Penguins Notes: Paul Martin’s Confidence, Harrington’s Journey, Crosby, Hornqvist

By John Toperzer

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s arrest for suspected domestic abuse shows that it doesn’t take an NFL player to do something stupid. Shocking, I know. Just over one month ago, Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated took a look at NHL abuse cases here.

And the Toronto Sun ran a story in which Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin, a Russian (as is Varlamov) was quoted as saying, “It’s just American laws are on the women’s side, that’s why they can go to the police for any little thing, complain and bring a lot of problems to men.”

Looks like the NHL has gotten things right, suspending Voynov indefinitely. Live and learn from the NFL’s mistakes.

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The Penguins played two games in both Weeks 1 and 2. That won’t happen again until the next calendar year, when Pittsburgh plays twice from January 5 to 11. Until then, the team plays at least three games per week. Incidentally, the Carolina Hurricanes are the only other Eastern Conference team to have played as few games as the Pens (insert snarky comment here_____).

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Wouldn’t it be nice if an impressive back-checking display by Evgeni Malkin was more of the norm than an event worthy of post-game praise by coach Mike Johnston? We all know that Geno is here for his offensive prowess, but helping out on defense shouldn’t be big news.

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I like Steve Downie mixing things up, mostly when it’s an organic display of team unity. Sometimes, fighting can be too staged. Georges Laraque springs to mind. Of course, when Laraque came to Pittsburgh he suddenly was overwhelmed by desire to show off his offense. Funny how that’s happened with tough guys coming over to the Pens. Certainly, that hasn’t been the case with Downie, and he does have some offensive potential. Wednesday should provide some sort of “entertainment value” with Downie going up against his old mates in Philadelphia.

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I don’t get the feeling new head coach Mike Johnston is overly impressed with Paul Martin. Whenever he speaking about his defensive corps he notes how Player A or Player B has the ability to generate offense, he stops short with Martin, saying that he’s more of a stable guy. Martin may have been better on the power-play point than Kris Letang the past couple seasons, but he’s now likely third behind Letang and Christian Ehrhoff in the pecking order.

The team doesn’t seem concerned about building Martin’s trade value, but even more than that, Martin is a player who has fed off confidence or shrunk by the lack of it in the past. Penguins fans will remember who poorly Martin looked when he signed his five-year deal. In fact, he had a frank summer chat with then GM Ray Shero during which Shero asked if Martin wanted a trade. To his credit, Martin said “no” and went out and positively turned his time around in Pittsburgh.

But confidence is big with Martin – perhaps even bigger than it is with other players – and Johnston is walking a fine line with his biggest trade chip.

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Why is Scott Harrington with the Penguins and not the Baby Penguins? He needs to play. Coach Johnston even said that when he demoted him to Wilkes-Barre at the end of training camp. Why then has he sat in the press box eating pretzel nuggets the last week? The only thing I can think of is if the systems are different at the NHL and AHL levels. With Bylsma, Pittsburgh played the same system in both places but I haven’t heard whether that’s the case with Johnston. Another reason might’ve been that Taylor Chorney, who spent the first game with Pittsburgh, was simply really bad. Either way, Harrington will likely go back to the Baby Pens when Roberto Bortuzzo returns and that could happen in the coming week. To quote the title of a 1990s pop group, the team’s handling of Harrington seems like a case of “Arrested Development.”

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There is much to like about Johnston. I like how he went back to starter Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday after he allowed a couple late goals to the Stars on Thursday. Johnston didn’t panic about the Flower’s final goal with 2.9 ticks remaining in regulation, a shot that needed to be stopped. That has to inspire confidence in Fleury. Two days later, the netminder made 34 saves in a 3-1 win over the Islanders.

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Pittsburgh’s fast start begs the question of whether the organization wasted the primes of both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with Bylsma at the helm. The Pens look so much more organized and in control under Johnston. Puck support and puck possession versus stretch passes and low percentage dumps in’s?

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Christian Ehrhoff might have to wait until an injury strikes before getting an opportunity on offense. He hasn’t sniffed the first-unit power play. Ehrhoff has just one even-strength assist on six shots through four games. It’s widely thought that he could sign a longer term deal than his current one-year, $4 million contract after the beginning of the 2015 calendar year, but it will be interesting to see if the way the team uses him factors into his decision to stay.

