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September 20, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Camp notes


Jason Mackey and I have been doing some single-subject blog posts the last couple of days. Just scroll down a bit and see. I think they’re pretty interesting. He broke down the all-star power play a bit today. I wrote about guys who can score and fight last night. We both took different angles on the PK yesterday.

My blog bread-and-butter is bulleted notes, though, so I’m getting back to that today.

— The exhibition opener crept up quick. It’s tomorrow at 7 in Columbus. It won’t be televised, but WBS play-by-play man Mike O’Brien and Phil Bourque will have the call on radio. Having listened to his calls regularly for the last few years, I am sure you’ll like O’Brien. He’s has a nice balance of personality and no-nonsense play-by-play. He ‘s a pro.

— I expect a much more star-studded lineup Tuesday night at home against Carolina than tomorrow in Columbus. That’s just the nature of preseason hockey. Phil Kessel’s Pittsburgh debut, for instance, is set for Tuesday.

— Speaking of Kessel, he came into the locker room and did a pleasant media scrum for the third straight day this morning. Maybe the mood will change once there are tough questions to answer, I don’t know, but for now, he’s downright jovial with reporters.

— Mike Johnston broke up players into two groups today that will approximate the Pittsburgh and WBS rosters for the start of the season. The four fringe forwards practicing with the varsity were Bobby Farnham, Conor Sheary, Tom Sestito and Kevin Porter.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Sheary. I think a line combination of Sheary-Bonino-Bennett could be a sneaky little scoring line.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Sestito. The Penguins open the season with a road trip to Dallas and Arizona. Dallas has Antoine Roussel, who is a real physical force, and Arizona has giant John Scott and the always rambunctious Steve Downie. Might want to have some muscle for those games.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Porter. Of all the fringe forwards, I think he’s the only one with penalty killing experience in the NHL.

— Here’s a reason not to count out Farnham. He’s Bobby Farnham.

— When I was watching special teams drills the other day, Beau Bennett shocked me with how good he looked on the penalty kill. Very active stick. Good at reading the play and anticipating. I’m not saying he’s going to be a PK specialist or anything, but he might be worth a look.

— During that same drill, I saw why Sergei Gonchar is still a candidate to play in the NHL. The first time he touched the puck, he got a shot through traffic that Patric Hornqvist tipped for a great scoring chance. Matt Murray made a nice save. The second time he touched the puck, he sent a shot under Hornqvist’s armpit and over Murray’s shoulder for a goal.

— Finally, a tip of the cap to former Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, who announced his retirement today. A finer gentleman you will not meet.

Bye for now,



September 20, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Crosby plays role of middle man


Sidney Crosby is arguably the Penguins’ most cerebral player, and coach Mike Johnston is trying to take advantage of that on the power play.

At least if you base things off the look the Penguins showed during Day 3 of training camp at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, when Johnston shuffled practice groups and had all of his top power-play guys skate together for the first time.

Crosby was in the middle of the slot, anchoring a unit that included Patric Hornqvist in front of the net, Kris Letang at the point, Evgeni Malkin on the right half-boards and Phil Kessel at the top of the left circle.

“The guy in the middle has to be one of your smartest players,” Johnston said afterward when I asked about Crosby’s role there. “He has to have a good shot. He has to have a good stick. He has to know when to support the half-boards guy, the point guy and to converge on the net.

“Sid really reads off people, and he knows how to move down low to support. He knows when to give a stick in the slot and be ready to shoot. He’s very good at helping the half-boards guy when they’re in trouble and kick the puck inside.”

Which would explain why Crosby led all Penguins player with 6.72 power-play points per 60 minutes in 2014-15.

Here’s some video I shot Sunday and posted a little while ago. Really fantastic stuff … against two defenders.

You can imagine a Malkin-to-Kessel, cross-ice pass becoming a thing. Or, if the idea becomes to take that away, Crosby can go behind the net, and Hornqvist becomes an even more dangerous option down low.

