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December 27, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: What losing Dupuis means for the Penguins.

Pascal Dupuis’ injury could be a short- and long-term problem for the Penguins. Dupuis will have surgery in two weeks to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. He could miss the rest of this season.

Josh Yohe is in Raleigh, N.C., with the club. His developing story on Dupuis: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5321616-74/dupuis-penguins-season#axzz2ohpy3Bwg

Some initial thoughts…

 

>> Dupuis counts $3.75 million against the Penguins’ salary cap, and his placement on the long-term injury list will give them some space. However, the Penguins have spent much of the past few months making moves designated to buy them every available dollar under the $64.3 million cap. They will have more room with Dupuis’ LTI designation, but not a huge surplus. If anything, his LTI designation could allow them to not force players on two-way contracts (see: Simon Despres) to the AHL, as would have likely been the case.

 

>> Dupuis was a top-line fit for captain Sidney Crosby, who so preferred him that he sought to keep him as a linemate even when Jarome Iginla arrived last season. Finding wingers that fit with Crosby has proven a great challenge over the years, as his style – skilled grinder with speed and a backhand preference – does not easily fit with traditional scoring wingers. Few acquisitions by GM Ray Shero have meshed instantly with Crosby, with Bill Guerin (2009) being the exception. Replacing Dupuis in this regard will provide a great challenge to Shero, who was already interested in upgrading the third line.

 

>> The Penguins have liked the potential for RW Beau Bennett playing with Crosby and LW Chris Kunitz on the top line, but he is out through January after surgery to repair a broken bone in his wrist. Bennett has shown flashes of possible dynamic contribution, and he is a natural right winger. Still, he has played in only 44 NHL games (including playoffs), and he has missed large chunks in three of his past four seasons because of freakish injuries. The label of injury prone is perhaps unfair, but Bennett has not played a lot of hockey – only 130 games – since the Penguins drafted him on the first round in 2010. Still, he is likely the best in-house option to fill Dupuis’ top-line role this season.

 

>> Dupuis filled a variety of roles, including as arguably the top penalty-killing forward. Replacing him with a one-dimensional player would not make the Penguins better. In many ways, what made him an ideal fit for Crosby – aside from speed to keep up – is that he thought the game similarly in a straight-ahead manner, and his willingness to fill a defensive role while also contributing offensively. (Dupuis was worthy of a Selke Trophy nomination as a top defensive forward last season, also his second in a row with 20 goals.) Coaches trusted him to be the first player on the ice after a Penguins’ power play. These are all things to keep in mind when trying to assess the measure of his loss. Aside from Crosby and fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin, Dupuis may have been the forward the Penguins could least easily replace.

 

>> Dupuis’ loss will be huge on the ice, and dramatic off of it. He was one of few consistently vocal players. He commanded respect from the longest tenured (Brooks Orpik) and highest profile (Crosby, Malkin) of Penguins. Coaches and management love the Penguins’ room, but there was a sense within those two groups that the squad needed an oversized personality to bring a little noise to what is a quiet dynamic. Guerin did that in 2009, in addition to contributing as a top-line winger. Shero hoped Jarome Iginla would do similarly last season, but Iginla, by his own admission, opted for ceding to Crosby, Malkin and other 2009 Cup holdovers such as Kunitz and Orpik. Management and coaches were looking to add a player that could contribute on the ice and bring a different feel in the room – and that was before losing Dupuis, whom teammates have often described as the one player closest to Max Talbot in terms of knowing when to speak seriously and when to bring laughter at the expense of anybody.

 

>> Think Shero doesn’t feel a dressing-room dynamic is important for a Cup contender? Well, he has admitted that losing Rob Scuderi during the 2009 offseason ended up being something the Penguins never overcame on or off the ice, and he did not hesitate in July to bring back Scuderi as a free agent. Scuderi’s worth to the Penguins is even greater now in the wake of Dupuis’ injury.

 

>> No NHL club is as stocked with young defensemen as the Penguins, who have proven willing to move a higher profile back-end player for help up front. That happened in February 2009 (Ryan Whitney for Kunitz and Eric Tangradi) and February 2011 (Alex Goligoski for James Neal and Matt Niskanen). Traditionally though not always, if parting with a younger defenseman, Shero has sought a winger whom the Penguins would control contractually, and one that is not necessarily a big name but rather a player that management views as having potential to grow into a key contributor by playing with either Crosby or Malkin. Shero has made those moves in weeks BEFORE the trade deadline.

