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January 4, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: The thing about Mario Lemieux…

Mario Lemieux is different. Eight years into covering his hockey club, that is the best I can come up.

He remains the largest larger-than-life presence in a region where the citizens have seen their share of athletic greatness on fields, courts and – certainly over the last 30 years – ice.

The thing about Lemieux is that he has not really been viewed as an athlete for two decades. Seriously, when was the last time somebody talked about something Lemieux did as a player… without also mentioning that he beat cancer, saved the Penguins or stayed to raise his family in Pittsburgh?

There is always all of that to go with any recollections of Lemieux’s on-ice achievements.

His legacy is not what he did as a player, even though he was perhaps the most gifted hockey player, one consistently in the conversations about the best hockey player.

No hockey player – maybe no athlete – ever has had what Lemieux has in this region, though.

Not adulation.

Impact.

Wayne Gretzky has statues of his likeness in Edmonton and Los Angeles.

Lemieux has one in Pittsburgh, but his name is also on 22 “playrooms” – areas in hospitals where children can hang out during hospital stays – throughout the region. The Mario Lemieux Foundation has awarded over $14 million in grants, mostly for cancer research, since its inception.

Lemieux and his wife, Nathalie, have personally donated over $600,000 to the foundation.

The statue?

Lemieux fought that for years, agreeing only at the urging of his ownership group’s investors.

A couple of years ago, while working on an investigative piece into athletes’ charities with Tribune-Review colleague Carl Prine, I spent months digging deep into the dealings of Lemieux’s foundation.

What struck me was how small it is given how big it seems. What stayed with me is how absolutely committed Lemieux is to it.

Reporters go into investigative projects looking for something big and juicy, always because there is anecdotal evidence of something nefarious. Prine and I found some less than honorable dealings by several athletes’ charities, including those directly linked to Cal Ripken and Lance Armstrong.

Regarding Lemieux’s foundation, the best we could dig up was that it had accepted $500,000 in federal and state grants since 2004.

Again, it has handed out over $14 million in grants, with well over 90 percent of that money staying local.

For all the “C” words that have been attached to Lemieux – captain, cancer, Cup – maybe the one that should always come first is commitment.

He came. He stayed. He remains.

He is absolutely committed to doing things on his own terms.

He is the rare person to buy a professional team so he could make his money.

He is the rare celebrity who shines despite avoiding the spotlight.

The question I get most – from readers, from colleagues, from everybody – is, “What does Mario think about…?”

My answer is always the same.

I have no idea.

Mario Lemieux rarely talks about anything in public. He will not grant interviews Saturday after taking to the ice for his foundation’s charity hockey camp.

I hear stories all the time from Penguins executives about Lemieux’s dealing with team matters. Those stories are short, because Lemieux really doesn’t deal with team matters.

Last June, Ray Shero tried to present him with a detailed presentation that supported extending the contracts of Dan Bylsma and his assistants. Shero had wasted his time, because all Lemieux needed to hear was Shero saying he believed in the coaching staff.

Eight years into covering his hockey club, I have come to realize this about Lemieux:

He is different, not because of what he doesn’t do, but because of what he still does.

That, of course, is to defy convention.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Win No. 11 in a row at home was another case for Chris Kunitz to be at the Olympics: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5335554-74/penguins-rangers-season#axzz2pRqXONtn

>> Josh Yohe reports on the news Penguins, Tyler Pyatt: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5335560-74/penguins-pyatt-friday#axzz2pRqXONtn

>> The Team USA/Bobby Ryan saga, by Yohe: http://triblive.com/sports/nhl/5355123-74/ryan-burke-team#axzz2pRqXONtn

>> Finally – and MOST IMPORTANT – a happy 39th anniversary to Bob and Joanne Rossi. Theirs is the best story to which my name will ever be attached.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

January 2, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: USA’s Orpik still haunted by 2010 Olympic loss to Canada.

Brooks Orpik spent his Wednesday afternoon celebrating the New Year with a nice dinner and a viewing of the Rose Bowl game. This happened a few hours after a badly kept secret became official. Orpik is again an Olympian, joining Penguins teammate Paul Martin as a member of Team USA for the upcoming Sochi Games.