Bottom line, you’re taking advantage of several serious skill sets here. Smart execution should have this thing clicking, oh, just slightly better than what the Penguins did last season: 19.3 percent, 10th in the NHL … not bad but not good either when you consider how hot the unit started.

“I thought we moved it around pretty well,” Kessel said in his third consecutive media scrum. “Obviously it was our first day out there together. We’re just looking at getting better.”

Kessel was asked about the idea of shooting versus passing and wound up stating a rather bold goal.

One that this team has done before and is certainly capable of doing again.

“We’re all going to feed and learn off of each other,” Kessel said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to make it work and try to be the best power play in the league.”

If they do, a large chunk of the credit could go to Crosby’s role. Whether he senses an opportunity behind the net and goes there. Whether he reads open ice and sags back. All of these things require quick thinking, something at which Crosby excels.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 20, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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The Tocchet Coefficient


In 1992-93, Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet, then a rugged winger in the prime of his career, turned in one of the most amazing seasons in team history. In 80 games, he amassed 48 goals, 109 points and 252 penalty minutes.

Imagine someone doing that today. Last year, Alexander Ovechkin was the only player in the league with more than 45 goals and he had 58 penalty minutes. Steve Downie led the league with 238 PIMs and he had 14 goals. Tocchet’s numbers are basically unfathomable the way the game is played these days.

Tocchet said he’s not sure if a player will ever match those numbers again, but there’s one thing he does know.

“Put it this way. He’d make a lot of money,” Tocchet said.

In conjunction with a story I wrote for today’s paper about the Penguins’ organizational philosophy about fighting and how it’s changed over the years and the preceding anecdote about Tocchet, I invented a stat. Kind of dorky, I know, but stay with me.

What are the two events that get home fans out of their seats like no other in a hockey game? A goal and a fight. So I took a player’s goals per game, multiplied it by his fights per game and then multiplied by 100 just to make it a nice round number.

I call it the Tocchet Coefficient. It’s a good indicator of how exciting a player can be.

The biggest Tocchet Coefficient I’ve found in NHL history was turned in by Detroit’s Bob Probert in 1987-88. He had 29 goals and 23 fights for a phenomenal TC of 12.2.

To show how much the game has changed, the NHL leader in TC last season was Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars with 13 goals and 11 fights for a meager 2.23.

When I started looking at Penguins history for the best TC, I found that it didn’t actually belong to Tocchet. That made me like the stat more, sort of like how Gordie Howe didn’t actually have that many Gordie Howe hat tricks.

Check out this list of the greatest Tocchet Coefficient seasons in Penguins history.

WARREN YOUNG 84-85 80 40 17 10.63
RICK TOCCHET 92-93 80 48 8 6.00
TERRY RUSKOWSKI 85-86 73 26 12 5.86
DAN FRAWLEY 86-87 78 14 20 4.60
MATTHEW BARNABY 99-00 64 12 15 4.39
RYAN MALONE o7-08 77 27 9 4.10
DAN FRAWLEY 85-86 69 10 17 3.57
GARY RISSLING 84-85 56 10 10 3.19

Also in conjunction with the story in today’s paper, I thought some people might like to see the all-time fight leaders in Penguins history. After the jump, check out that list.

Bye for now,


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September 20, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Agnew talks Kessel, penalty kill … together


Phil Kessel will play defense.

That much Penguins assistant coach Gary Agnew said confidently Saturday afternoon during our chat that followed the team’s second day of training camp.

I was curious about the defensive expectations for Kessel, who was a minus-34 last season, posted the second-highest GA60 among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes and has been a minus in eight of his nine professional seasons.

Does the coaching staff even care? Would they be OK if Kessel even thought about being responsible defensively?

Um, not quite.

“The expectations are the same as they would be for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or anybody else,” Agnew said. “We play a certain way when we don’t have the puck, and everybody is expected to do that. It leads to our offense. The only way you can score is if you get the puck. The only way to get the puck is to backcheck.”

That was part of my conversation with Agnew.

