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Talking to Myself: Learning to Lead

This week, I talk about other people talking about the returns of Beau Bennett and Blake Comeau and the Pens' struggles while playing with a lead.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

February 11, The Mark Madden Show

Dejan Kovacevic on Beau Bennett:  "Out on the western Canada trip, I asked a lot of questions about Bennett and what they were doing with him and I liked what I heard initially.  All right, you scratch from the Edmonton and Calgary games, you give a chance to think about it and focus on Vancouver, and then they play with him basically that day by saying 'it looks like he's gonna get in.'  Then they don't even put him in warm-ups.  Now you start messing with his head, and on top of that, you get to this week now, where you're sure he's gonna be back in, and all those arguments people have been having that I've been dismissing, that he shouldn't be playing because he's not better than Craig Adams or Zach Sill, when that shouldn't have anything to do with it, now actually, it kind of does because now you're saying that he's not good enough for your third or fourth line because your have your first two lines."

Mark Madden countered Bennett can't play 4th line because he isn't a 4th line style player, he doesn't kill penalties, he's not physical.  Kovacevic said Brandon Sutter could really use a guy like Bennett, and that those two played well early with Steve Downie.  Madden dismissed that, saying Bennett can't play left wing. Kovacevic said he could, but conceded he wasn't great at it.  Madden said if Bennett was going to get back in, he'd have him play right with Sutter and Nick Spaling, then drop Downie to the 4th line.

In the end, Bennett got back in the lineup against Detroit and has now played 3 straight games, primarily with Sutter and Spaling.  He looked a little nervous vs Detroit, settled in a little vs Ottawa, and was really, really good in Chicago.  (I still don't know how you don't get him on the ice in that overtime. A missed adjustment, IMO)  Not coincidentally, Sunday might have also been the best Sutter's looked in a while.  The Pens will need Bennett in the lineup and productive to get where they want to go.

February 11, Penguins Hotline

Mike Johnston on the return of Blake Comeau:  "You add Comeau to the group and you look at who we've got back in the last 10 days - Hornqvist, Geno, Comeau - that line was very good tonight and it gives us some depth.  Especially when you're playing... we watch every team close and Detroit's a very good hockey team.  They've been playing well lately, they're a dangerous team.  I thought at least for the first part of the game, we kept them back on their heels and a lot of that was Geno's line.  I thought that every time they were on the ice they were a threat with puck possession and that's the best way play against Detroit."

With Comeau's return, the Pens finally had a healthy forward group for the first time since David Perron was acquired (minus Pascal Dupuis, of course) and they've looked pretty good.  What they've done has been impressive, but it also underscores they still have depth issues.  Comeau's been great this year, but his absence shouldn't make that big of a difference.

February 12, Penguins Live

Kovacevic on the 4th line:  "You try to put together some kind of 4th line to go with Maxim Lapierre, and I could keep speaking in code here endlessly, or I could just come out and say that the ultimate pipe dream here is to find somebody to replace Craig Adams, who's bigger and stronger and better on the puck, the same level of penalty killer Adams was 2 years ago, but hasn't been since then.  That said, it is a fantasy because these coaches react no differently to him than Dan Bylsma and his staff did.  They see something there that nobody else sees.  I don't know what that  is or what it would take to get him out of the lineup, but I think that would make a difference."  Brian Metzer suggested Adams' physicality is the one thing the coaches may be looking at that keeps him in the lineup.

Adams is second on the team in hits (first among forwards), trailing only Simon Despres.  I'm not sure how often those hits are meaningful though.  I don't remember him causing turnovers with many or helping to keep a team in their own end often..  He also leads all Penguins forwards in average PK time, but the Pens killed penalties just fine while he was out earlier in the year, so I have trouble believing he's that critical to shorthanded success either.  The coaches don't seem to value his even-strength play much, as the only players who average less even-strength time have been Bobby Farnham (11 games), Dominik Uher (2), and Scott Wilson (1, in which he got injured).  It shouldn't be that hard to find an upgrade for that spot, but I'm not sure how much of an impact it would make, given how little he plays.

February 12, Penguins Hotline

Coach Johnston on the third period collapse in Ottawa:  "It wasn't a good third period.  When you look at a period like that, we have to make sure we learn from it.  The big thing for me was I thought we sat back a little bit, we were back on our heels, and I didn't think our execution was good on three faceoffs.  The center ice faceoff, the two faceoffs in our zone, we have to be better in those detail areas."  On fatigue as a factor:  "No, maybe a little bit when you play back to back and you get in late, but not really.  I thought we had our skating legs through the game and when you see a 3 nothing lead, maybe your natural tendency is to sit back.  Not often do you get that opportunity, and we have to learn from that."

February 13, Savran On Sports

Phil Bourque on the Ottawa game:  "That 3rd period was disturbing to say the least.  To play so well and not put that game to bed, and watch an Ottawa Senators team roar back the way they did, it just wasn't right.  For me, it's about principle.  It's great that you got the 2 points and you battled through some adversity towards the end of the 3rd period, and got the shootout win, but it just can't happen.  This team should be past moments like that.  If you really want to build a championship team and be a champion, you just can't have games like that.  I know people will say well it's back to back nights, it's in the middle of February, it's game number 50-something, these guys are a little fatigued, and I get all that, but when you work so hard in back to back situations to get the lead that they had...  it's learning how to win, it's learning how to play with a lead, and I'm sure it will be addressed by the coaching staff and hopefully it doesn't happen again."

February 14, Pens Week

Paul Steigerwald on closing games out:  "The shutout in Edmonton, they were out-shot 10-2 in the third period.  The game the other night against Detroit, out-shot 9-4 in the third period.  And of course in Ottawa, things kind of  imploded, they were out-shot 16-8 in the third period.  There's an art to shutting hings down and I asked Mike Johnston about it the other night.  He said, 'well, you've got to keep playing.  You've got to do the right things.  You don't make bad decisions, you still have to try and generate some offense.  You still keep your foot on the accelerator, not necessarily pedal to the metal.'  For the Penguins, it's just a matter of making sure everybody's doing the right thing and trying to keep the puck in the other team's end of the rink.  You want to score, but you're not killing yourself to score goals as much as you are to possess the puck, kill the clock, keep the other team on their heels, and then maybe you'll get a goal.  And don't forget the opposition in those situations is the team that has to gamble, so theoretically, if you play smart, you should be able to take advantage of them."

The Pens have had third period issues of varying degrees in each of their last four wins.  It's good they are winning those games, but they're going to need to do better with leads, score effects or not.

Bob Grove pointed out the Pens are on pace to get 256 power play chances, which would be fewest in team history, outside of the lockout shortened seasons.  Steigerwald had a theory on why that is:  "I think that the few number of power play opportunities, in the case of the Penguins, is directly proportionate to the amount of complaining they do to the referees.  They're doing to much of that that and they've got to get away from it.  It doesn't help.  I remember Badger Bob Johnson saying, 'You can't win with the referees.  I learned that a long time ago.'  He told the players in 90-9, "Don't do it.  Leave them alone.' And I think the Penguins did that for the most part that year.  They did not do a  lot of complaining to the referees.  They kept their nose to the grindstone.  I think that's another thing that's been a problem for the Penguins and they're going to have to clean that up too."

That's a pretty amazing stat from Grove.  You've had some pretty bad Penguin teams and some years where they only played 70-some games, but the current version is on pace to be the worst at getting to the power play.  That's almost unbelievable given the offensive forces they have.  I can't explain it, but taking Steigerwald's advice couldn't hurt.  What happened in Chicago aside, you aren't going to win arguments with a referee much.  Focus more on what you can control and less on what you can't.