This is not the spot for roster analysis. Instead, let the offer be this Q&A with Orpik regarding the Olympics:

 

Q: Will having gone through this all for the 2010 Olympics make life easier on you a second time around?

 The time change in Russia is a lot different. I’m sure the food will be different. There will be some things to adjust to. But, yeah, experience is always helpful when you’re doing something like this. It’s always better if something isn’t brand new to you.

 

Q: You and Martin have played as a defense pairing for the Penguins the last two years. Do you think that factored into Team USA’s decision?

Well, I’d only be speculating. If you look at the roster – though we’re the only ones like this on defense ­– there are a lot of other guys that have played with one another and are or were teammates. That’s a huge advantage, I think.

We had one practice before our first game in Vancouver (2010 Games). There wasn’t a lot of familiarity. My familiarity with Paul and other guys’ familiarity with one another will be critical because this isn’t an 82-game season; you really can’t afford to lose one game in this tournament. You have to come together quick and there isn’t a lot of time.

So, yeah, I do think familiarity probably played a factor for Paul and me, but I’m only guessing on that.

 

Q: An Olympic gold medal is about the only thing you have not won. How important is that to you?

You know what it is? It is how we lost last time (3-2, in overtime of the gold-medal game to Canada). The silver medal seemed like a disappointment because we feel like we gave it to them, like we lost it more than anything else. So that is something you think about a lot.

 

>> Orpik, Martin and their Olympic opportunity: http://triblive.com/sports/nhl/5340438-74/martin-penguins-orpik#axzz2pAdwb7CA

 

>> A woman with local ties is going back to the Olympics: http://triblive.com/sports/olympics/moreolympics/5345095-74/games-mclaughlin-winter#axzz2pAdwb7CA

 

>> The Team USA men: http://olympics.usahockey.com/page/show/1067902-roster

>> And the women: http://olympics.usahockey.com/page/show/862508-2014-u-s-olympic-women-s-ice-hockey-team-roster

 

>> A couple of thorough inside look at the selection process.

Scott Burnside of ESPN: http://espn.go.com/olympics/hockey/story/_/id/10195703/how-us-hockey-team-bound-sochi-olympics-was-named

Kevin Allen of USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/2014/01/01/how-olympic-hockey-team-was-picked/4279829/

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

January 1, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: On outdoor hockey and Olympic invites.

A Happy New Year to everybody.

The Penguins are not scheduled to practice Wednesday, and quite a few of them will be paying attention to the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium featuring Toronto and Detroit ­– potential first-round playoff opponents.

The Penguins have participated in two Classics, including the 2011 one at Heinz Field. They are also participating in a Stadium Series outdoor game at Chicago’s Solider Field on March 1.

Count on the NHL bringing another outdoor game to Pittsburgh in the new few years, though it may not be another Classic. Staging a game at PNC Park is something that intrigues NHL executives.

As for where the Classic is headed, this report by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston has Toronto very much in the mix: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/24-7/winter-classic-could-be-coming-to-toronto/

About the Classics, allow me this:

I have covered the Stanley Cup Final, Super Bowl, NCAA men’s basketball tournament, baseball All-Star games, and a bunch of other stuff I cannot recall because of the blur that has become of my past 18 years doing this professionally. The only thing left for me is an Olympics, really.

Nothing – not one event – has left a bigger impression, and changed my mind about something, as did the 2008 Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Outdoor hockey works in a big way, and I am not one of those people who believes you can have too much of it. For every city, for every fan base, a day like today is something to behold.

So, enjoy, Michigan. Then the Bronx, Los Angeles, Chicago and Vancouver.

 

>> The Classic is not the only big event for Day 1 of hockey’s 2014 calendar. Team USA will unveil its Olympic roster after the Classic, and you can watch it all on NBC (WPXI locally).

The Penguins have their share of ties to USA Hockey, and that group will be added to with Wednesday’s Olympic announcement. The first day of this New Year is going to be one to remember for Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin. At least, that is the expectation from within the organization, which has some in-the-know employees.

Is Friday too soon for “Operation: Shutdown” T-shirts with a No. 7 (Martin) and No. 44 (Orpik) on the back to be sold at Consol Energy Center?