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Sidney Crosby, who scored goals in just two of his final 23 games (including the postseason) in 2013-14, already has four goals (and nine points) in four games. In 2012-13, Crosby totaled three power-play goals in 36 games. He already has three scores on the man advantage. So long as his wrist and shoulder both hold up – neither of which are givens, he’s in for a monster year.

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In 2009-10, Patric Hornqvist set career single-season highs with 30 goals and 275 shots. While he’s on pace for 574 shots on goal, I think he has a better chance of surpassing the 30-goal mark than he does the 275 shots. That said, he’s looking good on both fronts right now.

Hornqvist has potted three goals in 24 career playoff games. The Penguins will have to work on that number this spring.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguins Notes: Crosby, Fleury, Maatta, coach Mike Johnston

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Now that the euphoria from Thursday’s 6-4 Penguins victory has worn down …

Pascal Dupuis saw more than two minutes on the power play Thursday. In 39 games and 690 minutes of ice time last season, Dupuis totaled 11:21 on the man advantage. New head coach Mike Johnston is looking at his talent in a new light and that’s refreshing. We all know that Dupuis won’t become a power-play maven overnight after 10 seasons in the NHL but it’s good to see the Pens are thinking out of the box.

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P1580704Fleury must still be breaking in those gold goalie pads

Marc-Andre Fleury turned the puck over behind his own net, leading to a layup goal by Corey Perry. It’s a lot easier moving the puck forehanded with a goalie stick than it is with a backhand and Fleury paid the price. The goalie did stone Nate Thompson’s penalty shot backhand. Henrik Lundqvist might be the only goalie better than the Flower on penalty shots and shootouts.

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Sidney Crosby decided against summer wrist surgery and scored two wrist-shot goals Opening Night. Penguins fans will remember Crosby netted just one goal in 13 playoff games last spring.

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After all the talk of giving Brandon Sutter more chances throughout the Penguins offense, he scores a short-handed goal (his seventh career tally) while killing a penalty.

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Evgeni Malkin and Zach Sill were the only two Penguins forwards unable to register at least one shot on goal Thursday. Malkin, who missed the entire preseason, will try to make amends Saturday. He is averaging 1.83 points per game against the Maple Leafs with 44 points in 24 games – his best numbers versus any NHL opponent. Eventually he’ll move back to center from right wing, but why mess with success for another couple games?

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The Pens made a somewhat curious move by recalling defenseman Scott Harrington after just one game. Originally, the thinking was that Harrington was best served by seeing full minutes with Wilkes-Barre instead of sitting in the press box for Pittsburgh. Coach Johnston noted how the rookie is much more defensive-oriented than Taylor Chorney, who the team sent to the Baby Penguins, but unless Harrington plays (as he should) then the move lends itself to some second guessing.

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Crosby likely wished Blake Comeau and Steve Downie were on the Penguins roster when Marc Staal abused the Penguins captain during the playoffs and nobody protected the captain. After Ryan Kesler took some liberties with Letang on Thursday, Comeau and Downie made a point to retaliate against Kesler. On Friday, Letang said he “appreciated” their efforts but made sure to say he hoped that the team would react the same way for any of his teammates.

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It’s incredible to think Olli Maatta lasted until the 22nd pick of the 2012 draft. Maatta missed all six of Pittsburgh’s preseason games, only to tally three helpers Opening Night – his first three-point effort. It’s good the 20-year-old has an experienced partner like Paul Martin to learn from and absorb.

Martin is likely a luxury the team will move before the deadline, but the depth he gives the blue line makes him a valuable commodity. It’s pretty much assumed the Pens will move his $5 million salary, so enjoy his puck-moving skills while you still can.

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Too bad the Chicago Blackhawks don’t need a Paul Martin. Brandon Saad will be a free agent after the season and would look good in a Penguins sweater, real good. According to CapGeek, Chicago is just $384,000 under the cap while Pittsburgh is $138,000 under the limit (and that was after the Blackhawks traded puck-moving blueliner Nick Leddy before the start of the season).

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GM Jim Rutherford seems like such an unassuming, down-to-earth guy. Twice in the last two home games, I saw the general manager looking at pictures of past Penguin successes (such as a framed headline page of a Stanley Cup win) in the media hallway all by himself.

