October 6th, Penguins Live
Steve Kolbe commented on the absence of Robert Bortuzzo, terming him a lone wolf of sorts, that he isn’t the fastest skater, but brings a fear factor to the blue line.
I love me some Bort. He skated for the first time on Saturday, so that’s a sign things are going well. I think he’ll be a great guy to have on the bottom pair. Technically-speaking, he isn’t the fastest guy, but I think he is a lot more mobile than he gets credit for. He does play the most physical of anyone the Pens have and he’s certainly got more edge. While I’ll be happy to see him back though, I don’t know that his absence will be an issue. Kris Letang and Simon Despres can play a physical game and if the Pens are playing the way they want to, they’ll have the puck a lot. You don’t need to hit if you have the puck all the time.
Michelle Crechiolo joined the show and talked about Letang and Christian Ehrhoff being a fantastic pair. Both are elite talents, both think the game at a high level, so they can make plays together they might not be able to do with others.
With the possible exception of Paul Martin, Ehrhoff may be the best partner Letang’s ever had. It’s refreshing and exciting to see talent with talent. They should be able to do some special things together. I’d like to see that extend to the power play, but we’re only two games into the season.
October 9th, Penguins Hotline
Marc-Andre Fleury on Pascal Dupuis: "Always a good guy to have in the room, right? Always smiling, saying stupid stuff, so definitely missed him." Fleury on his latest stickhandling (mis)adventure: "I fu… ah… messed up. Didn’t want to say the F word."
I know the numbers say the Pens can do better in goal, especially for the money they’re spending, but how can you not root for Fleury? Here’s hoping he has a career year. Rob Rossi took some flak for opining Dupuis may be the Pens’ most important player and while there may be a touch of hyperbole there, Dupuis is higher up that list that most may have realized. After the Pens made another early playoff exit, there was a lot of talk about the character of the team. There was also talk about how maybe a lot of guys had become too stressed about winning and forgot to enjoy the ride. Who thinks Dupuis’ presence couldn’t have helped in both areas? Dude is the Pens’ Rodney Dangerfield. He’s a valuable penalty killer, can move all around the lineup, and gets his share of points (despite virtually no power play work). He produces alongside Sidney Crosby, and yet every year fans still ask "when are we going to get Sid a real winger?" Really glad to have him back.
Phil Bourque touched on some earlier comments from Mike Johnston (that I had missed actually) about players need to be aware of their limitations. Some shouldn’t be holding on to the puck, trying to make plays and should dump it in, but don’t dump it just to get it off your stick. Dump it to where we can get it.
There’s a stench associated with dump and chase hockey here, mostly because the Pens seemingly forgot the latter half of that strategy the past few years. It was basically "here, you guys can have it now." When done properly as Johnston notes, it can be effective.
October 11th, Pens Week
The show opened with a review of the opener. Nothing new here, but it’s always good to hear Mike Lange’s calls, and these were that much more special is it’s been 40 years of him doing them. The Pens recognized this during the game and he got a well-deserved standing ovation. The man is a legend. He and late PA announcer John Barbero are as much a part of my memories of the first two Cups as the players are, and I cannot think of a higher compliment to pay them.
Paul Steigerwald talked about some of Johnston’s post-game comments and how being a possession team doesn’t mean forcing plays that aren’t there and how that can be a riskier brand of hockey. Brian Metzer noted there were a lot shorter, controlled, high percentage passes. Steigerwald agreed, saying it was nothing new, it wasn’t revolutionary.
Finding the line between holding on to the puck and forcing things will be a recurring theme, especially early. For the second week in a row, Staggy said something about Johnston’s system wasn’t revolutionary and I think that speaks to how the former staff may have overcomplicated things. When you have a lot of talented guys, it’s often best to just let them play. Keep things simple and let all that talent push you over the top.
Bob Grove looked at Sidney Crosby’s first goal to illustrate the difference in the new system, saying under the old regime, Chris Kunitz probably would have be a lot further up ice. Instead, he was back further, giving Olli Maatta an easier pass, and it gave Kunitz an easy pass to Crosby, who was flying.
Great breakdown from Grove. A lot of times, the first pass was to a stationary forward at the far blue line, and since he was standing still, it usually got tipped in, with no one having speed to actually get it. Instead, Crosby gets the puck with speed and Kunitz was able to move up as well, because he wasn’t stationary when he got the outlet from Maatta.
The show closed with talk about the 30th anniversary of the Lemieux Debut. On October 11, 1984, Mario Lemieux played his first NHL game, and on his first shift and first shot, scored his first goal. Steigerwald said "No single athlete has meant more to his franchise than Mario Lemieux has to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the history of professional sports."
Staggy catches a lot of flak for over-inflating the Pens tires at times (some deserved, some not), but there’s no arguing this one. The team would have folded – TWICE – without his involvement. He’s brought 3 championships here and with all the work the Lemieux Foundation does, his off-ice accomplishments may be even more impressive. The greatness of 66 cannot be overstated.
I’ll step outside of radio to wrap up this week. My space, my rules; deal with it. =) Dejan Kovacevic dropped an under-the-radar nugget about Consol ice in his Friday Insider piece. A couple players commented how good the ice was Thursday, so he did some digging. It turns out the ice crew put down an entirely new sheet a few days prior, using a different kind of water. I don’t know the science behind how water composition affects how it freezes, but here’s hoping this does the trick. It’s honestly embarrassing how bad the ice has been in this building, even more so considering the kind of team that plays on it.