October 16, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie
4 comments so far - add yours!
If you were looking for an update on Beau Bennett’s condition, you won’t be getting it from the Penguins. Not today anyway.
“He’s injured right now. We’ll wait and see as he progresses over the next little while here,” coach Mike Johnston said, offering no further details.
All we know is that Bennett’s name has two asterisks next to it on the roster on the team website. That indicates that he’s on the injured reserve, which means he must be out for at least seven days.
To be clear, I’m not blaming Johnston or the Penguins for not being forthcoming about Bennett’s injury. Most NHL teams are that way. I’m blaming the league. There has to be a mandate from the top to release basic injury details — out, doubtful, questionable or probable and a body part — like the NFL does. It’s 2015. Enough already.
— Johnston was forthcoming in another way after practice today, and I think it sheds a lot of light on things. If you’re like me, you saw an obvious improvement in the way the Penguins entered the offensive zone Thursday night against Ottawa compared to their three previous games. Johnston explains why:
“We’d like to get the puck to the middle and then kick it outside if we can. We’d like to attack through the middle. I thought we were better at it last night. We got the puck up faster so the other team’s not as organized through the neutral zone. We carry it through the middle and you bring people together and kick it outside. If you’re bringing it up wide through the neutral zone, they’re going to collapse, take away space and you’re probably going to have to chip it into support.”
Colleague Rob Rossi came back with an important follow-up question: How much of that is because of the improved first pass from the defensemen?
“It’s 90 percent,” Johnston said.
To me, those two responses explain why the Penguins looked so much better Thursday in language that we all can understand.
Take a listen to Friday’s Pens Roundtable, featuring me and Jason Mackey
— Two other important follow-up items from Thursday night. First, on Daniel Sprong.
When Johnston said he thinks of Sprong as a junior player, it set off some alarms. Like oh, they’re going to send this kid back to juniors for sure now. Jim Colony of The Fan asked for some clarification on that, and Johnston’s answer was revealing. He said he thinks of Sprong as a junior player because junior players have habits that worked for them at lower levels that need to be broken a level up. That, Johnston said, describes Sprong.
“I could have said a younger player, an 18-year-old player,” Johnston said. “I mentioned junior because I’ve had experience with junior players and those are some of the things you see in junior players.”
Johnston was then a little more effusive in his praise of Sprong than he was last night.
“Sprong, for us, has been a guy who keeps playing well. That’s why he’s here. I think he gets better and better,” Johnston said. “He was rewarded with more ice time. That was the most ice time he’s had. He was rewarded with playing in a bigger role and he responded. For me, he hasn’t failed any tests yet.”
I asked if Bennett’s injury (and Pascal Dupuis’ injury as well, though I didn’t mention it) will impact the decision to keep Sprong more than nine games.
“It’s sort of an individual thing, really,” Johnston said. “You’re looking at him independent. If we have the luxury we have too many good forwards and we have to fit the pieces together, that’ll be a good thing for us.”
After all those compliments, Johnston stopped short of saying he plans to try Sprong in the top six.
“Not right now,” he said.
— Also, Johnston further explained what he meant about a “mandate” to play young defensemen.
“If you look at the strength of our group, the depth of our group, when I came into the organization anyway, I thought we had a lot of good young defensemen, really good young up-and-coming defensemen,” Johnston said. “There is a time when you play them in the minors, you develop them, you’re working with them, but now they have to become NHL defensemen. How do you do that? You have to start to transition them in. Giving them an opportunity is part of that.”
Johnston went on to use Brian Dumoulin’s situation at the end of last year as an example.
“We looked at it and we said, ‘Jeez, we’re bringing a young defenseman into a playoff. How’s he going to react?’ But that experience was so valuable for him right now,” Johnston said. “It was by accident, just because of the injuries we had, but that has really helped him out.”
I think that means you’ll see more Adam Clendening and more Derrick Pouliot once he straightens some things out in the minors. And they won’t be getting playing time at the expense of Dumoulin. It’ll be instead of veteran defensemen like Rob Scuderi and perhaps Ben Lovejoy. And judging by my Twitter mentions, that should make the fanbase happy.
Bye for now,