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Transcribed Penguin Interviews (Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins)

Mike Johnston media notes:

We thought Scott had a good camp, heading into this weekend in Toronto, we’ll be bringing some players back and forth. To bring Scott up, he’s a very good defensive defenseman. He’s had a good training camp, we want to bring him up for a bit here, have him with the big team.
Chorney, I was very impressed with how he played, gives us an older experienced guy, mobile, can move the puck. Harrington gives us a defensive defenseman look.
We do a game review after every game, we summarize areas where we do well and where we have to improve. Every game we try to take two or three things and chisel away and improve them. I liked the puck movement, puck possession time. We made a few poor decisions with the puck. If you want to be a puck possession team, you have to weed out those poor decisions and start to make sure guys know what to do when they’re confronted. They don’t have to make plays through people, but it’s a process, it’s not going to happen right away.
I thought for the first game, I like the way we hung in there through some adversity in the second period. We generated 21 shots on goal in the second period, so I liked the way we put the shots on goal.
To protect anybody, I do like that. I like the response of the team. There was a hit … sometimes you have to take a stance at the right time.
Any area of the game where we get exploited is a concern. The penalty kill is still a work in progress. Through the exhibition series we’ve had some new guys killing together. We’re still trying to get our pairs down, get our defense pairs with our forwards. Once we get the groups together and get our more game tape that we can watch sequences… The first three or four weeks, unless you’ve had your same unit and same coach from the year before, it’s going to take a series of eight to 10 games before you get your special teams in synch.
We weren’t really sure because Olli (Maatta) hadn’t played in an exhibition. We were kind of playing it as we went along. Paul (Martin) is very stable, very smart. He’s not defensive, per se, but he has a defensive mindset. Olli can jump into the play, so there’s great balance in that pair. I really wanted to monitor because Olli hasn’t played a lot in the preseason and I thought he may have a setback in his first game, but he went the other way, he just kept getting better and better as the game went along.
Mike Bales (goaltending coach) and I talked today. We’re gonna look at the schedule ahead and solidify those dates when we’re looking at putting him into games. We’ve sketched it out, but we’re gonna nail it down in the next couple days while we’re on the road. So we’ll look at our schedule slot, this is a good game for Greiss and that’s what we’re going to give him. Do that ahead of time rather than reacting on the spur of the moment. I think it’s always best to do that.

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Sidney Crosby media notes:

He’s played for other teams, too (Chris Pronger), so I don’t think it’s a big deal.
I thought that was a great job. No matter who it is, I think you want to make sure you stick together. Whether it’s a new guy or someone who’s been around for a long time, I think that’s an important trait.
I think it’s an area you want to improve (sticking together since last year). We could’ve been better in that area for sure. When you’re winning 6-3 and guys want to take liberties, you have to make sure you stick together. That’s part of the game and it’s going to happen. But you want to react the right way. I think we did a good job of that.
It’s just going to take time. We worked on knowing where we need to be and make sure we support the puck.
It’s always exciting (to play in Toronto). You feel that energy. The crowd gets behind them. Obviously being in Canada, you know how passionate everyone is about the game. I think a lot of us grew up watching those Saturday night games, so it’s always fun to play in them.
I feel like, not good, it’s a little bit hard. My shape not great yet. I should play in the first game, no injury for me. We play at home. Just keep going work hard nice practice. We win, it’s good but I should play better. When you not play in a long time it’s tough. Practice is so much different. Every game is hard. I’m glad I started yesterday and we win.
We have Duper. He score goal, assists. He do everything. I not play in a long time, I need time, too, you know, sometimes I lose position (right wing) … see my video yesterday and today. Just focus my game, work hard and try to help my team win, you know.
Very big performance (by Dupuis) because I remember my injury was the same. We see how smiling, how hungry, he hadn’t played in such a long time. I’m glad for him, he’s a very important player for our team. I hope he plays the same way every game.

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Kris Letang media notes:

That’s what we need, stick up for each other, really appreciate the two guys stepping up for me. I think we have to do it all around the dressing room. That was nice.
We have a great group of guys, we’ve seen it in training camp, we had a chance to go on the road.
On Chris Pronger taking a league job, though he’s still on Flyers’ payroll.
That’s not really my business to discuss that. Obviously, if you’re an employee of a team you can’t really decide on a disciplinary decision on guys on your team, so it’s kind of a (little) conflict.