 

>> The annual gift basket event staged by the Penguins Wives Association has one day remaining on its auction. Details are here: http://auction.nhl.com/iSynApp/showPage.action?sid=1100803&pageName=profilePage&pgmode1=penguins&pgmode3=timeleft_asc&navid=auctions-nav-dal

This is one of the cooler charity events – at least in the eyes of players – so if you feel generous as this holiday season ends, check it out.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Josh Yohe was in Newark, N.J., for the “Groundhog Day” that is Penguins at Devils: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5332251-74/penguins-devils-bylsma#axzz2pAdwb7CA

>> Olli Maatta was given a rest, and other assorted Penguins notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5332254-74/penguins-martin-malkin#axzz2pAdwb7CA

>> Columnist Joe Starkey is predicting some Penguins-related stuff for 2014: http://triblive.com/sports/joestarkey/5332266-74/starkey-steelers-2014#axzz2pAdwb7CA

>> And, finally, a link to a New Year’s Eve blog about my lasting memories from 2013 coverage: http://blog.triblive.com/chipped-ice/2013/12/31/rossi-memories-from-the-year-2013/#axzz2p5rJ0JQO

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

December 31, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Memories from the year 2013.

So, the final day of 2013 was lousy for local fans, with a United States’ loss to Canada at the WJC preceding a Penguins’ loss at New Jersey. On the brighter side… a new year is just a day away.

There are things to which we call can look forward. However, looking back, these are the scenes that I will remember from a happening year that was:

 

>> YOU GOT THE SILVER GOLD

This was a prefect Saturday morning in January for anybody who grew up defending his “hockey guy” status as a Pittsburgher:

Watching from bed as on the TV a Team USA that featured four Western Pennsylvanians won gold at the World Junior Championship, and later catching a reflection of your grinning face as you write the story of that triumph for your Pittsburgh newspaper.

We don’t get to be fans in this business, but…

 

>> AN EARLY-AM CALL FROM JOSH YOHE…

“I don’t know if you saw, but it’s over,” he said.

The time was somewhere around 4 a.m. I had seen, maybe five minutes prior, a text from a source that beautifully read:

“Agreement. Lockout over. Hockey is back.”

This would not be the last way-too-early hockey morning of my year.

 

>> SHANNY AND UNCLE CHARLIE

In late January, NHL Player Safety was kind enough to let the Trib peek first behind the curtain of its review room at the league’s Manhattan offices. This was quite an informing night, one that changed my perspective of the entire discipline process.

The story readers did not get, however, involved the first-impression looks that Brendan Shanahan cast over Trib sports photographer Chaz “Uncle Charlie” Palla, who could find work as an extra on “Sons of Anarchy.”

Uncle Charlie is a goodly soul and a true Trib treasure, but he is physically imposing and he knows it. He uses that to his advantage, too.

From inside the video review room, Shanahan sized him up as Uncle Charlie tried to do that photographer’s trick of becoming invisible for the sake of shooting subjects in their element. Shanahan, perhaps channeling his Hall-of-Fame playing days, seemed set on protecting his house.

At one point, I noticed each man – both of whom could crush me like a bug – taking each other in, and I thought, “I’ve known Chaz for years, but I need Shanny for the story – who do I back if they throw down?”

Indeed, I’m the last guy you want on your side in a dark alley.

Later, I laughed about that observation while conversing privately with both men.

Notice I didn’t say they laughed.

 

>> “ROSSI, WHAT DID YOU WRITE?”

James Neal asked that question in late-March several days after an article about the Penguins’ revised defensive-zone positioning of their “F3.” I would use this pace to explain, but I still get the “F3” wrong – as Neal informed then I had in the story.

He did this from his dressing-room stall at Consol Energy Center. Neal sits next to Evgeni Malkin, who overheard the conversation and joined in.

So, what was Neal quietly explaining the error of my ways, became him and Malkin having a lot of fun at my expense. A beaten beat man, I sat between them and began an exasperated defense of myself.

This only served to enthuse their zest for tag-team torture of me.

All ended well, with smiles among us, theirs perhaps more laughing at me than with me. Several days later, in his annual “Trade Deadline Video,” the Trib’s Justin LaBar showed a porting of that exchange to the world.

As always, world, your enjoyment of my anguish is appreciated.