 

>> The trade deadline is March 5 (3 p.m.). That is AFTER the Olympic break.

 

>> The young defensemen the Penguins like most and are likely most unwilling to deal (excluding Olli Maatta): Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot.

 

>> Dupuis is 34. He is about to undergo a serious procedure on his right knee. His greatest natural athletic attribute is his skating. He is as dedicated to conditioning as any NHL player. Still, even with that insatiable desire to build and maintain his body, he will be a 35-year-old winger whose game is built on speed trying to comeback from a torn ACL that required surgery – and he will have three years left on his contract for a franchise that consistently is up against the cap and is looking at built-in increases for Malkin, Kunitz and D Kris Letang next season, and a new contract for at least C Brandon Sutter. Every penny in cap space counts for the Penguins, even with the cap going up to at least $71 million next season.

 

>> For what it’s worth: Were I to bet on any player under those circumstances, I would bet on Pascal Dupuis. His dedication is one aspect never to question.

 

>> Last, but not least, I wish Dupuis the best of luck.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

December 26, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: USA off to strong start in WJC defense.

The USA started strong on its quest to repeat as gold medalists as the IIHF World Junior Championship [WJC] in Malmo, Sweden.

Riley Barber, a Washington native and club captain, scored in a 5-1 win over the Czech Republic on Thursday. Barber was one of four Western Pennsylvanians on the USA’s WJC squad.

Barber said it’s “always good” when the captain can score his club’s first goal. He is trying to lead by example and learn from leaders from the 2013 American squad.

“The thing I really learned last year is that Everybody is a great player, that’s why they’re here,” Barber said. “My job is to lead by example, set the tone in the dressing room. Before this game, I just went out and told the guys that this is our biggest game.”

The Americans will play Slovakia in its next Group A game on Saturday.

The Penguins have two prospects participating at the WJC: defenseman Derrick Pouliot (Canada) and right winger Oskar Sundqvist (Sweden).

Pouliot registered two assists in Canada’s 7-2 win over German in those squads’ Group A opener.

Sundqvist had a goal in Sweden’s 5-3 win over Switzerland in Group B.

Stay up with the 2014 WJC here: http://www.worldjunior2014.com/en/

All USA games are broadcast on NHL Network, with Pittsburgh’s own Steve Mears on the call. The game against Slovakia will air at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday.

 

>> The Penguins are OFF today, their final day away because of the NHL’s Christmas Break. They play at Carolina on Friday night, and several regulars could return.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik (concussion) and winger Tanner Glass (hand) have targeted this game to play after lengthy absences – eight games for Orpik, 15 for Glass.

Also, it is possible that defenseman Rob Scuderi (ankle) and center Evgeni Malkin (left leg) could play ­– though their returns were less certain as of Monday, when the Penguins’ seven-game winning streak was snapped at Ottawa.

The Penguins (27-11-1, 55 points) lead the Eastern Conference despite playing the last five weeks with no fewer than five AHL regulars in the lineup for every game.

Right winger Pascal Dupuis (right leg) is not expected to play at Carolina. He was to be re-evaluated in Pittsburgh over the Christmas break after his leg buckled during an accidental collision with captain Sidney Crosby on Monday night.

The Penguins feared ligament damage, but coach Dan Bylsma said his hope was that Dupuis’ injury was “not severe.”

 

Hoping you had a Happy Christmas (even if there is a new Doctor).

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

December 23, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Orpik talking like his old self.

OTTAWA, Ontario – Brooks Orpik sounded like himself Monday morning.

That is to suggest that he spoke thoughtfully and openly on several topics, and he cracked jokes in a way that has become familiar to anybody that has spent a bit of time around him during the Penguins’ tenure.

An example:

“We’re getting guys healthy, but ‘Scuds’ (Rob Scuderi) and ‘Paulie’ (Paul Martin) and I were saying the other day that these AHL guys are playing so well, it might be tough for us to crack the lineup.”

Scuderi jokingly offered Orpik a choice between a can of Coca-Cola or bottled water after their post-practice on-ice workout Monday morning at Canadian Tire Centre.

Orpik noticed the bottled war – of course he chose that – was slightly less than full.

Yeah, the guy coming off the concussion noticed that.