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Steve Downie media notes:

Anyone on this team, if someone gets hit like that, five guys on the ice gotta step in there and do their job.
This is a pretty tight-knit locker room. These guys are playing together for a while now.
No, not at all. I spent some time with Prongs last year. He’s a great guy, he doesn’t care what people think or say. He’s an honest man. I think it’s good for the players and good for the league.
We did a good job, we got up three, we kind of let up. Answered the bell. A little sloppy, couple things to clean up but it was the first game and we can build on it.
(Saturday in Toronto) They always seem to come out of the gate quick and we have to be ready for them.
Tocchet’s a great coach. He helped me develop my game at a young age. Happy to be back with him, should be fun working with him.
It’s not one guy on the ice. If something happens like that it’s all five guys got to get in there and make something happen. I thought we did a good job last night.

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Blake Comeau media notes:

Got to limit that skill. Those are the kind of guys you have to play hard on. We’re gonna have a tough game (in Toronto). It was a nice win, to be able to contribute in the win (against Anaheim). It was awesome (the atmosphere at Consol). You could feel the excitement in the arena. As players you can feed of that, use that to your advantage. It’s a nice thing to have.

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Penguins Audio

Mike Johnston:

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Sidney Crosby:

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Pascal Dupuis:

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Evgeni Malkin:

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Kris Letang:

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Steve Downie:

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Blake Comeau:

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguin Notes: It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh!

IMG_2939Christian Ehrhoff and Kris Letang prepare for the 2014-15 campaign

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Only the Stars’ Kari Lehtonen (3803:59) saw more time in goal last season than did Marc-Andre Fleury (3792:24).

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Don’t be shocked to see Steve Downie have a big game in his Penguins debut Thursday. After all, he registered a Gordie Howe Hat Trick – goal, assist, fight — on Opening Night last season for the Flyers.

Downie had a turbulent time of it in 2013-14. Following his early success, he was traded from the Avalanche to the Flyers in late October for Max Talbot. Downie then battled ear and concussion injuries thereafter, even serving as a healthy scratch after coach Craig Berube questioned his intensity level.

Long term, the Pens might be more worried about Downie’s knee. He missed all but two games in 2012-13 with a torn ACL and MCL.

In the meantime, he should be a lot of fun to watch under assistant coach Rick Tocchet’s guidance.

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Kris Letang is getting a chance to prove himself on the power play in front of new head coach Mike Johnston. It’s not unfair to suggest that Paul Martin outplayed Letang on the man advantage over the past couple seasons.

If Letang shows improvement keeping odd-man, short-handed rushes to a minimum then the top unit of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist and Letang have a chance to stay intact. These players are skating as the team’s No. 1 unit during Thursday’s game-day skate.

More likely, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will take one of the top five spots at some point as the power play finds its way.

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Hat tip to Ryan Wilson of Hockey Buzz for the link to Ehrhoff’s ability on the power play. His best years of production came with the Sedin twins in Vancouver and he should see similar talent here in Pittsburgh.

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“Hockey’s hockey. We’re not going to re-invent the game,” said Pascal Dupuis Wednesday, referring to new head coach Mike Johnston’s style.

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Thursday’s Game-Day Media Interviews (Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins)

Mike Johnston:

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Sidney Crosby:

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Olli Maatta:

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Pascal Dupuis:

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Transcribed media highlights (not intended to be perfect or complete statements)

Mike Johnston media notes:

I don’t think any team is where you want to be at this point. It’s still a work in progress. As far as execution goes, we’re still going to build over that over the next couple months.
Matchups, I still want to keep tempo and pace, don’t want to over matchup.
We look at the analytics and what we see, make our judgments as to what matchups are best.
Last night, a lot of the goals were scored in a five-foot area.
Power plays are based on your best players. Hornqvist and Kunitz are very good around the net. Interchangeable. Our other power play, with Sutter, has two defensemen on it.
If you want to play a speed game, you have to have shift range in the 40 seconds area. There’s no grey area.
The key thing in the morning skate is we want to keep our feet moving. For our goaltenders it’s really critical that they get the right types of shots. Then we had 2-on-1’s at the end.

