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BACK TO BASICS

By MARK MADDEN
The Penguins are 4-3 after starting the season 1-3. Let’s consider what caused the turnaround:
*Sid turned it up a notch. As Sid goes, the Penguins go. He’s the best hockey player in the world.
*The Penguins are playing as PHYSICAL as any team in the NHL.
*The forwards go to the net HARD. Consider the five goals against Ottawa: 1) Letestu shoots through traffic. 2) Sid rams in a friendly carom after going to the paint. 3) Geno goes to the net. 4) Kunitz goes to the net + Dupuis puts the puck toward the net = OWN GOAL. 5) Letang shoots through a screen.
*The AHL defensemen (Engelland, Hutchinson and Lovejoy) are playing above their talent level. Goligoski, Letang and Martin have similarly elevated their games. It sounds almost impossible to say, but the Pens don’t miss Michalek and Orpik. Yet.
*The Penguins are FAST. When a physical team skates like crazy, it’s extremely difficult to play against. If the Pens smell an odd-man break, a defenseman almost always joins the play. Handling four foes on every rush is EXHAUSTING.
Johnson has been solid in goal. The PP is improving (20 percent success rate, 11th best in the league). The PK minus Staal has been disappointing (81.5 percent success rate, 19th best in the league). But much of the Penguins’ success over the past three games is FUNDAMENTALS. Work down low. The basics.
I assume Fleury will be in goal Thursday at Nashville. It will be his first game in eight days. Hopefully, Fleury will return to form. But what if Fleury plays BAD, but it’s because he’s RUSTY? Eight days between starts is a long time for a No. 1 goaltender. If Fleury bombs, who do you blame and where do you go from there?
The power play was 2/3 vs. Ottawa. Those two goals put the Penguins up, 2-nil. That’s exactly what a PP needs to do. That’s how a PP wins games. It’s not just percentages, though the percentages supply likelihood. It’s using the PP to break open the occasional game. It’s also about wearing down foes via zone time and possession. Given all those factors, the Pens’ man-advantage unit is BETTER – but not quite where it should be.
The Penguins showed a video tribute to Sergei Gonchar last night. The fans popped. It was nice. Gonchar was on the ice for all five Penguins goals. That was nice, too. Gonch’s tribute to the Pens. When Alexei Ponikarovsky and the Los Angeles Kings visit (Feb. 10 – circle the date on your calendar, then burn the calendar), the Jumbotron at Consol Energy Center should play video of Ponikarovsky’s epic fails from last season, then a graphic: ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY, THANKS FOR NOTHING!
Seriously, many thanks to Sergei Gonchar: A treat to watch, a pleasure to work with, a Stanley Cup champion.
Yo, I got a question for Ray Shero: WHEN THE **** YOU GONNA GET MARK LETESTU A STAR WINGER TO WORK WITH?
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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Mark Madden

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