Another was what the Penguins will do on the PK having lost a ton of minutes there.

Colleague Jonathan Bombulie took a more analytical look at this. During our discussion, Agnew assured me that “the penalty-kill role is pretty much a wide-open competition.”

That explained, in part, the special teams drills the Penguins did Saturday, although those were more geared toward the power play. Agnew said Saturday, for the PK anyway, was mostly about reading and reacting to certain situations.

“So that we could see who has that innate ability that can read and kill,” Agnew said. “It may mean that some of our top guys get more time on that end of it, whether that’s Sid or Geno or Phil or anybody.”

Wait, wait, wait.

Phil Kessel might kill penalties?

“I don’t know if he can or not,” Agnew shot back. “We’d like to find out. So who knows?”

Evgeni Malkin looked terrific on the PK on Saturday. He frustrated Pascal Dupuis during one particular sequence by baiting Dupuis into having some open ice, then closing the way a 6-foot-4 player with a sizable stick does.

Agnew noticed.

“Typically for me, smart offensive players can kill penalties because they can read what the offensive guys can do,” Agnew said.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 19, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Killers wanted


When coach Mike Johnston said today that he will probably use Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz on the penalty kill, it caused some in the media room to sit up and pay attention. Whenever a star player is in line for hard-working minutes on the penalty kill, it’s a story.

But in this case, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, and here’s why. After an offseason exodus of the team’s top penalty killers, someone was going to have to eat up the shorthanded ice time.

The stark stat looks like this: Penguins forwards spent 938:06 on the penalty kill last season. The players responsible for 852:57 of that time left via trade or free agency. That means the Penguins have to replace 90.9 percent of their shorthanded ice time up front.

That’s a lot.

Here’s a chart to illustrate it more thoroughly, with returning players in bold:

TOTAL 938.06
GONE 852.57
BACK 85.09

The first place the Penguins will make up those minutes is with players they added in free agency or trades. Nick Bonino, first and foremost, led Vancouver and was 36th in the league among forwards in shorthanded ice time (147:24).

Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen also have track records as penalty killers, but they probably weren’t used in the role last year as much as you’d think. Fehr was sixth among Washington’s forwards in shorthanded ice time (104:16). Cullen was seventh among Nashville’s forwards (49:57). There’s a good chance those rankings will increase now that they’re with the Penguins.

Often times, teams would replace those minutes with young players, but among the prospects who appear closest to becoming NHL regulars, few are penalty kill specialists. Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Bobby Farnham can do it, but it’s not a particular strength of their games. That fact could open a door for someone like Oskar Sundqvist or Dominik Uher, who are good PK guys.

Regardless, when you add it all up, the minutes had to be filled by someone, so enter Malkin, Crosby, Hornqvist and Kunitz.

Bye for now,



September 19, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Reading into defense pairs


Go ahead. Read away.

Coach Mike Johnston said following Day 2 of Penguins training camp that his forward groupings weren’t anything we should get used to seeing.

Which, if you think about it, probably didn’t need said considering he had Sidney Crosby between Daniel Sprong and Bryan Rust and Bobby Farnham and Patric Hornqvist together. Anyway …

Johnston also said he’s interested in seeing how specific defensemen work together.

“If you look closely at our defense pairs in practice, those are guys we really want to see how they look together,” Johnston said.

In some cases, this could mean very little. In two others, it could be quite telling.

First, let’s look at who was skating where:

Kris Letang-Olli Maatta
Derrick Pouliot-Ben Lovejoy
Brian Dumoulin-Ian Cole
Sergei Gonchar-Adam Clendening
Rob Scuderi-Reid McNeill

That first pair is a Shawn Kemp-from-the-foul-line dunk. The second is interesting. Remember when Lovejoy and Pouliot were paired together this past March, around the time of the Penguins’ trip to the Western U.S.?

Well, perhaps Johnston is trying to recapture some of that magic.

“I think we played pretty well together last year,” Pouliot told me after practice. “Feels good playing with him out there in practice. That would be a pretty good partner, I think.”

