Penguin Notes: Sundqvist, Crosby, Fleury, Maatta

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Penguins forward prospect, Oskar Sundqvist, converted one breakaway opportunity against Russia in the World Junior Championships on Saturday and missed on another. Sweden beat Russia, 2-1, and will play for Gold on Sunday against Finland. Sundqvist was first stopped by goalie Andrei Vasilevsky on a slap shot early in the contest. Later, the Swede lifted a nifty backhander past Vasilevsky, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, for the game-winning goal.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari spoke with assistant to the general manager, Tom Fitzgerald, and assistant GM Jason Botterill, for their opinions on his annual in-season prospects update last month. Molinari listed Sundqvist as the team’s top forward and sixth-overall prospect. Click here for the link.

The 2013 list reads …

1. Derrick Pouliot, D
2. Brian Dumoulin, D
3. Scott Harrington, D
4. Tristan Jarry, G
5. Matt Murray, G
6. Oskar Sundqvist, C
7. Scott Wilson, C
8. Theodor Blueger, C
9. Eric Hartzell, G
10. Josh Archibald, RW

“Oskar is a very good two-way forward, a versatile forward. He plays in a great program at Skelleftea. He’s in a great environment there. … We really like his versatility. He’s a player who plays wing most of the time, but, on the junior national team, usually he’s a centerman. He’s a player who can play both power play and penalty-killing. Great size. He has to continue to work on his strength, and understands that. He’s still a ways away from the National Hockey League — it’s still a projection — but we certainly like the steps he has taken.”

Sundqvist has two goals, a plus-2 rating and 10 shots in six games for Team Sweden. Penguins fans will get another chance to see him in action, Sunday at 1:00 pm ET (DVR the game and watch the Pens).

Just for fun, click here for Molinari’s 2012 list.

That list reads …

1. Derrick Pouliot, D
2. Beau Bennett, W
3. Olli Maatta, D
4. Joe Morrow, D
5. Simon Despres, D
6. Scott Harrington, D
7. Brian Dumoulin, D
8. Theodor Blueger, C
9. Jayson Megna, F
10. Matt Murray, G

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The Penguins compiled a regular-season mark of 66-24-1 in the 2013 calendar year. They suffered just one overtime loss. By comparison, the next closest NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers, lost six times in OT. San Jose rang up 13 OT losses and Detroit, 18.

How can that be? Certainly, luck plays a factor. But that can’t account for the huge discrepancy, can it? Most likely, it’s a combination of Pittsburgh’s aggressive attitude and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s stellar shootout numbers. Fleury’s 5-0 in the shootout, limiting opponents to two goals on 16 shootout attempts.

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At some point, Sports Illustrated is going to pick up on Sidney Crosby’s career campaign. I can feel the article writing itself right now. No Evgeni Malkin, no problem. No James Neal, no problem. No Kris Letang, no Pascal Dupuis, well, you get the idea.

The more time Malkin misses, the greater the argument goes for Crosby carrying the team. Crosby has never played 82 games in a season, but so far he’s one of six Penguins to skate in all 43 games. He leads the NHL with 62 points, eight more than second-place Patrick Kane. He deals with the demands from the media with aplomb, doing everything on and off the ice that’s asked of him.

2014 is shaping up as a huge year for Sidney Crosby.

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Marc-Andre Fleury deserves tons of credit, too. To be able to put another dreadful postseason in the rear view mirrow speaks of the Flower’s resilence. If nothing else, the sports psychologist Fleury saw over the summer deserves strong consideration as sports psychologist of the year. Looking back, it’s interesting how the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist, Joe Starkey, compared Fleury to the measuring stick of Henrik Lundvist. Lundqvist has struggled mightily in 2013-14 while Fleury has flourished.

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What are we to make of Olli Maatta? He’s playing poorly and even a night off as a healthy scratch couldn’t break him out of his funk. Even if he doesn’t have as great of an impact in the second half as he did in the first, he helped the Pens through an injury-riddled period better than anybody had a right to expect. With Rob Scuderi returning and both Kris Letang and Paul Martin on the way, the team can afford to let off the gas pedal with Maatta.

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Treasure Life!
JT

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