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Talking to Myself: XL

This week's extra-large edition of Talking to Myself covers Robert Bortuzzo’s return, Fleury criticism, some good quotes from Mike Johnston, and more.

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November 4th, Penguins Live

Michelle Crechiolo offered up some thoughts on Robert Bortuzzo: "He can also do a lot more than be physical. He can really skate with the puck when he wants to. He’s not just a physical guy that can’t do a lot else out there. I think he can kind of bring everything."

I couldn't agree more. No one will confuse him with Kris Letang or even Paul Martin, but as we saw on Saturday night, he can play at both ends. The blueline isn’t heavy on physicality, so that part of Bortuzzo’s game tends to get the most attention, but as Crechiolo points out, there’s a lot more to it.

November 4th, Penguins Hotline

Mike Johnston on the power play getting teams to back off at even-strength: "When you look at it, our power play is the best deterrent we have out there. Certainly, teams are intimidated to take penalties now. They want to be careful on us. As a result, you get a little more space; you get a little bit more opportunities to take pucks to the net. Our power play’s been dangerous. It’s gonna go through its ups and downs throughout the year, but it’s really well coordinated right now."

I’ve always believed a good power play protects players from abuse more than some cementhead that plays 5 minutes a night.

Johnston on Bortuzzo’s return: "I thought he was really good. Either his first or second shift, he stood up a guy at the blueline, went down in the corner, I think it was Granlund, and really closed on him quick, and that’s his game. He’s a big rangy guy, and when he closes on guys, he’s a physical player back there, and we need that physical presence."

I thought Bortuzzo did well. He ran around a little in the second part of the first period, but settled down after that.

November 5th, Penguins Live

Sam Kasan on getting shots from the defensemen: "I think the Penguins defense needs to get a lot more aggressive in their shot taking. A lot if the defensemen talk about they have such skilled forwards they want to give the puck to them and let them make plays, but at some point the defensemen have to step up too, be a little greedy themselves."

Letang leads the Pens defense with 41 shots, good for 6th in the league among defensemen. No other Pens are in the top 60. You don’t want to shoot just for the sake of doing so, but you can’t pass up good opportunities either. We’ve heard Johnston talk about the importance of shots, wanting to create havoc around the goal, and keeping things simple. Shots from the point tie into all of those things.

November 6th, Penguins Live

Jason Mackey on criticism of Marc-Andre Fleury: "The thing I don’t get about Fleury is everybody around here is so quick to bag on him and say ‘He’s failed in the playoffs, he’s choked in the playoffs’ and all this stuff, but hasn’t everybody? I’m not calling them a bunch of playoff chokers, but playoff problems, that’s kind of been the theme for the entire team, not just Marc-Andre Fleury. I think it’s a little unfair to peg it on one guy."

Fleury’s had his moments in the playoffs; no one’s denying that. He’s certainly had plenty of company in that regard, but most of the criticism is usually laid at his feet.

Mackey also talked about the improved penalty kill: "They’ve just been doing what they’re supposed to be doing better. They’re clearing their zone very effectively. If you watch the first three games, what was allowed to happen around the net was really bad. There were some miscues; they didn’t clear the net as well as they should. I think a lot of it too was just getting used to playing with each other."

Missed clears normally kill you. The power play doesn’t have to retrieve the puck, you can’t change, and they keep the pressure on. Mistakes will still happen, but it’s tough to criticize now. They had one of the worst kill rates early on, but they’ve rocketed to 3rd overall at 88.5%.

Steve Kolbe talked about concerns over Evgeni Malkin’s even-strength play, saying "I think it would be reversed if he hadn’t scored a power play goal. I think he’s playing with confidence. There haven’t been a lot of times where it didn’t look like he wasn’t giving 100%." Mackey added "I think he’s been fantastic. If you’re gonna look at a guy who’s got an 11 game point streak and say ‘He’s got all his points on the power play’ you really need to re-examine what you’re doing there. That’s just looking for a negative."

