesn’t matter if he plays on a line with Malkin tomorrow or not. “We have to create offense one way or the other,” he said.

 

There will be far more about Crosby and Malkin – along with an enormous amount of coverage – in tomorrow’s Trib. If you’re up late, check out the website. You won’t be disappointed.

 

What will happen tomorrow? I don’t know. No one knows. But the team’s top two players are on the same page. And they showed it. There is something to be said for that.

 

Until tomorrow, nervous hockey fans…hang in there.

 

-          Yohe

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May 12, 2014
by Rob Rossi


35 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Crosby needs some muscle

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NEW YORK – This is not an excuse for Sidney Crosby, just an observation.

He is getting pulverized by the New York Rangers. When that is not the case, he is getting hooked and held and whatever else passes for ignored obstruction during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now, indeed, he must do a better job of fighting through it. One goal in 12 games – and just that many in his last 17 playoff contests dating to last postseason – does not cut it for the player that is viewed almost universally as the best in the word.

Still, Crosby is up against it on the ice.

Perhaps even more galling than the lack of care by officials to enforce actual rules against clutching and grabbing has been the lack of care by Crosby’s teammates to actually do anything to deter opponents from treating him like a human whack-a-mole.

Ah, but these are the Penguins – an organization that went so far in its zest to eliminate head shots three years ago that now general manager Ray Shero has constructed a club essentially devoid of players with, uh, punch.

To be fair, this probably is not something Shero prefers; but ownership – or, at least, ownership’s appointed decision makers – long ago made it clear the Penguins would no longer be the organization with an enforcer.

After all, being at the forefront of trying to change a hockey culture that wants no part of change was much more important than dedicating some cap-space to hired protection for stars such as Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Shero once acquired Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts to make the Penguins tough. He twice signed Matt Cooke, both times when Cooke was arguably the most hated – but also, arguably, the most feared – NHL forward. Eric Godard was once a Penguin.

There is no player among these Penguins that resembles any of those players, and Crosby is paying the price for it against the Rangers – as he and Malkin did against the Bruins last postseason.

Presuming Shero is the GM to continue building around Crosby and Malkin, a priority should be to bring in some muscle. If not a strict enforcer, certainly a forward of two that can do some dirty things to deter the dirtier ones being done to the franchise centers the last few postseasons.

Crosby – and Malkin, though less this postseason – are fair game to be criticized for not being better when it counts.

However, they’re far too often fair game in the playoffs, and the Penguins better start doing something about it. That would start with Shero being allowed to bring back the nasty to his team.

If he has not been flat-out told to keep the Penguins clean for the last three years, that desire certainly has been implied by organizational personnel that should not have any influence in hockey operations.

 

>> This team misses Pascal Dupuis, more on the ice than anywhere. That said, given the seeming current emotional state of Crosby, Dupuis is equally missed as a presence. He is the only player with the confidence, clout and cunning to do what might be needed: challenge Crosby to figure out this funk by ribbing him endlessly.

Bill Guerin did that five years ago, busting on Crosby at every chance.

Dupuis is not a carbon copy of Guerin, but he is the glue of this Penguins group. He also can – and more important will – say anything to anybody.

Whether or not injured players can really lead is up for debate, but the Penguins would feel a lot better about themselves – and Crosby would be better, or at least better looking than he has been – if Dupuis was part of the mix.

There is a void in the dressing room, and it is where Dupuis used to get dressed.

 

>> Sure, it is a lovely narrative and all, New York; but the guess here is the Penguins love their mothers, too.

 

>> Mario Lemieux is trying to work his motivational magic again: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/6096592-74/crosby-penguins-game#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Josh Yohe reports that players were pleased with their “battle level.” Uh, yeah: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6096599-74/penguins-game-rangers#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Olli Maatta played despite some sickness, and other Game 6 notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6096597-74/penguins-game-maatta#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Whitehall’s John Gibson is having a star turn for Anaheim, by Yohe: http://triblive.com/sports/nhl/6096600-74/gibson-game-ducks#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Contributor Denis Gorman finds the Rangers’ vets leading this series charge: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6096601-74/rangers-lundqvist-louis

 

>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic says change must come if the sports world’s worst word – hint: it begins with a “C” – is completed by the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6082990-74/game-crosby-sunday#axzz31PXOA4St

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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