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Talking to Myself: Letang, Malkin, and More

I talk Kris Letang, two of my least favorite parts of hockey, and channel Chris Rock and Mr. Miyagi while talking about Evgeni Malkin. All that and more, in this week’s Talking to Myself!

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

November 10th, Penguins Live

Brian Metzer characterized Kris Letang as "much improved," adding "the plays he made away from the puck and on defense really stood out for me, broke up a 2 on 1 that game." Adam Gretz said "of all the plays he had in that game, that was the play that stood out for me. He’s been tremendous this season." He also talked about the risk/reward with 58: "A guy that plays that high-risk game, sometimes it’s gonna catch up to you, but the reward is so high, it so often outweighs the negatives. I think he’s been their best defender all season."

November 11th, Penguins Live

Michelle Crechiolo on Letang: "I think this summer was big for him in terms of resetting and refocusing. It hasn’t been the easiest past couple of years for him in terms of injuries and health issues. He had a lot going on and I think it probably affected him more than he’d like to admit. He said coming in that he wanted to prove he can be the guy, and with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen leaving, he knew he had a big opportunity. He’s been very impressive."

I love skill, so I have always been a fan of Kris Letang. He will make some mistakes, but I think he’s cut them way down so far, and as Gretz noted, the positives far outweigh those negatives. His skating ability can have a direct impact on a game, and when you add his other offensive gifts to the mix, you’ve got quite a player.

November 11th, Penguins Hotline

Mike Johnston on the loss at MSG: "We knew they were going to come hard. I think it was preparation, from the coaches to the players. We had to be a lot better prepared in the first ten minutes than we were, and the second part of it was our response. Once we saw the level they were coming out with, we had to respond, and I think it took us way too long. I thought they were quicker to loose pucks than we were, but it was also the compete and battle on the loose pucks. I didn’t think we had the same level of intensity that we’ve normally had. We’ve been a great starting team and tonight wasn’t a very good start for us."

That’s some pretty critical stuff from the head coach, but what I liked most about it is something you don’t get from reading: His tone was very analytical, very matter-of-fact. Johnston’s ability to calmly assess things and provide honest answers may be my favorite thing about him so far.

November 12th, Penguins Live

Metzer did positives and negatives of the debacle at MSG: "A lot of you said, ‘There are no positives, what do you mean?’ As I’ve been saying, ‘If you’re gonna dig deep for the negatives on a day when things are going smoothly, you can dig for the positives on a day like today." He then went on to list six things: Brandon Sutter, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, it serving as a wake-up call, it allowing Johnston to experiment, and Marc-Andre Fleury.

After each game, I do Stewie Griffin Postgame at, based on the compliment sandwich Stewie did in a Family Guy episode. You sandwich one negative between two positives. I thought I was positive, but Metz puts me to shame. Six positives from that? Good on him for finding that many.

Greg Wyshynski on Connor McDavid: "There’s no question star players get mistreated more than other players and there’s usually not any repercussions for it. We had Sherry Bassen on our podcast today, the GM of the Erie Otters, who basically said it needs to be not only the responsibility of the team, but also the responsibility of the officials and the league, to protect superstars. As a guy who watches the NFL every week and sees quarterbacks coddled like no other athlete in professional sports, I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of stars being overprotected by officials just because they’re star players."

November 12th, SiriusXM NHL Power Play

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Matthew Barnaby on McDavid (stick tap to Metzer for mentioning this on his show): "This guy gets so much behind the play. Every guy is trying to make a name for himself and run him over, and finish a check 4 seconds late, and whack him with a slash. Every coach is telling his players, ‘Take your liberties, get your shots in, slash him behind the leg.’ He deals with it every single day he gets on the ice. He’s got 20 guys on the other team trying to take cheap shots at him. Plain and simple, he had enough."

Most of the McDavid talk centered on if he should have fought or if stars should ever fight. Personally, I wouldn’t want my superstar doing it for fear of injury. That said, hockey’s an intense game; even the calmest guy has his breaking point. Barnaby nailed it. The game plan against stars always includes taking some kind of liberties to "get him off his game." You can only take so much.

