March 2, Penguins Live
Adam Gretz offered up an opinion on what the deadline moves may mean for Derrick Pouliot: "I'm not surprised they made some changes to their defense. I just thought if they were going to make a change, it might be for a guy that you would expect to pencil into the top 4 defensemen, maybe to play on the second pairing alongside Christian Ehrhoff, but they really didn't do that. They kind of re-made their 5, 6, and 7 spots. I guess the one takeaway from that is maybe they've seen enough from Derrick Pouliot to think that's he's ready to be that top 4 guy right now and the way he's played the past two games, especially yesterday against Columbus, maybe that's the case. Maybe he is ready for that and maybe they're going to trust him."
As I mentioned last time in this space, you have to be willing to let a young guy like Pouliot play through some mistakes. They've done that with Pouliot and so far, he's rewarded them with some really good play. The Simon Despres-Ben Lovejoy swap is still a puzzling one for me, but when you factor in Pouliot's emergence, it does make some sense that the Pens would want to add someone that's a little more reliable even at the expense of a higher ceiling. Given Despres' pedigree and how young he is, you'd think they could have pried a mid-to-late round pick from Anaheim too.
Speaking of Gretz, do yourself a favor and read his article on the Pens' defensive improvement if you haven't already. I like to think I pay attention to the games I watch, but I was still surprised to read some of the numbers in there that detail exactly how well they've done in their end as of late.
March 7, Pens Week
Bob Grove on Evgeni Malkin's goal in Colorado: " racking up points, but this goal was another one that came off great defensive work and he's really turned up his defensive game as well." Brian Metzer added, "He's always had that. It's weird that you don't see it more often and it's a reason why I think Mike Johnston should get him out there on the penalty kill a little bit more often. Before he got into the league, you know he was great at picking off those passes point-to-point, getting in alone. I loved his game from top to bottom. I think he's trying to do a little too much at times and that hurts him, but generally speaking, he's playing a very complete game right now and getting it done on both sides of the puck."
In the last Talking to Myself, I also talked about head coach Mike Johnston saying he wanted to get his top two centers more involved in the penalty kill, but it hasn't really happened yet. In the five games since that statement, Malkin has spent a total of 50 seconds shorthanded. Sidney Crosby has 81 seconds. Metzer's assessment is exactly why many people have wanted to Malkin (and Crosby) used there. There are tons of clips out there that show a pre-NHL Malkin stripping pucks and going the other way. More on that later.
Metzer on David Perron's return to his regular position: "One quick note. David Perron said he thinks he is a much quicker player playing on the left with Sidney Crosby because Sid plays so fast and the extra step that he has, [Perron] was having trouble taking passes across his body on the off wing and was slowing their line down. That was from Elliotte Friedman and his 30 Thoughts this week."
I was glad to see Perron moved back to the left. That's where he's spent the most time, that's where he's the most comfortable, that's where you're going to get the best out of him. I don't mind moving versatile guys around to try and find useful combinations, but it's important to not stick with it too long when it clearly doesn't work. No one wants to see another Jarome Iginla situation.
Grove on the difference in the Pens' defensive play: "People tend to think the Pens' play in their own zone as being just a function of how the defensemen do. I thought about a month ago, the Penguins' forwards were not doing as good a job getting deep in the zone and really helping take care of business in your own zone. Recently, I think that's really been true though." Paul Steigerwald agreed, "The forwards were kind of hanging out in the neutral zone more. It wasn't like that stretch pass stuff we saw last year, but more like guys kind of moving around, trying to get open, there was more standing around. I feel now like the forwards are coming back deep and really helping out. Evgeni Malkin is leading the way in that department. He's made some great plays where he's started the play up from his own end by getting back, getting within a few feet of a defenseman to take a short pass and then carry the puck with speed from the defensive zone."
When Malkin (and this goes for Crosby as well) can get the puck in their end and attack the neutral zone with a head of steam, he's that much tougher to deal with. I've always maintained Malkin is a different player when he's scoring goals. He feeds off of that. It boosts the rest of his game. When you see him galloping around the ice like he has been lately, that's a good indicator that he's feeling it too and him engaging defensively and stripping pucks is another great sign. Takeaways seem to feed the rest of his game as well. When he's on to that degree, he's tough to beat.
Finally, I'll break format a little to acknowledge something I didn't hear anyone talking about on the radio yet, though I'm sure it will come up today. Pens' prospect Matt Murray gave up 1 goal in a 4-1 win over Springfield in the AHL yesterday. That was the first goal he gave up in 304:11 of play, setting a new AHL record. The previous record was 268:17, held by Barry Brust of Abbotsford. Per AHL PR, Murray stopped 130 shots over 15+ periods during his streak. He is now 18-8-2 on the year and leads the AHL in goals-against average (1.57), save percentage (.940) and shutouts (nine).