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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