Scuderi appeared surprised when Orpik pointed this out.

Orpik is free of headaches and neck soreness that served as concussion symptoms in the days after Boston’s Shawn Thornton attacked him at TD Garden on Dec. 7.

He has passed a cognitive baseline test required by the NHL for return-to-play status.

His workouts – on and off the ice – have increased in intensity over the last several days, to that point that he has “felt really good.”

He believes he can play Friday, when the Penguins return from a three-day Christmas break against the Hurricanes at Carolina.

That would be something to see, at least for those of us who witnessed him carted from the ice on a stretcher that ugly night in Boston.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will hear Thornton’s appeal of a 15-game suspension, and then perhaps a neutral discipline arbitrator.

All of that is what it is.

Orpik being himself again – that is something worth focusing on, especially this time of year.

 

>> The latest on the Penguins’ injury front: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5302878-74/monday-penguins-games#axzz2oGPEVDkP

 

>> Josh Yohe’s report on “Mighty” Matt Niskanen: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5299264-74/niskanen-penguins-defenseman#axzz2oGPEVDkP

 

>> To whomever lifted that Johnston & Murphy bag from the X-ray machine at Toronto’s airport on Sunday – well, at least one of those gifts was for a lady that is trained to cut with surgical precision. Just saying, yo!

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

December 19, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Too much time for Pens’ top defense pairing?

NEW YORK – Dan Bylsma tried hard not to laugh.

He did, for the most part.

Still, it is a fair point – and an acknowledged bucket of cold water – to note the nearly 30 minutes played by each of Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta in the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

After all, the Penguins do play again in less than 24 hours with their home game against Minnesota on Thursday starting an hour earlier than did their affair at the Garden.

But, hey, given the way things are going for the Penguins, who have the Metropolitan Division’s second best squad out of the lineup, Niskanen and Maatta will probably each turn hat tricks against the Wild.

Maatta, by the way, is playing like he’s more deserving of a Norris (top defenseman) than a Calder (top rookie) nomination.

Maatta informed me Wednesday morning that all his Christmas shopping is complete.

As for his wish from Father Christmas…

“Playing in the NHL is pretty nice, actually,” Maatta said. “Maybe playing in the Olympics.”

I claim no knowledge of who runs Finland’s Department of Santa, but here is guessing that person can find something to please one of it’s fine young bachelors.

 

>> Reason No. 8,654,723 to appreciate Marc-Andre Fleury: His candor.

Asked about the Rangers’ two late goals in the third period, which erased a 3-1 Penguins’ lead.

“It sucks,” Fleury said.

Indeed.

That is also true for reporters on deadline.

 

>> Craig Adams has my vote for Best Actor, though Jussi Jokinen and Rob Scuderi provided stiff competition. Kris Letang reminds me of Rob DeNiro’s Max Cady in “Cape Fear.”

So, this is Christmas, and what have YOU done for a card?

http://penguins.nhl.com/v2/ext/html/holiday2013.html

 

>> GM Ray Shero is carrying himself like somebody pretty pleased with what he is witnessing from his organization in terms of performing in the face of adversity.

He should also be pleased to know that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is happy with how the Penguins are standing by their public wish to eliminate headshots even though James Neal and Deryk Engelland have delivered a couple of those illegal hits in December.

Actually, a more accurate way to report it is that Player Safety folks think the Penguins have been “great” about holding firm when a lot of NHL clubs try to make it seem like their players never do much wrong.

The Penguins have been consistent since 2011 that they want head shots out of hockey. That has not changed even when their players are getting suspended for delivering them.

 

>> Winner, winner, Sutter dinner: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5264331-74/penguins-rangers-sutter#axzz2nh84eoc1

 

>> Engelland’s 5-game suspension, and how it is part of a disturbing December for NHL safety: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5279131-74/engelland-abdelkader-hit#axzz2nh84eoc1

 

>> Neal’s suspension is over, and he is looking to get back to a start so dominating that only injuries – and headshots – an keep him from scoring: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5278176-74/neal-game-penguins#axzz2nh84eoc1

 

>> Evgeni Malkin is out… until when, though? Also, more on the next alternates: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5264338-74/malkin-penguins-center

 

>> T’was neat to have columnist Dejan Kovacevic on a rare road trip. His look at the drafting and developing of these Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/5264345-74/rounder-penguins-maatta

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

December 17, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: A father, a son and the ‘weird’ before them.

