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Talking to Myself: Ups and Downs

The Pens get a boost from the ahead-of-schedule return of one of their best defensemen, only to lose a key forward shortly after. Also stuff on Comeau, officiating, trades, and going all-in during 4-on-4s.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

November 17th, Penguins Live

Brian Metzer said Blake Comeau was someone the Pens "sorely lacked."  Adam Gretz added "He's the type of guy they've been missing the past couple of years.  For that cap hit, that's about as good as you can get.  When you have so much money tied up in your star players, you need to find values like that."

Comeau makes $700K and has 5 goals, 5 assists in 17 games and and has played well outside of numbers.  He's been a pleasant surprise as a fill-in in the top 6 (not that you want him there full time).  Tanner Glass had 5 goals as Pen in 115 games at a cost of $1.1M. Comeau is a huge upgrade at a lower cost; a big plus for this year's Penguins.

November 18th, Penguins Live

On Olli Maatta, Metzer couldn't "think of a young player that's had such a high level of respect from pretty much every one of his teammates."  Sam Kasan said Brooks Orpik (who's not known for throwing out praise) was one of the first players to speak highly of him, "[Orpik] said he's the most mature rookie he's ever dealt with, and this is a guy that's been around Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang... that's a pretty bold statement to make."

This reminded me of a recent CSN Washington article where Orpik couldn't say enough about Maatta.  Hearing that much praise from a guy that doesn't hand it out often makes me think he's more special than even the biggest Maatta fan thinks.  Pens fans have been absolutely spoiled with the number of young kids that have been so good so early in their careers.

November 18th, Penguins Hotline

Mike Johnston on Maatta's return:  "He was as solid as he always is.  He's such a reliable, dependable player.  When he goes back for pucks in our own zone, we don't spend a lot of time in our zone.  He's a great outlet passer plus he's a pretty good skater that can evade checks."  Bob Grove added "He's been playing beyond his years since the beginning of last season and great to see him come back."

Maatta missed two weeks. For cancer surgery.  And didn't look like he missed a beat, logging over 20 minutes.  That shouldn't be possible.  Freak.

November 19th, Penguins Live

The topic of the day was the latest in a long line of  injury news that's plagued this franchise: Pascal Dupuis would miss the next six months while getting treatment for a pulmonary embolism.

Phil Bourque:  "I think its imperative that you keep him around, that he's around a lot more than he was last spring.  Not only do the players need him around, I think with this blindsiding him, he's going to need to be around the team a lot."

Kris Letang:  "We're just trying to be here for him and try to support him the best we can. We'll try to reinforce his morale and try to make sure he keeps his head up."

Chris Kunitz: "You look at that first game, I think he ended up with four points, and the energy that he brought from wanting to play so bad.  I think that's what everybody remembers, but the locker room stuff is where you really miss him.  The guy on the planes, and hanging out at dinners, and making fun of situations when we're not feeling as confident as we need to as a group.  if he's going to want to be around the team, that's great for us because he brings such a energy and positive attitude that makes us all enjoy coming to the rink every day.  When he's not here, it's gonna be something that's missed."

A day after the Pens got Maatta back surprisingly soon, they get absolutely gut-punched by the Dupuis news.  Sadly, he joins a long line of Penguins to be knocked out of the lineup by off-ice medical issues: Mario Lemieux (Hodgkins, irregular heartbeat), Letang (stroke), Maatta (thyroid cancer) just to name three.  Dupuis will be missed greatly.  On the ice, he could literally play anywhere in your forward lineup and in all situations.  Off the ice, he may be even more valuable.  It will be impossible to replace everything he brings, but hopefully the team is better equipped to deal with it, having done so just last season.

November 20th, Penguins Live

Metzer:  "Dupuis himself might be the person to offset the loss of Pascal Dupuis off the ice, because he is going to be around the team it sounds like.  The team wants him to be around and says they're going to finds ways to do that."

