You have questions, we have answers. Welcome to the mailbag. If you have an issue you want addressed (and we get tired of Fleury, Scuderi, Despres, Bennett stuff too) tweet us @Pensburgh and we'll look into it and open it up for fan reaction in the comments. Ready?
Fans don’t like to hear it, but sometimes it’s just not your night. Sidney Crosby took a penalty 57 seconds into the game, a pretty ticky-tack call too. That certainly didn’t get the team started off on the right foot, and even though they killed the penalty (and Marc-Andre Fleury made a handful of solid saves) it seemed like from that point on the New York Rangers built off the effort and just kept piling it on. The Penguins, for their part, never seemed to get out of the gates and before they knew it, the score was 3-0 in the first period before they had even generated one quality scoring chance. Just like that, they were back in the all-too-familiar hole of being behind the Rangers, and they couldn’t recover.
I’m not sure if the Pens got complacent after a seven game winning streak, in which they looked so dominant outscoring the opposition 32-8 that maybe their expectation of winning got a little skewed. And New York, for their part, definitely got an earful after dropping a 3-1 game to the Edmonton Oilers their last game out- you just had to know they were going to be fired up for this game, as we tried to hint in the preview.
They were really good. And it’s a shame that their place in history wasn’t that third Stanley Cup- and an argument for using the word "dynasty"- but rather the heart-break of the unlikely loss to the New York Islanders in the second round.
I was only 9 years old at the time, and now 21 years after the 1993 playoffs, different people have different memories. It wasn’t his highest scoring year, but it was still Mario Lemieux’s finest season with an amazing doesn’t-make-sense stat line of 69 goals and 91 assists for 160 points in 60 games. All the while fighting cancer and undergoing treatments, which makes even less sense how one could be so strong and effective.
With Rick Tocchet (48g+61a and 252 penalty minutes) and Kevin Stevens, oh poor Kevin Stevens with his ghastly injury, putting up 55g+56a in his most dominant season. And that doesn’t get to the second line, which featured current hall-of-famer Ron Francis and future HOF’er Jaromir Jagr, or Tom Barrasso or the fine defensive pairing of HOF’er Larry Murphy
Still, that Pens team won the Patrick Division by 23 points that season (the other divisions were won by 3, 4, and 5 points) and coasted to the franchise’s only Presidents Trophy for best regular season record, aided by the 17 game winning streak record that still stands today. That’s 17 games without the aid of a shootout, no less.
After walking through the New Jersey Devils in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs, the Islanders should have been just another speed-bump before an epic showdown with Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens, followed by a Lemieux – Wayne Gretzky faceoff for Lord Stanley….
But hockey is a funny sport like that, and what "should" happen, doesn’t always. If anything, the failures of the 1992-93 Penguins team just goes to show the perfect mix of luck, health, goaltending, matchups and magic that it takes to make it through 4 rounds of the playoffs. It’s not easy and all the right things have to happen at all the right times. It didn’t for that Penguins team, and that’s a real shame, that group- especially Mario Lemieux- really deserved one more chance to make it to the top of the mountain before age, injuries and economic realities splintered that great team up for good.
Finding a fit for Evgeni Malkin will be possibly the season defining question for the Pens. After Malkin’s preseason long injury, coach Mike Johnston plugged Patric Hornqvist with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, and lo and behold, that trio found a lot of success. Which of course leaves Malkin with the leftovers- he’s got Pascal Dupuis (who has mostly played on the right with Pittsburgh) on his left, and Blake Comeau (he of just 28 points in the last 108 games prior to this season) on his right.
With legitimate questions still surrounding Beau Bennett’s ability to stay in the lineup, the Penguins might well have to look to the trade deadline to find the answer.
The problem becomes, who will be sellers? Other than Buffalo, every team right now thinks that they are in the hunt at least to be competitive for a run at a playoff spot. This may change as the games tick off, but the problem will be- as it has in recent years- that fewer teams are selling, which means fewer players available to pick up and perhaps higher prices as the contenders drive up the prices bidding against each other.
Regardless, here’s some names to keep an eye on that in an ideal world would look mighty nice in Pittsburgh on Malkin’s line:
- Chris Stewart, Buffalo: the big name as a rental that will be in the rumors the most, and could be a steep price. It’s worth looking into, even if some aren’t happy with his consistency, with his size and skill a change of scenery might awaken the competitive spirits as he looks for a payday on July 1
- Jiri Tlusty, Carolina: highly skilled player but has never put all the pieces together, still relatively young at age 26, and Jim Rutherford picked Tlusty off the scrap heap before and has seen him turn into a player capable of scoring 23 goals in the lockout year.
- Scottie Upshall: hardnosed, grinder player who has produced at a reasonable rate when healthy. Would seem like a great role on the second line.
- David Perron, Edmonton: reasonable $3.8 million cap hit this year and next, has skill but needs a lifeline out of Edmonton.
- Someone we haven’t even thought of: If they really get aggressive, it could always be that James Neal type trade that a lot of people never saw coming. I find it doubtful to believe the Pens will be that interested in making a huge trade if they remain in first place, but you never know
As far as what to give up, a young defensive player is the currency that Rutherford has to work with. Obviously for a rental player, a high piece of that currency (like Derrick Pouliot) ought to be way off the list. But between Simon Despres, Philip Samuelsson, Brian Dumoulin and Robert Bortuzzo the Penguins have a bunch of perfectly decent, low-end NHL caliber players that are always in demand in a league that loves young defensemen. There’s also draft picks to use, especially for teams looking to rebuild, though I think GMJR will wisely attempt to hold onto his higher round picks.
Financially to make the trade work Pittsburgh may need to include an NHL player to clear some salary, or they could try to see if the other team could retain some salary as well, which of course would come at the price of probably giving up another draft pick. Although fans would love to see Rob Scuderi traded off, I don’t find that likely to happen at this point. His salary is a bigger deal to fans than the Penguins coaches and management who (like it or not) see him as a valuable PK’er and locker-room leader.
So for tl;dr
--Hopefully Beau Bennett proves to be a fit, but if not the Penguins probably need to make a trade for a Tlusty/Upshall level player, offering up mainly non-NHL pieces to make it work, but will be wary not to over-pay or end up in a situation where they have to make a move.