The real problem here isn’t that he fought, or even that he got hurt doing so; it’s that the sport’s culture allows talents like McDavid to be goaded into fighting in the first place. The hack-and-whack approach only works if the referees let it. Bassen had it right; the leagues and their officials should do more to protect the stars that bring people to games. Being a better player isn’t an unfair advantage; the referees shouldn’t let lesser players get away with fouling them to make things fair. Stars should have to fight through checks, or beat defenders. They shouldn’t have to fight through a hold or take slashes on the hands because they have the "advantage" of being good.

I understand Wyshynski’s concern about going overboard like the NFL has, but isn’t there a middle ground between that and where hockey is? I’m not asking for stars to get preferential treatment; I’d just like the rules enforced. That said, if I have to pick one extreme or the other, I’ll take the one that favors the stars. I want to see Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Steven Stamkos do their thing, not be drug down by the likes of Tanner Glass, Mike Weber, or Zac Rinaldo. If you are mad about the McDavid situation, place the blame where it belongs: squarely on hockey’s shoulders.

November 12th, Savran on Sports

Paul Steigerwald on Malkin: "I think he has to elevate his play. I think he has to shoot the puck more, become more selfish, and try to score goals. I just don’t think he goes to the net enough. He’s phenomenal off the rush, he can still make those incredible plays where he cycles the puck and carries it up towards the blue line and nobody can get the puck away from him, but that’s peripheral stuff."

I’m not sure about all that. I do want to see him bull his way to the net with the puck more and pull up to pass less (ditto for Crosby), but it’s a fine line. Malkin gets into the most trouble when he tries to do too much, so you don’t want him trying to do it all himself. Like Mr. Miyagi said, balance is key. Balance good, hockey good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home.

Stan Savran on Steve Downie: "He’s a valuable addition, but I don’t think they’re getting bang for their buck on the penalties he’s taking. Too many haven’t accomplished anything." Steigerwald agreed, citing the inaction of the team after Glass ran Simon Despres when the Pens were down 5-0: "Glass was running around last night because he has a chip on his shoulder from last year and not getting a chance to play [in the playoffs] and was trying to send a message. Having been in the Penguins’ locker room, he knows what the hot buttons are. He was in Sid’s face. I thought that was a good example of where maybe in the third period they could have let the Rangers know they didn’t appreciate that stuff."

They also cited how no one went after Dustin Byfuglien when he blasted Downie after his goal in Winnipeg. I don’t want fights when they’re down or whenever someone looks at them sideways. However, both Byfuglien and Glass were owed some kind of response, weren’t they? Everyone went nuts for Downie’s "there will be no liberties taken" quote, but that hasn’t really come to pass so far; it’s mostly been bad penalties. Some of have been reputation calls, but that’s part of Downie’s deal.

November 14th, Penguins Live

Sam Kasan on Beau Bennett playing left wing: "If you are going to switch [wings], a player has to be comfortable doing it, and they have to be willing. Beau’s not entirely comfortable yet. He just needs time."

Changing wings is a weird thing. Some guys (Pascal Dupuis) can switch without issue. Others (James Neal) need time. Other guys (Jarome Iginla) can’t do it. No idea which one Bennett will be.

November 14th, Penguins Hotline

Bob Grove on Malkin’s late penalty: "I didn’t have a problem with the Malkin penalty. I know given the situation, that’s not one you want to take, but your first reaction is one of your teammates has been hurt, so it’s a natural reaction."

I hate fighting over clean hits, but I can understand where Malkin was coming from. To paraphrase Chris Rock, I’m not saying Geno should have jumped him, but I understand.

November 15th, Penguins Hotline

Phil Bourque on the aftermath of the Malkin hit: "I didn’t care for it, but that seems to be the way the NHL is now. When there’s a clean hit players feel almost obligated to do something right away. That’s not how I was brought up. I was taught to take the number, get him later."

My least favorite thing about hockey is the stuff I touched on with McDavid. Fights after big, clean hits are a close second. You don’t like your teammate getting drilled cleanly? Tell him to keep his head up or throw a clean check of your own. If you want to fight over a clean hit, then you want hitting out of hockey as far as I’m concerned.