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Talking to Myself: Pens Week

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This week, Talking to Myself focuses in on this past Saturday's Pens Week, Pens Radio 24/7's weekly recap show.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hosts Bob Grove and Brian Metzer opened up with a recap of the past week's games.  I won't get into the Chicago loss much given that was over a week ago, but here's one stat I wanted to pass along from Grove: that was the first time Marc-Andre Fleury faced three shots in a shootout and didn't stop any of them.  Furthermore, Mike Lange pointed out on his call of the winner, Fleury's faced five shootout attempts against Chicago this year, and hasn't stopped any.

Grove and Metzer spent a little time talking about the Pens' struggles in the shootout this year, Mike Johnston's dislike of it, and how the Pens never practice it.  I get there are no shootouts in the playoffs, but at the same time, I don't see a down side to spending 5-10 minutes at the end of a practice on it.  Like it or not, it is a part of the regular season and those points count the same in the standings.

Next up was a review of the Caps' game and Alexander Ovechkin's whack at Kris Letang's leg.  Grove said, "We've seen it before from him.  He can be a dirty player at times, period, end of statement.  I don't care what he says about trying to shoot the puck, it's a laughable explanation.  Barry Trotz stayed with [the explanation].  Like I said after the game, the corporate Caps stayed on message."

Like many of you, I was pretty mad about the non-call there.  The next day, I saw this:

Only the NHL would put an out clause into a slashing rule. It's the same league that lets you break the icing rule as part of your "punishment" for breaking another rule.  That aside, if Ovechkin was attempting a shot, that was the most unconventional shot attempt I've seen.  Not many guys shoot pucks like they're hitting golf balls.  The contact definitely led to Letang falling, so even if you buy the BS shot attempt, how about you call a trip instead?

Grove also mentioned how the Pens played Ovechkin on the penalty kill, saying "I'd rather see [them] cover [Ovechkin], let the other Caps beat you.  The Penguins did a terrific job of taking away passing lanes from Backstrom to Ovechkin in the game."

Agreed.  The chances of Ovechkin converting uncontested bombs from the left wing circle are greater than Joel Ward doing it.  Play the percentages.

Speaking of the Caps' game, checking out Phil Bourque's post-game comments if you haven't already is a must, even though that game feels like weeks ago.  Sean Gentille of the Sporting News transcribed them and linked to the original sound if you'd rather listen than read.

Looking back at the Columbus game, the discussion eventually got to Derrick Pouliot.  Grove said, "Pouliot's played pretty well considering, but he's learning the game at this level. Mistakes will be made.  It happens to everybody."  Metzer added, "[He's] a young, offensive-minded defenseman.  He's working on his game in the defensive zone.  It's a shame when you see him get victimized on a couple of plays like this.  The one that really stood out was the first one.  You can't let [Scott] Hartnell get between [you] and your goaltender."

Pouliot had another uneven night in his end in St. Louis, as I noted at LetsGoPens.com.  Mistakes aren't all bad as long as you learn from them though.  You have to let him play through those to some degree if you want him to be ready for playoff hockey.  Given he's had some rough defensive play in successive games, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a game off once Christian Ehrhoff returns.  I would want to see him back in there and not just immediately sent down because he's exempt from waivers.

Paul Steigerwald joined the show and talked about Evgeni Malkin's comments about needing to relax.  "Sometimes, when a player doesn't talk a lot, which Malkin doesn't, we know that, when he does, his words have more weight to them. So to me, what he said was pretty significant in terms of he was speaking for the team, for the coaches, for the organization, basically saying 'we all need to take it easy, we have a good team here, things are gonna be okay, don't worry' kind of thing, and I like hearing that coming from him, because sometimes he seems like he's detached or maybe you get the impression that he's not necessarily all-in in terms of understanding all the various aspects of what it means to have a winning team.  Those quotes to me, mean a lot, more than just any old player saying it.  It shows some leadership on his part, which I think is good."

I agree that it means more when something comes from Malkin, but maybe it's just me, but I think Steigerwald went a little too far in making his point.  I mean, I'm not in that room, I'm not around the team, but I've never thought of Malkin as detached or less invested in any way.  Heck, even before he started talking more, I always got the impression he understood a lot more English than he let on.  Still, the main point was that Malkin spoke up, and that carries a lot of weight, and that's something we can all agree on.

Metzer added, "It seems like every mistake this team has made lately has ended up in the back of their net.  I think that makes it very hard on these players when every little thing that goes wrong ends up burning them, it loses a game late.  I think that can really tear a team up, so that's something that stood out about 'we need to relax, sort of evaluate, just move forward here and start playing the right way' because when things aren't' going well, I think that throws you off kilter too."  Steigerwald continued, "I agree with you, but the problem is, that's the nature of hockey.  When you're losing 2-1 games, that's how it looks. There's no margin for error.  The one thread I see throughout these games recently is that they are low scoring, tight games, not many power play opportunities, not many calls on penalties that probably should be called, all the things that you see in the playoffs, and the Penguins just have to start getting used to that stuff right now and getting good at it.  This is their test, the next 22 games or whatever we have left, this is their test to see how they're gonna be able to condition themselves for playoff hockey because this is exactly what they're gonna see in the postseason."

Good points here.  There was a lot of off-season discussion about how the Pens had it too easy in the regular season, and maybe some adversity would do them good.  Well, here it is.  The Pens had played four straight one-goal games coming into this past weekend, and the only one they won was the almost-loss in Ottawa.  All had qualities Steigerwald mentioned.  Given their past post-season struggles, it should not have been a surprise that they floundered.  Better to struggle with it now than in the spring.  Convincing wins over a very good Blues squad and a young Panthers team fighting for their playoff lives are good building blocks.  A rematch against the Caps on Wednesday looms large.

In closing, I wanted to mention the following tidbit from Mike Johnston's post-game comments last night.  He was asked about Sidney Crosby getting some penalty kill work and said, "Tonight, without Adams and we had Lapierre in the box, then Sid becomes one of the four [PK forwards].  He's our next guy.  What I'd like to do though, is get Geno in a little bit more, get [Comeau] in.  It's important as you head into the playoff stretch, that you have depth of positions.  We need more depth in our penalty killers."

Malkin has hardly seen the ice shorthanded since coming the the NHL, but from what I remember reading and seeing in clips, he was a really dangerous penalty killer in the KHL and in international play.  If they can get him back to that, it would be a huge weapon for them.  Heck, put him AND Crosby out together.  That would certainly put a little fear into an opposing power play.