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Talking to Myself: Learning Curve

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This week’s Talking to Myself hits on the beauty of simplicity, an ex-teammate’s story about Evgeni Malkin, finds a possible hint that a late camp cut may yet play in the NHL this season, and more.

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October 14th, The Mark Madden Show

Ex-Pen Mike Rupp provided some insight on why Evgeni Malkin might have been nicknamed "The Bully" by his teammates. Here’s that entire segment. The Malkin story is around the 14 minute mark.

That sounded exactly like Geno to me. I wouldn’t expect to hear a character guy like Rupp blast a former teammate, but at the same time, he spoke in fairly glowing terms about the big Russian. None of it comes as a surprise to anyone that’s judged him by more than his passport.

October 16th, In The Room, Season 4, Episode 1

The latest episode of this Emmy-winning program had a segment focused on Brandon Sutter, who was wearing a mic. At one point, he and Chris Kunitz had a discussion on the bench about defense pairs and how good Christian Ehrhoff is. Kunitz thought Ehrhoff and Kris Letang were too good to play together, but Sutter countered, saying they could play 30 minutes a night.

These things are designed to make guys look good, but I was really impressed with Sutter here. From helping out Kapanen, to his awareness of everything that was going on, to an exchange with Brandon Dubinsky about Steve Downie, it was just good stuff all around.  I also found it interesting that they'd have a conversation on the bench during a game about lineups, just like you and a friend might have while watching.

Head coach Mike Johnston talked about sending Kasperi Kapanen back to Finland. "He’s close right now, but he’s going to need some more time. He can go back to Finland, play in an elite league. That’s a great option for him. Then coming back at the end of the season, to Wilkes or to Pittsburgh, he’ll be that much better."

I found it interesting that the head coach hasn’t closed the door entirely on Kapanen making his NHL debut this season. Or maybe it was just an off-hand remark that didn’t mean much. Time will tell.

October 16th, Penguins Hotline

Bob Grove talked about there being a learning curve.  "There were times later in the game where last year, they’d just dump it in. Now they aren’t doing that. They’re looking to make a play because they’re playing a different way and this is what they have to learn." Phil Bourque agreed and thought it would take 15-20 games to get adjusted.

Sutter on not having a lot of time to dwell on the loss: "79 more, not gonna win ‘em all. That was obviously a tough way to lose, but I thought the first 40 minutes we can build off a lot."

The way the Dallas game fell apart at the end was bad; there's no denying that.  It also won't be the last time it happens.  There will be bumps along the way as the team adjusts to Johnston, and as he learns more and more about his team.  Criticism is fine, but it's also important to keep everything in perspective like Sutter did.

October 17th, Penguins Live

The always-great Mike Colligan joined host Brian Metzer. Colligan thought Paul Martin had a bad end to the Dallas game, getting burned "at least five times in the last three minutes." He felt they’ve really pulled back on the aggressiveness of the PK, saying "[aggressiveness] was a staple of the previous PK, which was a top ranked unit. I question if it makes sense to change strategy. I think the passive approach so far has been their downfall."

I’ll be honest; I haven’t really dialed in on the PK and what the main issues might be, but you can almost always take what Colligan says to the bank. They have the guys to play an aggressive style, and if you can do so, that’s usually the best way to go. Teams are too good to just sit back; they’ll pick you apart. I do agree with him on Martin though; it has not been a good start for him. Hopefully he picks it up soon.

Metzer asked Colligan about all of the versatile players the Pens having, suggesting that may be the work of Associate General Manager Jason Botterill. Colligan agreed, saying that in a cap environment and given the injury woes the Pens have had in recent years virtually requires you to have guys that can play a variety of roles.

The Pens certainly have a ton of these types of guys. Sutter was supposed to be the 3rd line center, he’s now the 2nd. Nick Spaling can play all forward positions, and I’m guessing be the end of the year, he’ll probably have hit them all. Blake Comeau jumped up to the second line after Pascal Dupuis was stretchered off against Dallas. Steve Downie has been talked about jumping into the top six at some point. Even Craig Adams and Zach Sill can play wing or center. Hopefully, this will be the year where they don’t need to test their depth and versatility as much (The Pens are certainly due for a relatively healthy year), but it’s good to know it’s there if needed.

October 18th, Penguins Hotline

Johnston on how he wants the team to play: "Our team philosophy is to keep teams off balance with the shot. We want to get pucks to the net, create havoc, and put them back on their heels."

I love, love, love this quote. How many times have we seen a Penguins team seemingly get tunnel vision, looking for the perfect play? To be fair, at least part of that was because they had the talent to pull it off. Becoming overly enamored with your own talent can be a curse at times. I think taking a simpler approach like this will allow that talent to become even more of a difference maker.

Grove noted that Malkin was on the right side of the power play at times during the Islander game after not being there at all in earlier games, while Crosby moved to the left. He summed it up thusly, "Different wrinkle, same result."

The power play has been very successful so far, so no one would have blamed them for keeping things as they were.  Throwing in that change is good to see, not only because it worked out well for Malkin, but because it gives opposing teams yet another thing to worry about while game-planning.  I’ve always been in favor of putting Malkin in a position to maximize his shot. Part of that is my belief that his one-timer is one of the most dangerous weapons they have as a team. The other part is that I think the confidence Malkin gets from scoring goals boosts his entire game. This game was a perfect example, ultimately manifesting itself with that diving pokecheck later in the game. I don’t think it was a coincidence that happened after his play generated two power play goals and turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.

Malkin on how he’s feeling: "Now it’s a little better, is my fourth game but of course I feel better, but the third period is still a little bit tough. [laughs]"

So Malkin admits he isn’t in the shape he’d like, but still puts in that kind of performance? Look out, NHL.