December 29, Penguins Live
Sam Kasan on Marc-Andre Fleury: "If you ask me, he's been hands-down the team's MVP. No one has played at as an excellent level, no one has performed as well as he has and done it consistently. This year, his numbers are the best he's ever put up. His goals-against-average is 2.12. His save percentage is .928. He's got 6 shutouts, which is a career best. He's having the season of his life right now, and the Penguins need him to do that given all the injuries they're dealing with."
Insert snarky comment about haters and the word playoffs. Don't look now, but Fleury's name is being mentioned in Vezina conversations around the league. Malkin may give him some competition for team MVP though, and Crosby will heat back up sooner than later.
Josh Yohe on the power play: "You knew they weren't going to stay at 40% like they were through most of October, but I didn't expect this kind of a drop-off. I know there have been people out of the lineup, but for the most part Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been in the lineup, and if you've got those two guys, your power play shouldn't be struggling as much as it is. I could see the frustration on Rick Tocchet's face after the game against Washington. Hew was not happy with that unit at all with all the turnovers. Frankly, Crosby was probably more guilty of it than anyone, trying to force too many cross-ice passes. I had a conversation with Derrick Pouliot and he made it awfully clear that Rick Tocchet wants shots on net right now. He thinks a simple formula will lead to more goals and I agree with him."
Yohe also mentioned reconfiguring the top unit with Pouliot at the center point and Malkin on the right wing boards, and how Tocchet wants to open up Malkin for more one-timers. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I've complained for years about the Pens willingness to holster their best weapon (Malkin's one-timer). I'll admit I was skeptical about Tocchet seemingly being forced on the new head coach, but everything I've heard from him on the power play has been dead on. I'm a little concerned that the Pens still get overly fancy despite what he's telling them (and how well it worked earlier) though.
January 2, Penguins Live
Yohe on a possible 3rd line for the Pens: "I know a lot of people will say Beau Bennett isn't a third line style player, he shouldn't be on the third line but the Penguins don't really need to have a crash-and-bang third line. I go back to one of my favorite Mike Babcock stories. I was interviewing him and and I said, 'Mike, your third line's not very big, would you like more physical presence there?' He looked at me like I was a total idiot and says 'You know what makes a good line? Good players. I don't care how big they are.' He made a point. The Penguins want to have a puck possession third line. Brandon Sutter's a pretty good puck possession player. Beau Bennett's a really good one. If you have those two and maybe Steve Downie on your third line, that's pretty good. If they can get healthy and that's their third line, all of the sudden the depth that's been such a problem could seem like a strength.
The game's changed. Your third line doesn't have to be a bunch of big guys who can wear the other team down by hitting them into oblivion. You can wear down the opposition by maintaining possession of the puck. Constantly chasing and having to defend will wear them down just as much.
January 2, Penguins Hotline
Phil Bourque on line combinations: "I thought it was interesting with Mike Johnston and his line combinations... he hits it again. There's times when I would not think of putting those lines together." Bob Grove interjected, "Andrew Ebbett with Malkin? I would never have dreamed that combination." Bourque continued, "I never would have thought about that. And Bryan Rust, that was a really good line. You put Nick Spaling with Sidney Crosby and Steve Downie, another really good line. Grove continued, "He made the right calls on those guys and he kept Kunitz with Beau and Sutter, and those guys looked good."
When the lines for the Tampa game were posted, I was thinking Ebbett would be on Malkin's left for the opening faceoff as a birthday present, then he'd play the rest of the night in his normal 4th line spot. When I saw that line wasn't starting, I immediately questioned it, which all but guaranteed it would work. Apparently there is a reason I was home on my couch and Mike Johnston is in charge of an NHL team. Who knew?
Grove on the Malkin/Craig Adams practice scrap: "This occasionally happens. It doesn't happen a ton." Bourque equated it to fighting with your brothers when you were younger. "The best teams I've been on have had quite a few of these quarrels, disagreements, scraps, whatever you want to call them. At times, they can be healthy. At times they can be dangerous. It's not that uncommon, it does happen. It can clear the air, hold everyone accountable, snap people into place. As long as they quote-unquote kissed and made up and ironed things out, it can be a good thing for a hockey club."
I've never been in a locker room outside of rec league hockey, so I'll take Bourque's word on how the dynamics work in there. If they worked it out afterwards, I suppose all is well, but if there are any bad feelings lingering, one guy is a franchise-caliber, Hart trophy-winning center. The other is a fourth liner that plays less than 10 minutes a game. I know who wins that one.
January 2, PensWeek
Paul Steigerwald liked acquiring David Perron sooner than later: "I like the fact that Perron was brought in earlier to get used to playing with these guys and will become part of the fabric of this team by the time playoff time rolls around. The Penguins now have a lot of options up front, and when everyone's healthy, they're going to have a pretty good looking crew of forwards." Brian Metzer added, "What stands out for me is he immediately is number 4 on the team in hits as a high-end forward. He has 74, which slots right behind Kunitz."
The last time I was this excited about a trade was when Ray Shero robbed Dallas ofand . I knew Perron's numbers were down this year, but I also knew exactly what the Pens got as he'd been one of my favorite players to watch outside of the Pens. More on him later.
January 3, Penguins Hotline
Head coach Mike Johnston on rest: "It's a build-up of a few things. One is with so many guys out of the lineup over the last two weeks, some of the minutes for individuals has gone up. So if players are playing on a nightly basis, say 3 minutes more than what they normally do, that's a lot and its fatiguing. You don't want to make excuses, but that could have been something tonight, but again, you've got to be able to push through it. Montreal has had a pretty heavy schedule lately, I'm not sure of how their injuries have been, but they had a lot more jump than we did at times tonight."
Starting yesterday, the Pens entered a period where they will only play 3 times in 12 days (and 4 in 14). Against Montreal, they looked like a team in need of that kind of stretch.
Bourque on Perron's debut: "He was really good. That goal showed you he's a natural goal scorer, that he works hard and he's got a little bit of Patric Hornqvist in him, where he's not afraid to go to the net. He understands the game, he reads off skilled players, and he can appreciate that skill. For some players, that puck doesn't go in, but for Perron it does go in because he knows how to get the puck off his stick quick, he knows how to place it, and it's probably got a little more spin and velocity than others. I talked to Gary Agnew and he said he's got more bite than people give him credit for. He chirps on the ice, he gets involved. He's obviously not a dirty player, but he's an edgy player, and you like that edginess with skill."
I'm guessing that anyone who didn't like this trade or wasn't sold on it hasn't seen much of Perron and was going off of his numbers from this year. This guy is a perfect fit here. He can play either wing, is signed through next year with an affordable cap hit, is skilled with an underrated mean streak and he's a gamer. You saw how well-rounded his game was against Montreal, but afterwards, he talked about "not having enough." Not being satisfied is the mark of a good player and the Pens added one without losing a top prospect or key roster player.