Spot on from both guys and with Malkin getting an even-strength goal Saturday, his critics will have to find something else to complain about.

November 6th, Penguins Hotline

Bob Grove called the Winnipeg win sloppy, saying it "rivaled the Philadelphia game" as far as the sloppiest they’ve played.

The game was exciting and there were a lot of things to like, but it was far from one of the best games I’ve seen. Not only was the execution poor, the officiating was terrible and things got out of hand because of it. That kind of incompetence ruins games for me. Steve Downie got blasted by Dustin Byfuglien AFTER scoring and it got evened up. How does Byfuglien not get at least a 10:00 misconduct there at minimum? If the situation was reversed, you know Downie isn’t getting off with a minor. I don’t like defending Downie, but expecting him to not act up after that is a big ask.

November 7th, Penguins Live

Brian Metzer on Sidney Crosby: "Sometimes when it’s going well offensively, you get a little flippant with the puck and the passes you’re making. You’re seeing Sid throw pucks to areas because he thinks a teammate should be there, and the opposition is grabbing it and going the other way. You can’t make those types of decisions. You’ve got to make better decisions with the puck, you’ve got to make sure you know who’s where and what you’re doing."

Crosby was guilty of this more than a few times in Winnipeg. It happens to a lot of good players. They get overconfident and try low percentage plays, thinking they can pull them off. Sometimes it works anyway, but a simple approach with high skill is very dangerous. We’ve seen that many times in the early going.

Sean Leahy joined Metzer to talk jersey ads: "We know it’s coming at some point. In the future, ads are going to be a part of jerseys in all sports in North America. The NHL’s already kind of said they’re going to do it, but they don’t want to be the first ones." Metzer "thinks it will be fine when it’s all said and done and will allow the league to be more viable."

The NHL’s reluctance to be first gives me a sliver of hope there is some resistance to do it at all, but I’ve basically accepted it’s happening at some point. I just hope it’s limited to one and the size is kept small. Ads on jerseys scream minor league to me (and no, the Reebok wordmark is not the same; the jersey is their product), but I guess the owners and players aren’t making enough money. I’ve got to disagree with Metz though; I don’t think this revenue will do anything for viability. It’s just more money for the owners and players to fight over.  It won’t affect ticket prices at all either; those have always been supply and demand, and always will be.

November 8th, Pens Week

Paul Steigerwald joined Grove and Metzer and talked about the different approaches Minnesota and Winnipeg took against the Pens: "I thought the Wild were very careful and it hurt them. The Jets took a completely different tact, they were very physical… Which one’s better? I’m not sure, they both lost, but what’s interesting is NHL coaches are copycats," suggesting other teams might look at that game and do the same, adding "It helps that the Jets use their top players to kill penalties."

I’m not surprised the Jets came after the Pens. They have a big, fast, skilled team suited to that style. The power play didn’t deter them because it wasn’t converting. If they cash in early, I think the Jets do back off a bit. Credit the Jets penalty killers; they were all over the Pens. The Pens weren’t as sharp even when they had time though.

November 8th, Penguins Hotline

Grove on Letang: "Kris’ game had a lot of indecision at times. I don’t see that in his game right now. He just seems like he has a different level of confidence when he’s in the offensive zone."

He was at the top of his game Saturday. I know it was just Buffalo, but there’s always a danger of falling into bad habits against bad teams. Letang and the Pens did not let that happen, which was not lost on the head coach when asked:

"I thought we had a lot of push, a lot of jump in our game. That just shows respect for the opponent. The guys were prepared, were ready to go as you mentioned. They don’t really take anybody lightly. Everybody in this league, on any given night, it can be a real tough night. We didn’t want to give Buffalo any hope and I thought we took that away from them in the first ten minutes."

It took the Pens a while to get going against Buffalo last time. As Johnston said, that was not the case on Saturday.