On the heels of tonight's Pens vs. Maple Leafs game, we caught up with Birky from Pension Plan Puppets for a little Q&A action.
#1 Halfway through this shortened season, at 15-10-0, Toronto's doing better than most expected. What's been the key to the team being able to get back to winning hockey games? And obviously every team is trying to and wants to make the playoffs but in what's been the East's toughest division do you see Toronto being able to hold on and get that postseason berth?
This one is easy. The biggest reason why Toronto is currently looking at their first playoff berth in 8 years is due to goaltending. They've been hovering around .900 sv% the last two seasons. With a healthy James Reimer and some surprising play from Ben Scrivens, they're at .918 so far. It's looking more and more like Reimer is the real deal and GM Dave Nonis was smart not to trade for Roberto Luongo. In the shortened season, they've got a good shot at making the playoffs.
#2 Some Pens fans have been pining over Nikolai Kulemin ever since his draft year for the chemistry he and Evgeni Malkin have displayed playing together in Russia. I've noticed that Kulemin only has 2 goals this season and is only getting 0:42 per game in power play time. Does it seem like he is falling out of favor with the Leafs these days? Are other players pushing him to the side? I guess in a round about way, I'm trying to ask do you think there's any chance Toronto would be interested in talking trade with Pittsburgh for Kulemin? If not at the deadline, maybe during summer?
There's been some trade chatter over the last few weeks that Nik Kulemin might be available. The St. Louis Blues are apparently quite keen on acquiring him. As far as his scoring is concerned, they've been using Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski in a shutdown role. As they have acquired other wingers (Lupul, Frattin, van Riemsdyk), he's been pushed down the depth chart a bit. He might never reach the 30 goal plateau again, but he's probably a 20-25 goal scorer with an excellent defensive game on Malkin's wing. The issue is what comes back to Toronto. They need help down the middle and a top 4 defender - things I'm not sure a contending team like Pittsburgh is willing to part with.
#3 What's your take and the feel of Maple Leaf fans about the impending re-alignment? Is adding an Original Six team in Detroit cool enough to cancel out the "meh" of getting the two Florida teams in your division? Curious to hear your perspective about the upcoming changes and how folks up there feel about it.
I think the casual fans are excited about seeing Detroit more often. But when you break it down, the Northeast teams really lost out on this deal. They have to travel to Florida at least 5 times a year, they have worse odds of making the playoffs, and to top it off they have to compete against one of the league's richest teams for those playoff spots. The new division now has 4 of the richest teams in the league in Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and Detroit. Toronto was a big loser in re-alignment.
Bonus: On behalf of Penguin fans, we're happy and thankful to see James van Rimesdyk achieving his potential out of our division. I guess that's not really a question, so um, isn't it awesome to get a stud goal-scoring winger in a trade for a fairly replacable defenseman? That's a great feeling. Seriously though, is JVR clicking with a certain player or is he just creating on his own and no rhyme or reason for his production?
JvR is awesome and we're still over the moon that we stole him from Philadelphia for a plug like Schenn. He has clicked with Phil Kessel since Joffrey Lupul went down, which will make things interesting when Lupul returns in 2 or 3 weeks.Pittsburgh Penguins tickets.