 

>> AN EARLY-AM CALL FROM RAY SHERO…

“Rob Rossi,” he said, sounding equally excited and exhausted.

I said hello.

It was around 2:30 a.m.

Around two hours prior, I had returned home from a date. While texting her – a post-date no-no, I am told – my work cell pinged. A source had advised I not go to bed.

The text read: “Your GM is about to make a move.”

This I had suspected.

About a week earlier, Shero had acquired Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. The night after he dealt for Murray, I ran into a team source at Consol Energy Center, and that source passionately dissuaded me from following a lead that Shero was “still in on Jarome Iginla.”

That, of course, meant Shero WAS still in on Iginla.

Back to my date night, which now was a super-early work morning.

Shero snagged Iginla in the NHL trade of last season, and decided to do his local beat scribes the favor of phoning right away.

Hey, everybody was up anyway.

“Rob Rossi,” Shero said. “It’s trade-deadline season; there’s no sleeping this time of year.”

Well played, though mine was better.

“Ray, if I closed as well as you, no way I would have picked up the phone just now.”

 

>> PENGUINS-SENATORS, GAME 3

Let this serve as due apologies to Daniel Alfredsson and every Penguins player on the ice – all of them about whom I screamed unkindly words as a game story was blown to pieces in late May.

Every time you see a last-minute goal that sends a playoff game to overtime, a beat reporter dies.

At least, a beat reporter is wishing for death in that moment.

 

>> OF GREEN MONSTERS AND FRIED DOUGH

The Eastern Conference final was a blur, over far too quickly for all that Yohe and I had been through dating to the start of the NHL lockout. Between Games 3 and 4 at Boston, we decided to take a night off and take in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

We enjoyed the sights, sounds and fried dough. We took terrible pictures. We walked to the bar that inspired the greatest sitcom of all-time, stopping only for Yohe to buy a Jaromir Jagr-themed T-shirt that, at the time, seemed hilarious.

These are the very good days on a beat, and because there seem to be fewer every season, this one sticks out.

Also, credit Yohe for this great call as he checked out NL Central scores:

“I don’t think our Buccos are going to collapse this year,” he said.

 

>> MIDNIGHT IN JUNE

My phone rang.

“Rossi,” Pascal Dupuis said. “It’s done. I told you it would get done, buddy.”

About an hour before, Dupuis had agreed to a four-year contract worth $15 million – a deal that 24 hours earlier seemed quite unlikely based off what I had been hearing, a deal that prevented Dupuis from leaving the city his family had grown to love.

So, around midnight, with the NHL barreling toward free agency, a casual-turned-deep conversation about life, family and what really is important was had between a reporter and player – each of whom, for only a little while, were just two guys talking.

None of that conversation has ever made it into print, nor will it.

That conversation was all I could think about while tying to get home to my family on Christmas Eve, when Dupuis learned his season was likely done because of a torn right ACL.

 

>> PLAYOFFS?!!!

As Pittsburgh readied itself for playoff baseball, the Penguins made good on a pledge to their city’s upstart ballclub.

Doing their Stanley Cup playoffs, Pirates player had donned Penguins jerseys for batting practice. The Penguins wanted to do something, but were unsure what, for the Pirates during their September run.

Coach Dan Bylsma, confident there would be a Pirates playoff game, waited out the baseball regular season – and on the October morning of the Pirates-Reds wild card game at PNC Park, the Penguins staged a Wiffle ball game on the ice after a practice at Consol Energy Center.

Players donned Pirates t-shirts – plans for hockey jerseys with the Pirates’ “P” were ruined by the copyright gods – and caps. A positively puzzled Olli Maatta had no idea what to think as he stepped onto the ice.

Perhaps neither did Malkin, but he was very much into the makeshift game.

As he walked from the dressing room to the ice, Malkin spotted me leaning against an aisle wall.

“Let’s go, Rossi; play baseball,” he said.

Then, astonishingly, I watched Malkin strike out on five pitches.

The guy on the mound was a thoroughly pleased with himself Sidney Crosby.

 

>> DR. FEELGOOD

A guy walks into a physician’s office for a hernia examination on a cold November morning. This guy leaves with a story, the details of which cannot be printed for various reasons.