Sidney Crosby media notes:

Long offseason, ready to start with a clean slate. We all just want to get started.
Pretty focused on what we need to do, not so much on other team.
Pat (Hornqvist) has a right shot, he’s good from that area. He goes to the net hard. Get pucks to the net. It has been a short timeframe, but we have a good idea of what we need to do. Stick to the basics.
We play a high pace game, got some grit thrown in there. Our depth and ability to play fast game will be our strength and have to improve over time.
You don’t want to be thinking too much out there, react.
With goalies, big guy takes space, get traffic prevent him from stopping first one, if he does, make it hard stopping rebound. Those things don’t change against any goalie you play against (John Gibson).
Getzlaf, he’s able to use his size to hold onto the puck I wouldn’t be able to lug it as long as he does. He does everything well.

Olli Maatta notes:

Absolutely, excited to get back in there, first game of the season.
I don’t expect too much but I’ve had a good summer, even with shoulder, anxious and ready to go. Want to be mentally ready (for first hit on injured shoulder).
Paul Martin – he’s so easy to play with, he makes it so much easier for myself.
Good four weeks of practice, I think we’re ready, get better as the season goes along.
Ducks have good four lines, first line one of best in league.
I knew I wouldn’t be ready for preseason, but really happy I’m here.

Pascal Dupuis media notes:

Feeling great, played a couple preseason games. Long time coming, perfect.
Body feels good, knee feels great, last couple weeks were huge for me.
Everything is pretty much back to normal.
Sudsy played some great hockey for us in the playoffs. Geno wants the puck on his stick, makes my job easy, bring some passion and intensity to the game.
Hopefully the puck is going to be on his (Malkin’s) stick more than mine.
Pregame ritual, my nap, maybe? No, putting the pads on and playing the game that I love. Excited about coming back. It’s an exciting time, new coach, new management.
I have a lot to prove right now.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Just how vulnerable are the 2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins? What if …

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By John Toperzer

What if …

… Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby don’t live up to expectations?

Let’s get the big question out of the way.

Given that the Penguins’ philosophy is now designed around puck possession, losing 87 and 71 would likely crush any chance of the Penguins hosting Stanley Cup IV. For a period of time, the team might be able to rally around its grinders, play a tight game, protect Marc-Andre Fleury and float around the .500 mark (only five NHL teams finished 2013-14 with losing records), but let’s be serious. The Pens need a healthy Geno and Sid to do real damage. We all know that.

Crosby appears to be relatively healthy, but a wonky wrist and an undisclosed injury rumored to be his shoulder could sideline the star at any moment.

Malkin has yet to practice. Even if he returns, who’s to say that he doesn’t suffer a setback? The team would be wise to take its time with the Russian star as he returns from a foot injury or whatever the undisclosed injury actually is.

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… Opponents find it easier than ever to camp out in front of Pittsburgh’s net?

The Penguins have done alright without a Dion Phaneuf to keep forwards honest, but with Brooks Orpik signing for big bucks in Washington, only Roberto Bortuzzo profiles as a blueliner with the ability to clear traffic in front of Fleury. Now, Bortuzzo is out for another few weeks, leaving behind a defensive unit that wouldn’t even strike fear in Nathan Gerbe. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound Brian Dumoulin will start the season in Wilkes-Barre but better leave his cell phone on & charged. Simon Despres has shown more feistiness in camp than ever before, but NHL refs have already seemed to have red-flagged Despres as a Penguin to call a penalty on whenever they want to make an “even-up” call.

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… Team management has too many Indian Chiefs?

We’re not talking about the old Johnstown Chiefs here. New GM Jim Rutherford has decided to keep a staff which is big. You’ve got associate GM Jason Botterill, assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald, and assistant GM Bill Guerin all pressing Rutherford’s ear. That’s fine for the 63-year-old, but first-year coach Mike Johnston might find himself looking over his back wondering if he’s making the right decision. Johnston was the organization’s eighth head-coaching pick, or something like that. Let’s just hope he’s not the insecure type when the team hits a bump in the road, as all franchises do at one time or another.

There’s also the long-term management question as to which Indian Chief takes over in the next couple years when Rutherford retires, but we’ll stick to 2014-15.

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… Age catches up to Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis?

The NHL is a young man’s game, with Jaromir Jagr and a few others serving as exceptions. Kunitz and Duper are both 35 years of age. While that’s still a good age for those in secondary support roles, both players will be counted upon for top-six minutes. Kunitz’s physical “badger” style lends itself to injury at 25, let alone 35. Dupuis relies upon elite speed and skating ability. Once his legs go, his game will surely follow. Throw in spring knee surgery and Sid’s linemates are not a sure thing. As we’ve seen, not everyone finds it easy to play wing for Crosby. Beau Bennett has looked good on occasion, but he’s out for the next month with a knee injury.