Philip Samuelsson had a nervous start to his Monday, falling during a practice drill at Consol Energy Center.

That, Samuelsson said, was his remember-this takeaway from finally playing in the NHL.

Samuelsson, a second-round draft pick by the Penguins in 2009, worked 15 minutes and 43 seconds – all of that while his father, Ulf, watched from a luxury suite as a guest of Mario Lemieux.

The Samuelssons will always have Monday night – a father, legendary in Pittsburgh, one of the Penguins’ most popular players, watching the son play NHL hockey for the first time.

Thing is, papa had no advice for his boy.

“No,” Philip Samuelsson said Monday night of his parents. “They were traveling earlier (Monday), so I didn’t get a chance to talk to them.

“He probably would have said, ‘Just try and settle into it as quick as you can.’”

That is pretty sweet, actually.

Wednesday night could be even sweeter.

Ulf Samuelsson is an assistant coach with the New York Rangers, whom the Penguins will play at Madison Square Garden.

“It will definitely be interesting, the first time I’ve played against him,” Philip Samuelsson said. “That’ll be weird.”

No weirder, perhaps, than the Penguins winning again with seven AHL call-ups in the lineup.

That is what they did Monday night with a 3-1 defeat of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Somehow, some way, the Penguins are on a 9-1-0 run since their defense was hit with the loss of a second top-four defenseman in Paul Martin.

They are now down all of their top-four.

Olli Maatta, 19, played 24:17 against Toronto, including 6:12 shorthanded.

Let those three numbers settle.

 

>> Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle told Toronto reporters that the explanation he received for Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo only receiving a minor penalty for checking to the head – regarding his hit of Toronto winger Jerry D’Amigo – was, essentially, that Bortuzzo is tall and D’Amigo is not.

Seriously.

Of course, that is true.

Bortuzzo is 6-foot-4. D’Amigo is 5-foot-11.

NHL Player Safety is OK with the hit, posting this on its Twitter feed:

“In looking at Bortuzzo/D’Amigo, we see unavoidable head contact on an otherwise full body hit. Will not be pursuing supplemental discipline.”

Bortuzzo was not available for comment after the game.

 

>> Marc-Andre Fleury would definitely be Canada’s goalie were Pittsburgh to play host to the 2014 Olympics. His stats at home this season: 13-2-0, 1.63 GAA and .943 SV%.

He has allowed 25 goals in 16 games.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Fleury’s performances is that they seemingly go unappreciated by, well, folks like me.

Nobody from the media spoke with Fleury after a game in which he 25 saves for his NHL-best 19th victory.

Well, somebody did – Jarkko Ruuttu’s official biographer.

Seriously, though, the most amazing thing about Fleury’s response to a soul-searching summer is that we’re all taking for granted how consistently he is performing.

 

>> Sidney Crosby has played in every game. We’re all taking that for granted, too.

He said he whiffed on his winning shot against Toronto.

 

>> Only slightly, I’d give Fleury the edge over Crosby as team MVP. Third on my ballot would be Matt Niskanen. That said; this season belongs to coach Dan Bylsma and his masterful performance to date.

 

>> Evgeni Malkin wants to play on Wednesday night. The Penguins are going to squash that, but it is a good sign that he is thinking that way. Several members of the organization expressed relief that Malkin is not seriously injured after his crashing into those bouncy Detroit boards on Saturday night.

 

>> Josh Yohe’s GAMER off this latest victory: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5263834-74/penguins-game-hit#axzz2nh84eoc1

 

>> Brooks Orpik is improving, and other injury developments in the NOTES: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5263853-74/penguins-monday-orpik#axzz2nh84eoc1

 

>> Deryk Engelland’s discipline hearing surprises Dan Bylsma: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5264654-74/engelland-thornton-bylsma#axzz2nh84eoc1

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

December 15, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Bylsma’s best start on display.

Dan Bylsma is the coach for whom a majority of players have said they want to play. He is the coach that would have been hired by the New York Rangers had the Penguins cuts times with him last summer. He is the coach USA Hockey has tasked with bringing home gold for the first time since that Miracle year of 1980.

He is also the coach that a lot of people – at least the ones that make a habit of social-media mingling – seem to think is, at best, only adequate for the Penguins.