One detail – and isn’t this always the way with any story a guy tells? – is the girl, who was not a receptionist but rather a physician assistant, much to the horrified look of the guy as he was getting examined.

Very pretty this girl, and funny, and a Penguins fan.

You can guess where this is going.

If you guessed guy not scoring the girl’s digits…

“Why not?” Marc-Andre Fleury said a few weeks later.

The guy shrugged his shoulders before retelling the story.

“Oh, that was bad,” Fleury said. “But, you know, here is what you could do, right?”

Fleury, bless him, formulated a plan on the spot.

“You know, it might work out for you,” Fleury said. “If not, get sick again and go see her. But try this. Maybe, right?”
Thank you, Marc.

 

Thank you, everybody, for reading.

I never say that enough.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other in 2014,

Rossi

 

December 30, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Zatkoff’s a keeper. Crosby, too. Obviously.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Blasted, Jeff Zatkoff!!!

He allowed three goals on Sunday night.

Three.

That meant three firings of the cannon at Nationwide Arena.

Maybe it takes some getting used to, and certainly the Blue Jackets’ previous placement in the Western Conference left few opportunities; but, still, that cannon going off is the beat reporter sonic equivalent of sharing a room with Spinal Tap.

Zatkoff won his seventh straight game, by the way – and it easily meant the most since his first one. That is because this was the first NHL game he has played in front of his dad, who could not make the Zatkoff’s shutout victory at Columbus on Nov. 2.

As Zatkoff explained, his dad lives in Kentucky, and was engaged in some of his company’s year-end requirements for that contest.

People keep asking about the Penguins’ interest in a veteran backup goalie for Marc-Andre Fleury.

Keep asking, folks.

GM Ray Shero is looking for some elements right now, but a new backup is not on his to-get list. There is no indication he is even looking for one.

This season, with this lower salary cap, a veteran backup is not a luxury the Penguins can really afford unless Tomas Vokoun comes back to play – and there is no indication of that, either.

 

>> So, the Penguins have played three games in this building, counting an exhibition game that Dan Bylsma recalled Sunday night.

“I’m not sure where or why I thought James (Neal) was going to have a breakout year – I’m not sure it would be a breakout year because he’s got 40 (before),” Bylsma said.

“The first time we saw him in preseason, in this building, it was, like, ‘It’s too bad it was a preseason game,’ because it was an unbelievable performance in what he can do with his shot, getting open and shooting the puck.”

Neal has a lot of awesome numbers this season, particularly with 14 goals in 21 games (a 55-goal pace over a full season).

This number speaks loudest: 12 goals in as many road contests.

 

>> Speaking of numbers, this is my vote for the best of any for the Penguins in their first 42 games:

0

That is how many games captain Sidney Crosby has missed.

However, if you really want to know why he might be the MVP of the first half, consider this:

The Penguins are 8-2-0 in games missed by Evgeni Malkin. They have dressed no fewer than three AHL forwards in each of those games. Crosby has four goals and 17 points in those contests.

 

>> Team USA will unveil its Olympic roster on Wednesday.

Bylsma said Sunday that since Christmas Eve, his attention has turned from player evaluation to preparing for the tournament that will take place in about six weeks in Sochi, Russia.

As for Wednesday’s selection:

“I better not be surprised by anything,” Bylsma said.

Indeed, THAT would be a story.

 

>> Great atmosphere in Columbus, where Penguins fans seemed to fill half the rink.

Jack Johnson, a potential Team USA defenseman, told the Columbus Dispatch that the Blue Jackets were prepared to “play a road game” on Sunday night.

It must have felt that way when Neal’s third goal made an ice clearing of caps necessary.

That was a first for me in eight seasons going into visiting arenas.

 

>> Rossi, you Tweet, give me a name? Somebody. Anybody. Who does Shero like?

Grr-argh.

OK, start here: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8471217#&navid=nhl-search

He will cost the Penguins, though. He would cost like no player since Marian Hossa, who in 2008 required sending away two roster players, a top prospect and a future first-round pick – and there would be no next-in-line winger for Crosby thrown into a deal this time.

Also, really, how many captains can one GM acquire?

Still, in replacing Pascal Dupuis, it’s not just a potential top-line fit to play with Crosby. It’s the need for a top liner that can also contribute on the penalty kill and fill a leadership loss in the dressing room.