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… The team underestimated the impact of its departing players?

As earlier mentioned, Brooks Orpik is gone. Clearly he had lost a step, but he was voted to player’s player on numerous occasions and had the respect of the room. James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Matt Niskanen finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in scoring. That’s a total of 164 points gone.

Brian Gibbons was discarded. He played some of the team’s best hockey in the playoffs. Joe Vitale might not be a big loss but he was one of the few decent faceoff men on the squad. Tanner Glass was a hitting machine in his second year, even though his advanced metrics were bad. Deryk Engelland, he’s gone. He set a career high in goals (6) and was coach Bylsma’s favorite (I’m only half joking here).

There are other names, too, but their absences will unequivocally help. Taylor Pyatt and Matt D’Agostini spring to mind.

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… Coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero really weren’t that bad of a combination?

Changes had to be made, don’t get me wrong. Change was long overdue and a legitimate argument could be made that Bylsma, at the least, should’ve been fired after losing in the postseason to Boston two seasons ago. But there’s something to be said about consistency. Pittsburgh finished no lower than second in its division the last five years. Of course, the ring will always be what it’s about so long as Sid and Geno are on the team, as it should be – but who’s to say that a 57-year-old, first-year NHL coach is the way to go?

Plenty of legitimate questions surround the Pittsburgh Penguins and the only real way to find answers is to play the game.

Puck drops Thursday night.

*****

Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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The 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates: “Non prospects” best prospects

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Looking over an Altoona Curve game-day program from 2010, it’s easy to see why WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) doesn’t always hold true in baseball.

According to Baseball America, the Pittsburgh Pirates top 10 prospects as of July 4, 2010 were (from No. 1 to No. 10):

1. Pedro Alvarez
2. Jose Tabata
3. Tony Sanchez
4. Brad Lincoln
5. Chase d’Arnaud
6. Starling Marte
7. Tim Alderson
8. Zack von Rosenberg
9. Rudy Owens
10. Gorkys Hernandez

Alvarez tied for a home run championship in 2013 but struggled mightily in 2014, Tabata has fallen off after his rookie season and was DFA’d Saturday, Sanchez has difficulty throwing the ball, Lincoln might’ve been better off as an everyday player with his hitting ability, d’Arnaud is a pinch-runner, Marte is the gem amongst the rubble, Alderson threw 86 mph in his first game with the Curve and went downhill from there, von Rosenberg has never sniffed Triple-A, Owens was useful as part of the Wandy Rodriguez deal and Hernandez was traded as part of the Gaby Sanchez swap.

Remember, these were the top 10 prospects in the entire organization, not just Double-A. The group turned out to be suspect, at best.

Turning the Curve program book to the player profile pages, there are more players helping Pittsburgh at the major league level than the one’s listed by Baseball America.

Josh Harrison: “Another fresh face in the Pirates system.”

Jared Hughes: Hughes was originally drafted out of high school by the “Tampa Rays” in 2003 but did not sign.

Jordy Mercer: Drove in 22 runs in his last 24 games for Lynchburg in 2009 to lead the Hillcats into the playoffs.

Bryan Morris: Morris saw more time in a Pirates uniform than most of the top 10 list.

Tony Watson: Watson started only five games in 2009 because of left elbow tendinitis. Explains why he flew under the radar.

Justin Wilson: Wilson was the winning pitcher in Fresno State’s College World Series-clinching win over Georgia in 2009.

The moral of the story?

Prospects lists aren’t the end-all, be-all they’re cracked up to be.

The Bucs found their starting third baseman, shortstop and four bullpen arms in 2014 from players not listed by Baseball America.

Pittsburgh’s 2010 draft class still looks somewhat promising – Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Brandon Cumpton and Casey Sadler, but as we know, nothing is guaranteed.

*****

Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: Despres, Shero, Malkin, Preseason Schedule Fail

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by John Toperzer

– It didn’t take long for the Chicago Blackhawks to add Daniel Carcillo after the Penguins cut him Thursday. Chicago demoted promising rookie James Hartman a day earlier, giving Carcillo a chance. Super prospect Teuvo Teravainen remains with the ‘Hawks and probably has a better chance to stick at the beginning of the season than does Carcillo.