This is what adequate has looked like this season: Bylsma has steered the Penguins to a 47 points through 34 games, a pace for 113. He has done this despite…

*a top four on defense that has played fewer than four full periods together;

*a third line centered by Brandon Sutter, but also featuring 10 different wingers;

*a 40-goal scoring winger, James Neal, who has missed 15 games because of injury and the last three because of a suspension;

*a slow start, by his standards anyway, from center Evgeni Malkin, who had only nine points in October;

*a backup goalie, Jeff Zatkoff, who had never played in the NHL before this season;

That is not even half of it, actually.

The Penguins have been carrying no fewer than five AHL regulars on their 23-man roster for almost five weeks.

The Penguins are also working through a complete overhaul of their defensive scheme from the last four seasons. They have transformed from an own-zone, defense-to-defense breakout to a left-wing lock that emphasizes neutral-zone play.

The Penguins just won at Detroit – and, OK, that does not mean as much as it once did – despite finishing the game with only five defensemen, none of them top-four regulars, and without Malkin.

Bylsma is not a prefect coach, but he is having his best start to a season – and this is a guy that was recognized as the NHL’s best about three years ago.

His best maneuver for this season actually happened last June, when he declared Marc-Andre Fleury his starter only days after the Penguins’ playoff run ended with Fleury have served only mop-up duty to Tomas Vokoun in the last 11 games.

Had Bylsma lost Fleury then, the Penguins would be struggling along with the rest of the lousy Metropolitan division right now.

Instead, despite an injury situation that makes the 2010-11 season seem breezy, they are running away from that sorry pack.

The challenges ahead will include not overextending role players or younger players such as Olli Maatta and Simon Despres, who, by the way, has looked awesome this past week.

Hmmm… maybe Bylsma has the right idea insisting that Despres, a former first-round pick, would benefit from more seasoning in the AHL to start this season.

Anyway, Bylsma – like his franchise players, including Fleury – will be judged by how the postseason goes. That is the standard for this organization.

Still, even his critics look foolish right now by not acknowledging a job well done to start this peculiar Penguins’ season.

 

>> The past 10 days have been brutal for any fan of hockey, at least fans that are sick of apologizing for liking the NHL. It seems as though the Player Safety department is scheduling a discipline hearing every other day.

Smarter people than me will say whether Player Safety is going a good job, but to suggest Brendan Shanahan did not try setting a precedent by handing a 15-game suspension to Boston’s Shawn Thornton would ignore recent NHL history for treatment of players without prior history of offenses.

Thornton sure seems like he is going to explore becoming the first NHL player to seek use of a neutral discipline arbitrator. That is probably because Shanahan ignored his past history with this ruling.

Do not for a second think the kind words paid to Thornton by Bylsma and Penguins GM Ray Shero on Saturday afternoon were not with the expectation that Thornton and the Bruins are going to fight Shanahan’s ruling.

The Penguins and Bruins knew Saturday morning of the Shanahan’s decision. They spent the time between then and their late-afternoon public comments – the Bruins’ coming in the form of short-and-sweet statements – carefully choosing every work, likely getting them approved by legal experts.

Shanahan should welcome any fight from the Bruins and NHLPA, that latter which is not wrong to press the NHL on Thornton’s suspension.

This is a necessary fight, and hockey will benefit – at least, hockey at the NHL level.

However, take a good, long look at Shanahan’s supplemental discipline decisions this season. He is making good on his pledge to try changing the way this game is played by players that clearly do not seem to respect one another.

His is not an easy fight.

Whatever you think of his decisions regarding discipline, you cannot accurately state Shanahan is not seriously fighting for changing the culture.

 

>> Josh Yohe and I tag-teamed this story on the Thornton developments from Saturday: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5251827-74/thornton-orpik-nhl#axzz2nWLGV9Pu

 

>> Dejan Kovacevic opines on that ruling: http://blog.triblive.com/dejan-kovacevic/2013/12/14/instant-column-nhl-declares-open-season-for-assaults/

 

>> Oh, by the way… a game was played Saturday by the Penguins, and it might have been their most impressive win of the season. Yohe’s GAMER: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5226110-74/penguins-malkin-injury#axzz2nWLGV9Pu

 

>> Detroit/Canada coach Mike Babcock made a note to name Chris Kunitz among the Penguins’ great players. Well, the Olympics are in about six weeks: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5226112-74/babcock-kunitz-team#axzz2nWLGV9Pu

 

>> Jonathan Bombulie’s AHL report, which you should always read ­– though Jonathan is this close to writing about Wheeling instead of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5224754-74/thompson-games-six#axzz2nWLGV9Pu

 

>> And, finally, with the salary cap about to spike, my Sunday Insider looks at how that might impact the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5224764-74/cap-million-shero#axzz2nWLGV9Pu

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

December 14, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Saturday could be game-changer for NHL’s discipline game.