This can only be a positive.  It also seems to be a departure from how the former staff approached injured players if Beau Bennett's quotes in this story are any indication; another plus for Johnston.

Metzer also went through a list of possible trade targets for the Pens.  That discussion starts at the 17:18 mark of this file.  Of the names he mentions, Antoine Vermette is also an interesting option, but the one I like most as a player is Jordan Eberle.  As Metzer notes, he carries a big cap hit and Edmonton is asking a lot for him, so that's not very realistic.  I'd ask the Oilers about David Perron though.  He carries a very reasonable 3.8125M cap hit this year and next.  He managed 57 points in 78 games last year and has 10 in 21 so far this year.  It also sounds like he may want out of Edmonton.

November 21st, Penguins Live

Josh Yohe joined Metzer and offered up these thoughts on Marc-Andre Fleury:  He's now been a goaltender for approximately 80 games under Mike Bales, and he has recorded 9 shutouts in those games.  I don't think that's a coincidence.  I think Mike Bales is really good, and I think he brings out the best in Marc-Andre Fleury, and it's early, but through six or seven weeks, he's been Vezina-caliber so far.  I don't know if he'll keep it up, but that's what he's been so far."

Who'd have thought an actual goaltending coach would help a goaltender improve?  Fleury was always complimentary of Gilles Meloche, but by most accounts he was more of a sounding board  than someone that helped with technique.  Our own Mike Darnay took an in-depth look at the Bales effect earlier this month.

November 21st, Penguins Hotline

Grove pointed out Crosby and Malkin played together in 4 on 4 situations.  Metzer said "At times it looks like they're toying with the other team" but also noted "it's a work in progress" and they "get a little too fancy at times."  Grove agreed, citing "too many passes, not enough shots."

In addition to throwing 87 and 71 together, Johnston also got his top defense pair of Letang and Paul Martin out with them.  It sounds like a no-brainer and I certainly liked the all-in mentality of it.  In practice though, it left something to be desired.  They went too fancy and kept looking for the slam dunk, highlight play instead of going with the simple approach of getting pucks and bodies to the net and letting all that talent be the difference maker.  They'll get their share of goals in that situation no matter what, but as we saw with the power play earlier in the year, simplest is best.

November 22nd, Pens Week

Paul Steigerwald on Friday night's officiating:  "I know both coaches said they thought the referees did a great job last night, but I'm sorry, in the first period there were some interferences that could have been called.  The Penguins have the best power play in the National Hockey League.  I don't think we should ever be happy when there's a game where they don't get to draw a penalty.  Sorry, I'm not going to say that's better hockey.  We can sit here and say 'this is a great example of how it's gonna be in the playoffs, so they've got to get used to it' and maybe that's true, but if there's a penalty, call it.  Even Christian Ehrhoff took a blatant interference penalty and it was not called."

The best thing I can say about the officiating that night was it was equally bad at both ends.  "Letting them play" may be the worst phrase in all of hockey.  Why have the rule book if you're going to ignore half of it on a given night?

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Since Crosby showed up ref by slamming stick against Rangers last Saturday, Pens have received two power plays in 170 minutes of hockey.</p>&mdash; Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) <a href="">November 23, 2014</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Pens have received two power plays in their past three games. Lowest number of PPs in a three-game span for the Penguins this century.</p>&mdash; Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) <a href="">November 23, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Boychuk's run of Malkin not only should have been called under any circumstance, it should've warranted a suspension if the league was serious about cleaning up the game.  This explains why better than I could:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Boychuk should get a suspension, but he won&#39;t  <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Ryan Wilson (@GunnerStaal) <a href="">November 22, 2014</a></blockquote>
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November 22nd, Penguins Hotline

Johnston post-game:  "We need Sid, [Kunitz], and [Comeau] to... they're under checking pressure, but they've got to break through a little bit as well."

In two games against the Isles, Crosby had no points and just 1 shot; Kunitz: 1 assist (his first point in 5 games); Comeau: 1 goal.  That's not good enough, hence the comments from the coach.