Is there more familiarity there?

“Maybe a little bit,” Pouliot allowed, “just because I spent more time playing with him.”

Here what Lovejoy told me about playing with Pouliot:

“We have developed a very good relationship in the short time we’ve played together,” Lovejoy said. “I think he’s a great young player who is fun to play with. My job is to make his easier. I think we have developed a good chemistry. I think we’re very comfortable with each other. I think that in order for this team to be very good and go where we want this year, we need him to be a big part of our team.”

Where this leaves Scuderi intrigues me. Gonchar and Clendening as Nos. 7 and 8 is not a surprise, nor would it be stupid from a hockey sense. Gonchar has looked excellent — only two days, I know — so far. Did you him stick with Phil Kessel one-on-one. Clendening has played 21 NHL games, including 17 last season, an indication that he wouldn’t be out of place.

McNeill has played none. Only eight total in AHL last season, too. Nothing against McNeill, who’s a very nice young man, but he isn’t expected to make the jump to the NHL this season, either. It would mean something catastrophic happened to the Penguins.

So why would they want to see Scuderi paired with him? Wouldn’t it make more sense to see Scuderi with Lovejoy, Dumoulin, Cole, Clendening or even Tim Erixon?

General manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday that a trade was something he thought would materialized over the course of the preseason, if it all. Totally understandable. He didn’t talk about specific players for obvious reasons.

Let me say this: Were I going to wager based on what I’ve seen the past two days, I wouldn’t have a problem putting money on Scuderi being that guy.

Look for another post from me later, plus one or two from fellow beat man Jonathan Bombulie. Big story from him in Sunday’s Trib, too. He’ll beat you up if you don’t read it.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



September 18, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Still searching for clues


Because there were so many grand-opening events and player-organized skates at the venue, it made today feel a little less historic, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Today was the first official Penguins practice at the new UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

The Penguins used a lottery system to give out free tickets to attend camp practices this week. I’m pretty sure the number of tickets allotted was based on parking. The bleachers weren’t completely full today, but the parking lot was. So, if you’re planning to stop by Saturday and/or Sunday, I’d be aware of that possible issue. Maybe carpool if you can.

On the ice, the first thing I was looking for today was line combinations. Who would play on the left side with Crosby-Kessel? How about with Malkin-Hornqvist? What would the bottom six look like?

We’ll have to wait for answers to those questions. Coach Mike Johnston, as he promised he would, had a plan for his practice combos today. He paired young players with his star centers to give them a taste of the pace it takes to play at the game’s highest level.

Malkin’s linemates were Scott Wilson and Josh Archibald. Crosby’s were Bryan Rust and Daniel Sprong. See what I mean?

Now, here’s a little note on the mechanics of Johnston’s practice today.

Johnston broke the first day of camp into three parts. First was a video session outlining some of the team’s systems and strategies. Then came a structured practice. Finally, there was an off-ice workout.

“We try to build off our video session, take it to the ice, and obviously get our pace and tempo the way we want it,” he said.

There was some conditioning work too. The dreaded first-day-of-camp bag skate.  This note explains:

After a 45-minute skate on the main rink, the Penguins practice groups moved to a second ice surface for some “conditioning” work Friday morning. That means a bag skate, and players were on their knees, gasping for air before too long.

Pascal Dupuis loved it.

He wore a red no-contact jersey as he recovered from a knee injury during camp last year. He didn’t play after November due to blood clots. He was perfectly happy to feel tired after a tough skate.

“It’s good to be part of that group and not be the outsider looking in,” Dupuis said.

Given the nature of the practices and the lack of game-like line combinations, it was hard to get any kind of feel for who is in the lead for any of the contested spots in the lineup.

Here’s a note on one of those contested spots, featuring a little mayhem.

Several young forwards – Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and others – have been competing for an opening-night job on the Penguins’ fourth line for a while now, having attending last week’s rookie tournament in London, Ontario.

Bobby Farnham aged out of that tournament, so he joined the fray Friday.

