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Talking To Myself: Recurring Themes

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This week’s Talking to Myself hits on some early recurring themes, Ulf the Destroyer, and a maddening trend in Penguinland.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

October 21st, Penguins Live

Host Steve Kolbe asked Trib beat writer Jason Mackey about Thomas Greiss’ lack of game action (prior to his first game in Detroit). Mackey didn’t think it was a big deal, citing Greiss has been one of the last guys off the ice after practice and that he’s said he treats every puck like it’s a game puck.

Greiss’ performance certainly backed up Mackey’s thoughts. He didn’t look rusty in the least and deserved a better fate than he got. I’m sure Marc-Andre Fleury told him there'd be games like this.

Sam Kasan of the Pens joined host Brian Metzer to talk about Derrick Pouliot officially being re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre and making his pro debut. Metzer said with that and the return of Robert Bortuzzo, the Pens could have some tough decisions coming.

Pouliot’s a great talent offensively, but I’m not convinced he’s going to force his way into the top 6 just yet. Making the jump from juniors to the NHL is a tough one under any circumstances, and the Pens have a logjam at defense. Scott Harrington had a great camp, and he still can’t get into the lineup, so I have a hard time believing Pouliot will. Furthermore, Pouliot’s strengths line up with qualities the Pens' blueline already has in spades. If Paul Martin gets dealt AND Pouliot lights up the AHL, maybe that changes, but for now, I have to think he’s at least a year away.

October 22nd, Penguins Live

Kolbe had NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire on (I know, I know, but keep reading. I promise you’ll like this one.) and asked him about the characters on the early 90’s Cup teams. McGuire told a story about Ulf Samuelsson: "We were playing in New Jersey near the end of a long road trip and the players didn’t want to have a morning skate. Scotty Bowman says ‘You guys are going on the ice.’ So Ulfie waited until the Zamboni got on the ice and then he shot a puck into the auger of the Zamboni when it was at center ice so it kind of blew up. And Ulfie goes ‘Practice is cancelled!’"

I told you it was worth a read.

October 22nd, Penguins Hotline

Head coach Mike Johnston after the 5-3 loss to Philly: "I thought we were trying to force things. Sometimes if you don’t have it, you just put the puck to the space behind the player that’s checking you, and your support guy has to be there. That’s what you need. You need the support guy coming to the puck carrier, he doesn’t have a play, you don’t force it, you put it to the space behind, and then force him to turn around and check from the defensive side."

This quote addresses two recurring themes in the early going this season. First off, Johnston’s new system doesn’t mean the Pens will never dump pucks in behind the defense. To hear some tell it, dump-ins were supposed to end with Dan Bylsma’s tenure as head coach. That was never the case. It just isn’t the preferred play; that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one though. This quote also reinforces that the Pens are still in an adjustment phase. It’s still going to take some time to get things down.

October 24th, Penguins Live

Metzer referenced TSN’s Bar Down blog, and a specific entry focusing on a series of videos about a SportChek ad Sidney Crosby filmed.

There’s nothing ground-breaking here, just wanted to share.

Trib beat reporter Josh Yohe joined the show and was asked by Metzer if conditioning was a possible factor in the recent third period letdowns. "I don’t think that’s the case at all. Mike Johnston put these guys through hell during training camp. They’re in good shape. There’s nothing wrong with their conditioning at all. It’s just decision making. When push comes to shove in the third period and you have to play a certain style of hockey to preserve a lead and just play good defensive hockey, they’re just not very good at it right now."

That’s some pretty harsh (and deserved) commentary from Yohe. The key takeaway there for me is "right now." They righted the ship a bit in this regard in Nashville. There are surely more bumps in the road to come, but it was a step in the right direction.

October 25th, Pens Week

Paul Steigerwald talked about how he thought the Pens should concentrate a little more on defense, given they have so many great offensive players and that part of the game should come easier. He also mentioned that Kris Letang said he made a mistake on Henrik Zetterberg’s goal, thinking Brandon Sutter was going to take the wide side, because he was reverting to last year’s system in his mind.

Further evidence that this season is still very much a work in progress…

Steigerwald talked about Evgeni Malkin going to the front of the net in Detroit when their net was empty and how little sense that made. He mentioned Crosby taking an unnecessary, undisciplined penalty on his first shift of the third period. "Leaders set the tone. They have to be the guys that are more conscientious about playing the right way." Steigerwald continued, talking about the composure of the Red Wings’ stars, "Crosby said after the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, "We would yell at them, and they’d just look at us and not say anything. It was creepy."

This is a great point, and one you’d hope 87 and 71 (among others) would have figured out by now. It can be a tough line to walk when the competitive fires burn bright though. It’s also proof that it is possible for someone to criticize both Crosby AND Malkin (and in a fair manner no less!). Who knew? I thought you had to pick one, ignore all his faults, and blast the other for every mistake made. I didn’t know you were allowed to be a fan of both and hold them to the same standard. Snark aside, that kind of thinking has always driven me nuts.

October 25th, Penguins Hotline

After the win in Nashville, Yohe asked Johnston if this team was better when they weren’t forcing offense: "For sure, because when you force offensively, then you get on the wrong side of the puck and you take chances. There’s no taking chances in this league because of how close the games are and how important just a one goal lead is, so there’s no forcing. You can’t force it and I didn’t think we forced anything tonight."

Another HCMJ quote about not forcing things? I’m sensing a theme…

Bob Grove talked about one of the things the coaches have talked about wanting is shorter shifts. He said Crosby was under 20 minutes vs. Nashville and Malkin was under 18. Grove believes that message is that if you manage things the right way now, you’ll have more left in April, and he believes the message is getting through. He also cited Malkin as someone that’s been prone to extended shifts in the past and that he’s not doing that this year.

It’s early, but shift length is down a little for both Malkin and Crosby. NHL.com has him at 50 seconds per shift in 7 games this year, down from 56 seconds last year. Crosby is at 49 seconds this year, down from 55 last year. All of those numbers sound high, but that’s overall time, so it includes special teams. I would imagine even-strength shift length would be lower.

Grove noted the Pens have now killed 15 straight penalties and asked Metzer what he saw as the biggest difference in the PK. Metzer said the Pens aren’t letting teams just come through the middle of the ice. He also noted they are getting pucks out when they have a chance to clear.

The PK is much improved from the first few games of the season. There are still times when they sit back a bit too much for me, but it hasn’t cost them. Making the most of your chances to clear is huge. Failed clearing attempts have a way of ending up in your net, but even when they don’t, they still allow the opposition to keep up the pressure and build momentum.