Snow is falling, so this will be a short – by my recent standard, anyway – blog post. Some quick hits from Friday:

 

>> From what I’ve heard, there were quite a few lawyers in the Player Safety hearing for Boston’s Shawn Thornton. A ruling will be made public on Saturday.

Predictions are a fool’s game, but it is safe to report that Player Safety VP Brendan Shanahan has fumed over Thornton’s attack on Brooks Orpik since it happened, and that he does not view it as having any place in this sport.

However, Thornton does not have a track record, so there is no precedent to hit him with a lengthy suspension.

The guess here, based off conversations, is that Thornton will get a lengthy suspension, though.

It has always been easier for Shanahan – or his predecessors – to make come down hard on repeat offenders such as Matt Cooke or Raffi Torres.

Coming down hard on Thornton, who has no history and is reputable around the NHL for playing a respected hard style of hockey – that will be something this league has not seen.

It will be something perhaps challenged by the Players Association, criticized by some owners and general managers, and called out by a majority of players.

It will also be something to applaud by fans of hockey.

The NHL will take a step toward real change regarding safety – a change that Shanahan has told me (and others) he badly wants to see happen – when it changes the game of supplemental discipline.

Changing that game means deterring players from having a history by throwing the book at them when something like Thornton did is done.

Saturday could be a big day in the NHL.

Here’s hoping…

 

>> I implored Jeff Zatkoff to enjoy his Saturday night.

“Let’s see if I start,” Zatkoff said.

My eyes rolled.

Zatkoff laughed.

As the Friday night proved, Marc-Andre Fleury is probably the Penguins’ MVP as this season nears its halfway point.

Zatkoff, though, has been quite a story.

After a horrific first NHL game – a 6-3 loss at Florida on Oct. 11 – he has won four of five and allowed 10 goals while racking a .924 save percentage over that span.

He has earned this hometown start at Detroit on Saturday night.

 

>> About that MVP candidacy for Fleury… maybe it should be a league MVP? The GAME STORY offers some statistical – and anecdotal – support: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5243726-74/fleury-devils-penguins#axzz2nIuCOF12

 

>> The latest on Orpik and some thoughts from Ray Shero about James Neal in the NOTES: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5243728-74/orpik-penguins-player#axzz2nIuCOF12

 

>> Count me as a fan of the Stadium Series jerseys. They are not the new alternates, and if what I’m hearing is true, you will be all happy-happy-joy-joy when those are unveiled this summer.

 

>> A look back at columnist Dejan Kovacevic’s thoughts about Jaromir Jagr’s potential last game in Pittsburgh: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/5226035-74/jagr-game-lemieux#axzz2nIuCOF12

Jagr does not sound like he’s thinking about leaving the NHL, at least he didn’t sound that way on Friday.

The Penguins may have to sign him on the condition that he does retire.

(FAKE CONVERSATION)

Mario: Uh, Jags…

Jagr: I love you.

Mario: Two million. We retire your number. Just quit.

Jagr: My heart is in Pittsburgh.

Mario: Um, yeah, we need a signature, too.

 

>> A previous blog post about what my thoughts were with Orpik on Friday: http://blog.triblive.com/chipped-ice/2013/12/13/rossi-looking-back-on-covering-crosbys-concussion/#axzz2nJZ9mQyd

 

>> Be safe. Be warm. Save me some milk at the stores.

 

>> Josh Yohe has the club in Detroit on Saturday. Nothing big scheduled, eh?

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

December 13, 2013
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: Jagr still likes talking about the old days

Good afternoon, hockey fans.