That makes it a much more entertaining fray.

Farnham, however, said he’s trying to show facets of his game other than the penalty-drawing, hair-on-fire, agitating style that won over fans during 11 games with the Penguins last year.

“Being responsible in all three ends of the ice and maybe bringing a little bit more offensive side that maybe you didn’t show as much in the little stint last year,” Farnham said.

Once practices were over, attention turned to Phil Kessel. He was mobbed in the locker room by a horde of reporters, many of whom made the trip down from Toronto.

I find that a little weird. It’s not like Kessel is a Maple Leafs icon. He played there for a couple of years, scored a whole bunch of goals and became a lightning rod for some fans and reporters. It’s not like he was Wendell Clark, Mats Sundin or Doug Gilmore or something.

Regardless, he seemed to handle the attention without incident. One player in the Penguins locker room wasn’t surprised by the horde.

A player who was acquired July 1 from the Toronto Maple Leafs sat in the Penguins locker room Friday with hardly any reporters in front of him.

Not Phil Kessel. He was swarmed, largely by media members who made the trip from Toronto. It was defenseman Tim Erixon.

“There’s obviously a lot of focus on hockey in Toronto, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Erixon said. “Phil’s looked really good. He’s an absolute raw talent. There aren’t a lot of guys that can do what he can do. He’s going to have a good year.”

Erixon, the son of longtime New York Rangers forward Jan Erixon, was a first-round draft pick in 2009. He’s got good size and skill and has turned in three excellent seasons in the AHL. He’s been included in deals for Kessel and Rick Nash and has played 93 NHL games.

“If teams want you, that’s a good thing, but obviously I’m a little sick of moving around here,” Erixon said. “I’m looking very much to make this my home for a little bit. That’s my one goal.”

After the assembled media cleared out, a group of USHL teams moved in. Some details:

When the Penguins aren’t on the ice, the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex is hosting a USHL showcase this weekend, with the Youngstown Phantoms, Muskegon Lumberjacks and Team USA’s U-18 and U-17 teams playing games at 5 and 8 p.m. tonight and 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

It’s a high level of hockey. Nearly two dozen NHL draft picks are on the four teams playing in Cranberry.

“No other junior league in the world had more draft picks than the United States Hockey League at this past 2015 NHL draft, which I think surprises a lot of people when they hear it for the first time,” USHL commissioner Bob Fallen said. “I know it surprises a lot of people in Canada.”

For the players, it’s a chance to get an up-close look at how the Penguins do things.

“You look around at the facility. It’s not bad. Maybe it’s not the Golden Mile Ice Rink we played at when I was (with the Penguins). A little bit different,” said Troy Loney, a co-owner of the Phantoms. “They get a chance to see what the pro teams do. The USA teams were watching the Penguins practice this morning. I think it’s a rush for those guys to see the pro teams play. It also gives them perspective. They have goals and aspirations. What is the next level? What am I seeing out there and how do I get there? You come to a facility like this, and I think it gives them a good idea.”

Looking ahead, Johnston said he is planning some special teams work tomorrow morning. That should be very interesting. Here’s why:

A little after 10 Saturday morning, according to Johnston, the Penguins will begin a 30-minute practice session where they will start to work on special teams.

Most eyes will be on the power play, which is perfectly understandable.

The Penguins’ first unit will be a virtual all-star team, however it’s configured. There’s a good chance the top quintet will fling the puck around – from Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin to Phil Kessel to Patric Hornqvist to Kris Letang – in downright artistic fashion.

But there will be other players on the ice during the special teams drills too.

“We have several openings on the PK this year because of turnover and personnel,” Johnston said. “We want to, tomorrow in that 30 minutes, get a good evaluation of our power-play players but also on guys killing penalties.”

The power play is the sizzle. The penalty kill is the steak, and there are plenty of new items on the menu this season.

Only two of the top 10 players in shorthanded ice time from last year’s team – Rob Scuderi and Letang – return this season. The top six forwards – Brandon Sutter, Craig Adams, Nick Spaling, Marcel Goc, Maxim Lapierre and Daniel Winnik – are all gone.