That would be one special, um, Ladd.

 

LINKS N’AT

>> Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 3, and the visitors had the power, so to speak: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5327337-74/penguins-neal-kunitz#axzz2osvy8rqF

>> The Piece finally played, but what’s up with Kris Letang? http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5327364-74/penguins-games-letang

>> ICYMI, the ever changing world of concussion treatment had Brooks Orpik playing video games on his cell phone: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5303060-74/concussion-orpik-treatment

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

December 29, 2013
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Zatkoff – the guy in net Sunday, the backup Shero is not seeking to replace.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jeff Zatkoff kept the cannon quiet the last time the Penguins played at Nationwide Arena.

He will get that chance again Sunday night.

Coach Dan Bylsma said Zatkoff will make his eighth start for the Penguins.

Starting with a 19-save shutout at Columbus on Nov. 2, Zatkoff has surrendered only nine goals in his last six appearances, all wins.

The Penguins have allowed an average of 30 shots in his last four starts – an indication, perhaps, they have grown confident in his ability to make quality stops and thus are wiling to open up offensively in games Zatkoff plays.

GM Ray Shero is already looking at adding to his club, especially in the wake of a likely season-ending knee injury for winger Pascal Dupuis. Shero already was seeking a third-line winger with some grit, and now is looking at options to play with captain Sidney Crosby and winger Chris Kunitz on the top line, where Dupuis had become an anchor.

The Penguins do NOT want to force such a significant role on Beau Bennett, a promising winger who is once again injured and is not expected to play before February.

Notable, though, is that Shero is not known to be seriously exploring options for a veteran backup goalie. The Penguins have grown confident with Zatkoff as the No. 2 – and comfortable with the idea of Marc-Andre Fleury not having a veteran safety net in the playoffs, as was the case last season with Tomas Vokoun.

 

>> Defenseman Rob Scuderi has not played since Oct. 26, when his ankle was broken in a loss at Toronto.

Scuderi has declared himself ready to play against Columbus, and he was one of 14 skaters to participate in an optional practice at Nationwide Arena. However, coach Dan Bylsma gets the final call, and he has opted for the “game-time decision” route when it comes to Scuderi’s return for Sunday night.

The Penguins averaged 25.5 shots allowed per game in 10 full games played by Scuderi before his injury. That would rank second in the NHL.

As it is, even with Scuderi having missed the last 29 games, the Penguins are fifth in average shots allowed at 27.3 – and that includes an eight-game stretch without all top-four defensemen and 16 with only two.

 

>> Defenseman Kris Letang has full mobility in his elbow, which required a procedure to deal with an infection, Bylsma said Sunday. He is on this trip, but is skating on his own in Pittsburgh. Letang has been wearing a protective casing on the elbow to help it heal.

 

>> Center Evgeni Malkin (left leg) spent an extra 40 minutes on the ice after the Penguins’ Sunday-morning optional practice. He is hopeful of being cleared for contact for a Monday practice in Newark, N.J. Malkin will miss a seventh straight game on Sunday night, but he has not been ruled out at New Jersey on Tuesday.

 

>> Washington native Riley Barber contributed a goal and an assist in the United States’ 8-0 victory over German in a third Group A game at the World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden. Barber is the captain for Team USA, which is 3-0-0 with a goal differential of plus-5. The Big Game – USA vs. Canada – is Tuesday. If you do not know what that game is big, you are reading the wrong blog.

Follow the WJC here: http://www.worldjunior2014.com

 

THE #TribHKY Sunday Pops…

>> Concussion treatments continue to change, and maybe Sidney Crosby’s activity-based approach was ahead of its time: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5303060-74/concussion-orpik-treatment#axzz2osvy8rqF

>> The notes (from Saturday), including a hint from Bylsma of things to come regarding lineup decisions: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5303062-74/malkin-penguins-scuderi#axzz2osvy8rqF

>> AHL correspondent Jonathan Bombulie chips in with his regular ­­– but always wonderful – notes from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5302995-74/leblond-games-barre#axzz2osvy8rqF

 

Say hello if you are in Columbus. I’m the guy hoping to save his ears when that cannon blows.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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

 

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