– Carcillo squared off in a fight against the Rangers’ Tanner Glass early in a game Friday night. Carcillo was wearing a face shield while Glass was not. I’d like to see the NHL force fighters to remove their helmets within five seconds of an anticipated fight or risk further penalization. Punching plastic can’t be good for the hand.

– Which Martin St. Louis is going to show up in 2014-15? The regular-season version who struggled after coming to New York from the Lightning or the one who rallied a team in the playoffs following the death of his mother? Age is not St. Louis’s friend, but then again the diminutive forward is used to overcoming the odds.

– “EJ 5” is a segment hosted by EJ Hradek on NHL Live every day. For whatever reason, he has no shame. He should. It appears he thinks the only other person who sees his horrendous dance moves is co-host Steve Mears. It’s so embarrassingly funny I’ve got to say I look forward to it.

– How could the Penguins not schedule a preseason game from Oct. 1 until the season opener Oct. 9? By comparison, the New York Rangers play on Friday (Oct. 3) and Saturday (Oct. 4). The Boston Bruins also play Friday and Saturday. Five days off is a long time, but eight days? You think new coach Mike Johnston would like to see Sidney Crosby skate with different potential linemates at even strength (like Kasperi Kapanen) and on the power play (Patric Hornqvist)? Few goalies want eight days between games.

– Too bad no one’s been able to interview Evgeni Malkin. He has a way of letting things slip out of his mouth that he’s not supposed to say. Malkin hasn’t even skated and the regular season starts in less than a week. The injury is almost surely a lower-body ailment, otherwise he’d be skating. Rumors have the injury relating to his foot ailment from the spring.

– Pierre LeBrun penned an ESPN article about Ray Shero here.

Shero says he does wish he could have persuaded Jordan Staal to stay (Staal rejected a 10-year extension, which propelled a trade to Carolina where Jordan was reunited with brother Eric).

“We really wanted him to come back,” Shero said. “We missed him after he left, but hopefully it works out long-term for Pittsburgh and Jordan.”

It’s telling that Shero regretted Staal and none of the deadline deals that didn’t work out or the lack of offensive draft prospects which left the cup board barren.

– Could Oscar Sundqvist have a greater rookie impact on the Penguins than Kapanen? Coach Johnston said that Sundqvist has forced some long conversations, that Sundqvist has played well with experienced teammates and young players alike. He’s certainly more versatile at this stage of his career than Kapanen, who can only skate with skill. Sundqvist can handle the tough stuff at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds and make plays with the puck. Kapanen boasts the better upside, but Sundqvist might be better suited to step in right away and contribute. It’s a good problem to have.

– Rob Scuderi has rightly faced the wrath of fans and bloggers, alike, for his dismal 2013-14 command performance in Pittsburgh. He has nowhere to go but up, right? A broken leg sounds like a reasonable excuse for his sub-standard showing last season.

– Who is Simon Despres? Is he a shutdown defender, a puck moving blueliner, an inconsistent defenseman who has a tendency to get beat? The Penguins still don’t really know what the 2009 first-round draft pick can do and what he can’t do. The former management regime wasn’t inclined to find out despite Dan Bylsma suggesting that Despres could be a top-four defenseman (following the Pens’ playoff series loss to Boston).

Despres averaged better than a half a point per game for the Baby Pens last year — 23 points in 36 games, but has only 16 points in 85 contests at the NHL level. With Olli Maatta missing the entire preseason, Despres might have the chance to show what he can do. Plenty of folks believe Despres should’ve seen more playing time late in the regular season last year, with the Pens postseason slotting secured, but October could prove to be his best opportunity.

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Links ‘n At

Penguins Management: Defensemen Harrington, Dumoulin ready for the NHL, click here.

If Maatta isn’t cleared, it would seem likely Harrington or Dumoulin would make the team.

Harrington appears to have momentum. He played on a pairing with Martin during the final two exhibition games, a sign the coaching staff wanted to take a long look at the Kingston, Ontario, native.

“Dumoulin has had a good camp,” Fitzgerald said. “Harrington has had a great camp.”

Fitzgerald said Dumoulin outplayed Harrington during the rookie tournament in London, Ontario, making it a potentially difficult decision between the players.

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Marshall: Examining Patric Hornqvist, click here.