The process of replacing them begins tomorrow morning.

Finally, a bit of housekeeping:

The Penguins officially announced Friday the installation of walk-through metal detectors at Consol Energy Center, replacing hand-held wands. The new procedure will be in place starting with the preseason home opener Tuesday against Carolina.

Perhaps you’ve noticed we’re trying some new formats here on the blog, trying to make it more like a day-long journal than a collection of random notes. At this point, I’m trying to show what I saw or what I thought during practice (in regular type) and how that led to the topics I actually ended up writing about (in italics).

It’s the kind of thing that’s probably going to evolve as camp and the season go on. If you feel strongly about it one way or the other, hit me on Twitter (@BombulieTrib) or send me an email (

Bye for now,



September 18, 2015
by Jason Mackey

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Training Camp: Day 1


From Mackey (10 a.m.) …

Only one “attendance” issue.  Carter Rowney is not skating today. Will find out why after. Fellow forward Tom Sestito has changed groups from B to A. No word on the compensation Group B received.

Ton of length-of-the-ice drills here early. Skating, skating, skating. It likely means nothing, but a lot of puck-retrieval stuff, too.

Paying attention to line combinations, obviously, is foolish at this point; Evgeni Malkin centered a line between Josh Archibald and Scott Wilson. But Derrick Pouliot and Ben Lovejoy have spent quite a bit of time together so far. Every rush, in fact.


The Penguins (well, Group A) took the ice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex this morning a little after 9:15 to applause.

Jonathan Bombulie and I will both be contributing here throughout the day. Make sure to keep checking back and refreshing.

Scroll down for a photo of the groups for today and throughout camp. The schedule today is as follows:

Team A
9:15 a.m. — Rink 1
10:10 a.m. — Rink 2

Team B
10:30 a.m. — Rink 1
11:15 a.m. — Rink 2

Try this


September 17, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Eight is Great for 55


At the risk in getting caught up with the bottom of the depth chart, the most interesting thing to come from GM Jim Rutherford’s pre-camp press briefing today might be this:

“We want to start with eight defensemen just based on the competition we have going here. Each individual will take care of (himself) based on how they play. Certainly, (Sergei) Gonchar will be a guy that everybody will be watching. He’s had a very good career. We’ll see how much he has left and can he keep the tempo, but he’s a smart player. I think he can contribute to our team. Now we just have to watch these games, but having eight defensemen in the early going makes some sense, and then we’ll see how that plays out.”

To me, that just upped Gonchar’s chances of making the team tenfold.

With room for seven defensemen – Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, Ian Cole, Derrick Pouliot, Ben Lovejoy, Brian Dumoulin and Rob Scuderi – Gonchar’s chances weren’t great. With room for eight, they’re outstanding – albeit not a sure thing.

Not a sure thing because two of the top contenders along with Gonchar for the eighth spot – Adam Clendening and Tim Erixon, both acquired in offseason trades – would have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL.

Barring a trade of one of the top seven for cap relief purposes, let’s do some Vegas odds for the eighth D spot.

SERGEI GONCHAR (EVEN): By keeping eight defensemen, the Penguins could carefully manage ice time for veterans like Gonchar and Scuderi and give them the best chance to succeed. Plus you get a guy who can really run a power play in a crafty fashion, which the team’s other offensive-minded defensemen aren’t really known to do. Plus you get the off-ice benefits of a well-liked veteran. The only minus, really, is that he’s 41.

ADAM CLENDENING (5-1): He had a scattershot season last year, but before that, he was considered one of the top D prospects in the AHL. He’s got offensive instincts and can skate. Not sure how his size (6-0, 190) will play against NHL competition, but it might not be a problem. I’d think he’d be a fairly attractive waivers candidate if it comes to that.

TIM ERIXON (8-1): He’s 6-3, he can move the puck, he’s had three really good seasons in the AHL and GMs think enough of him to include him in trades for Rick Nash and Phil Kessel. Can’t count him out here.