There are so many serious things taking place in hockey right now, namely the Brooks Orpik/Shawn Thornton situation, that I feel like we need a break.
Enter Jaromir Jagr.
I never had the pleasure of covering Jagr when he wore the Pittsburgh Penguins sweater. That was before my time.
No, I only covered Jagr very briefly when he was a Ranger, and in later years, a Flyer, Star and Devil. I experienced #Jagrwatch during many sleepless night and, along the way, had the pleasure of meeting many of you on one legendary night at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Jagr has a way of captivating us, doesn’t he?
He is so many things to so many people.
Some of you will boo him tonight because he asked the Penguins to trade him in 2001, because he turned his back on a perceived agreement with his “hero,” Mario Lemieux, and because he took more money to play in someplace other than Pittsburgh. Someplace turned out to be Philadelphia, which made things even worse.
Fair enough.
Others will always love him because, from 1997-2000, he was unquestionably the best player in hockey. Many will point to his iconic performance in Game 2 if the first round of the 1999 playoffs against the Devils as the reason they love Jagr, because his performance that day may have saved the franchise.
Fair enough.
Me? Well, I’ve dealt with Jagr many times now, and I’ve grown a liking for the man. He’s funny, he’s weird, and beyond everything else, he’s entertaining.
He’s a real rock star, and hockey doesn’t really have them anymore. Sure, Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin are true superstars, future Hall of Famers.
But Jagr is a little different because he takes us back to a different time.
Many in my generation grew up watching Jagr and those incredible Penguins of the 1990s. This, I suppose, is why I favor Jagr in so many ways despite some obvious flaws.
He’s the bridge to those teams, to when hockey was so different.
Jagr, in an unusual display of nostalgia, brought up Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Rich Tocchet, Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson today. He spoke passionately about those players, and noted that they worked harder than people realized.
“Sure, we had talent,” Jagr said. “But we worked so hard all the time. People don’t talk about that.”
Jagr even joked that Lemieux, never known for his wonderful practice habits, never had to work hard in practice, “because he was playing 30 minutes a night in games.”
When you’re around Jagr, you observe many things. He really is hockey’s last rock star, a man whose career spans so many eras of NHL hockey. His teammates are intimidated, in awe and in love with him all at the same time.
And Jagr still loves Pittsburgh. Trust me on that. It’s clear every time he is here. When he sees Paul Steigerwald, the Root Sports broadcaster, he always perks up and makes a few jokes. All of those Pittsburgh memories clearly come rushing back to Jagr during these moments.
He spoke so lovingly of previous generations of hockey, that I felt compelled to ask him if playing for those free-wheeling Penguins teams of the 1990s represented the happiest time of his career.
Jagr didn’t answer with a yes or a no.
But he answered the question in his own special way.
“When I was young,” he said, “I was only a third or fourth line guy. And Bryan Trottier was my center. So what does that tell you? There was so much talent.”
In Jagr, there still is talent. He won’t be around forever, but insists he isn’t done playing hockey.
Jagr isn’t done being interesting, either.

- Yohe

December 13, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Looking back on covering Crosby’s concussion.

Sidney Crosby’s thoughts are with his club’s conscience, not the likely looming suspension for Boston’s Shawn Thornton.

Crosby made that point clear again Thursday after the Penguins practiced at Southpointe Iceoplex – and he looks no less bewildered now by what happened to Brooks Orpik than he did after the mess that was last Saturday night at TD Garden.

Crosby’s facial expression then was one I had not witnessed from him after a game, and I have covered, probably, 90 percent of those he has played in the NHL.

His expression could have been mistaken for anger, perhaps over what happened to Orpik and how the Penguins’ blew a late lead to an opponent he and teammates have grown to increasingly dislike.

That was not anger, though.

That was concern, and it was genuine.

Orpik and Crosby do not always see eye to eye, but in a way that an older and younger brother do not see a shared world similarly.

That does not mean there exists a lack of respect, and certainly not a lack of affection. Orpik and Crosby have abundances of both for one another, and I base that on my conversations over the last eight years with each about the other.

This week, at least in off-guard moments inside the Penguins’ dressing room, Crosby has occasionally appeared as disconcerted as a person would when he or she is worried about the condition of somebody close.

It is hard for me – somebody who covered Crosby intensely during his concussion saga of 15 months from January 2011-March 2012 – not to presume that he automatically thinks back on his own struggles when somebody he knows well, as he does Orpik, is diagnosed with a brain injury.

It is hard for me – as somebody who pushed hard on Crosby and his representatives with and outside of the Penguins from January 2011-March 2012 – not to think back on my own struggles with the injury as a teenager and with writing about it while it prevented probably the best athlete I will cover from doing what he does best.