If it’s possession that head coach Mike Johnston covets, he may have found a gem in Hornqvist. He was on the ice for a total of 1,017 shooting attempts for the predators last season and managed to eat up 125 hits last season, a number that is 70 more than ex-Malkin linemate Neal.

Hornqvist has always been a fantasy hockey favorite, a player who consistently puts up 50 points and a whopping number of shots on goal. Last season, he seemed to wear out his welcome in Nashville, only to finish strong the last couple months to put up typical Hornqvist numbers.

I see a career path similar to that of Scott Hartnell. Hartnell labored in relative obscurity six years for Nashville before a move to Philadelphia ignited his career.

The two players feature different skill sets, but Hornqvist could find a second wind in Pittsburgh.

I wasn’t in favor of the James Neal deal. GM Jim Rutherford said the Hornqvist deal was the best available out of 15 different organizations, leading me to wonder what the worst trade offer was.

Regardless, that page has long since turned and it will be interesting to see exactly what Hornqvist brings to the team.

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High stakes for Pens’ Fleury with future on the line, click here.

“Marc’s had a solid preseason,” goaltending coach Mike Bales said. “He’s looked good in practice, and he’s obviously looked good in the games.”

A few hours before shutting out Detroit, Fleury cited dealing with traffic around the net, following the puck as it makes its way through a jumble of legs, sticks and skates as his biggest challenge early in the season.

“Trying to find the puck through people is something that I always find the toughest,” he said.

The Flower pretty much relayed a standard goalie answer to the toughest part of stopping the puck – traffic. While that’s a no-brainer, Fleury needs to guard against his real bug-a-boo, the softie. Time will tell.

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Over 6000 expected to participate in Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run & Family Walk, click here.

Yours truly signed up but won’t be able to run. The money goes to the Lemieux Foundation. Click here to purchase something from the website and contribute.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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Penguins Notes: Rookie Kapanen Scores Saturday

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By John Toperzer

Rookie Kasperi Kapanen wristed a one-timer from the inside left circle for a power-play goal Saturday — his first goal in a Penguins sweater. He did a nice job possessing the puck along the boards and fit well on the Penguins top line. His learning curve is proving to be impressive, as he looked somewhat shaky and unsure of himself in the previous game.

With right winger Beau Bennett unfortunately sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, the 18-year-old Kapanen could earn a nine-game NHL tryout the way Olli Maatta did one season ago. Depending upon his play, he could stick around even longer.

New coach Mike Johnston spoke after Saturday’s game about Kapanen.

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“Well the intention tonight was to have (Sidney) Crosby, (Chris) Kunitz and Kapanen on a line. We’ve tried to play him at different spots, just to see how he looks with players, to see if he can play with guys like that. I thought Kap looked good. He’s very good on the power play. You can see his offensive skills and instincts. I think defensively he’s still got to learn the game, you know how it is as a coach you always want to trust your players defensively. I’ve seen big strides in the last couple days. A guy like him is coming over and playing on a different ice surface. His skill and speed and poise with the puck is very good. So to answer your question, yeah he could be a guy to jump in for Opening Night.”

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Coach Johnston was asked if Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta will play in the final two games of the preseason.

“Pascal will play, it looks like, in both of those games,” Johnston said.

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“Maatta, all signs are that he should be able to play. We’re still waiting on the final word for Maatta. We’d like to get him into one of those (final preseason games). I know he’s right on the fine line of a couple days here or there.”

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Quick Observations

Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff looked like two peas in a pod on defense. They were paired together both at even strength and on the Pens’ top power-play unit — and looked good.

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Ehrhoff, who totaled six goals and 27 assists in 79 games for the Sabres in 2013-14, won’t finish with a minus-27 rating again — genius analysis, I know.

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The fact that coach Johnston had initially intended to play Kapanen with Crosby and Kunitz on Saturday shows that the Penguins are truly giving him an opportunity to make the team — now more than ever.

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Rookie defender Scott Harrington made some smart passes out of his own end Saturday, also showed some of his short-comings. At one point he foiled a Matt Calvert play, only to turn the puck back over to Calvert. Harrington is going to need to learn that NHL players don’t give up as his OHL and AHL opponents did.

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Mike Johnston:

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Marc-Andre Fleury:

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Marc-Andre Fleury (2):

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Kasperi Kapanen:

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Todd Richards:

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer

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