NICLAS ANDERSEN (10-1): The forgotten signing of this offseason, Andersen is a sturdy 27-year-old defender coming off an outstanding season in Sweden. One to watch in camp.

STEVE OLEKSY (12-1): Oleksy is a legit contender because his game is completely different from the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s tough. Double tough. Fought his way up through the lower minors. Will run through a wall for his team. That kind of tough. Caps fans loved him because of it.

FIELD (25-1): DAVID WARSOFSKY is an undersized puck mover who was real good in the Bruins system and has played 10 AHL games. … REID MCNEILL is another defender who brings toughness to a group that lacks it. And he’s 6-4. … WILL O’NEILL has been one of the top offensive defensemen in the AHL the last two seasons.

Bye for now,



September 16, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Napkin Talk


After I posted a training camp depth chart yesterday, I heard from a number of Penguins fans on Twitter. Pascal Dupuis shouldn’t be on the top line. David Perron prefers the left wing to the right. Bobby Farnham can’t play. Here are some better D pairs. A number of opinions, all perfectly valid, all reflecting a common hockey fan phenomenon, especially at this time of year.

We love drawing up line combinations.

But here’s the thing. It’s not just a fan phenomenon. It’s a coach’s phenomenon too. Check out what Mike Johnston told me the other day.

“We spend almost every day thinking about that. Any time our coaches are together, even at dinner, we’re scratching down different combinations on a napkin – line combinations, defense pairs, power-play looks. We’re always doing that and it continues through the whole year. On the plane ride after the game, you always talk about line combinations. For me, I’m not one to want to juggle too much. We probably did a little more juggling of line combinations last year than we wanted to. I like to keep lines together. If, at times, it’s not working in a game, I’m going to throw other guys in there to give it a little stimulus. I like to get some pairs that look good together up front. If we get eight guys who look good together, a center and a winger on each of those lines, and then everybody rotates, I’m fine with that.”

Based on Johnston’s comments, we probably shouldn’t spend too much time wondering who’s going to play the left wing on the line with center Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. That spot will be filled by a variety of wingers at different times. But I mean, how can we not? We like drawing up line combinations and that’s the most coveted spot on the team, if not the entire league.

So with that, how about some Vegas odds for the potential left wingers with the Crosby-Kessel pair. As always, it’s only an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering.

PASCAL DUPUIS (4-1): Health concerns are real for Dupuis, who will go on and off blood thinners this season as he makes a comeback from a blood clot. But if he’s right, he’s probably the only forward on the team with the speed to keep up with Crosby and Kessel. What a nightmare to defend.

DAVID PERRON (5-1): Perron is a right-handed shot, but he’s comfortable on the left. I wrote this blog post in June with some stats that show he plays very well with Crosby.

CHRIS KUNITZ (5-1): Crosby and Kessel fly around and Kunitz digs out pucks and does the dirty work. It’s not the worst idea in the world.

BEAU BENNETT (10-1): I know experiments with the right-handed shooting Bennett on the left wing have failed in the past, but I’ve seen him look great on the left side in short doses in the AHL. He can do it. And besides, Bennett profiles better as a first-line LW than a fourth-line RW, doesn’t he?

SERGEI PLOTNIKOV (12-1): I wrote a blog post last month that concluded that Plotnikov profiles as a younger version of 2014-15 Chris Kunitz. So, Crosby and Kessel fly around and the big, sturdy Plotnikov digs out pucks and does the dirty work? It’s possible.

FIELD (40-1): TOM SESTITO punches anyone who breathes on Crosby or Kessel? … Opponents run around and try to kill BOBBY FARNHAM while Crosby and Kessel use the distraction to score goals? … Smart veteran MATT CULLEN can play on the left side. … NICK BONINO hasn’t played hardly any wing in his career, but his skill set actually might fit well with Crosby and Kessel. … SCOTT WILSON and CONOR SHEARY are young and fast.

Bye for now,


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