I have covered one too many concussions, but enough to believe that this is THE ISSUE of our sporting time – and probably the one that will change this, and other games, forever, sooner rather than later.

To cover a concussed athlete is miserable.

Information relayed to reporters is often inaccurate or incomplete, and often that is because the injury is outside the realm of rational understanding. A player can look normal, and very much be a physical and emotional wreck.

Frustration builds for everybody involved, and there is no easy or quick fix.

There is a nasty side to high-profile concussions that very few people experience, and I sometimes wish I had not experienced Crosby’s dealings. It involves behind-the-scenes posturing, bickering and finger pointing. It leads to confusion, agitation, stress and stupid things done by smarter-than-that people – and it can become very, very personal.

It is Hell for the injured, and Purgatory for all those that are connected to that player.

It is a brain injury.

Think about that.

The brain… injured.

There have been many, many times over the past few years that I wish I had said those last three sentences to myself more often – and then thought about what they might mean for Crosby – from January 2011-March 2012.

I learned a lot about myself after looking back on how I covered the Crosby concussion. There are some parts of my approach to that story that I regret, a couple for which I sometimes feel the need to apologize to Crosby, his family and close friends.

A reporter can get too attached to a story, can work it so deep that there is only blinding darkness.

There are stories that no sports reporter signed up for when looking for this particular livelihood. Concussion coverage comes to my mind.

It is a brain… injured.

That is what I am thinking about as the NHL prepares to hear Thornton’s side of the story on Friday.

 

>> Speaking of sagas, columnist Dejan Kovacevic chimes in on Jaromir Jagr’s possible last Pittsburgh date as an NHL player in Friday’s Trib. It will be worth your read: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/5226035-74/jagr-game-lemieux#axzz2nIuCOF12

I never really covered Jagr, save for running quotes for current Trib Steelers beat man Alan Robinson in the late 1990s when he covered the Penguins for the Associated Press.

The one time I did cover Jagr intensely was during the JagrWatch (credit: Josh Yohe) during the wild couple of weeks that closed July 2011. It was time of turtles on New York airport runways, hearts being in Pittsburgh, bloggers pranking agents and not much sleep on this end.

It also was a time when Jagr, who spoke openly of wanting to play again for his original NHL team, did exactly the opposite of what Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have done twice – take below market value to be with the Penguins.

There is a lot to think about if you are a Pittsburgher when it comes to Jagr, but maybe that is worth a few seconds as Friday night approaches.

 

>> NOTES from Thursday’s practice, leading off with the Penguins’ success attracting female fans: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5226057-74/penguins-female-jerseys#axzz2nIuCOF12

 

>> The Penguins are on another 100-point pace, and there is are some special reasons why: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5226048-74/games-penguins-power#axzz2nIuCOF12

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

December 12, 2013
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: Crosby offers prediction on Thornton suspension

Boston’s Shawn Thornton will receive his punishment when meeting with the NHL on Friday. Until then, we can speculate how many games he’ll receive.
Most people seem to think Thornton will receive around 10 games. Others think he should receive more, so that the NHL could make something of an example out of what clearly was a premeditated, deliberate, violent attack. But still, no one really knows what Shanny and Co. are thinking and whether the reality that Thornton has never been suspended – and is a well liked guy around the league – will make an impact in the ruling.
Sidney Crosby was asked for a prediction regarding what the league will do with Thornton. Here’s what he had to say: “I have no idea. It’s hard to guess. Nealer (James Neal) got five. If I had to guess a number, I’d say 10. Right around there. Maybe even more. I’m sure they have a lot of different criteria to look at when they’re giving guys suspensions. I’m sure it’s going to be up there. It’s going to be steep.”
Thornton, as everyone knows by now, attacked Brooks Orpik on Saturday in Boston after Orpik refused to fight him following a hit that knocked Lou Eriksson out of the game.
Speaking of the incident, Crosby offered some advice to his teammate.
Crosby once dealt with a number of infamous concussion problems.
He’s spoken with Orpik about his current ordeal.
“Just listen to your body,” Crosby said when asked about advice he has for Orpik.
“It seems like he’s doing pretty well these past few days I’ve seen him. But I think unless you’re dealing with it, you never really know how someone is. You just have to make sure that you take care of yourself and listen to your body. When he’s ready and symptom-free, he’ll know.”

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