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Insider Only Inside Look: On The Penguins

After a disappointing weekend, the Pittsburgh Penguins were given a day off today after back-to-back games. With the Olympic break looming, Pittsburgh will finish with three straight home games before a 16 day break between games.
It will be a prime opportunity to finish the break on a high note, however, the Penguins have not been very good at home this season, posting a 17-10-1 record.
Pittsburgh returns to the ice tomorrow morning to prepare for Wednesday’s game against the New York Islanders. The Penguins then host the New York Rangers on Friday and the Nashville Predators Sunday afternoon.
Non-Olympic players will be given 9 days off as many players have already indicated that they will be heading south as the players are not due back to Pittsburgh until February 24th for a evening practice.
Sidney Crosby, Marc Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar will likely all still be particiipating in the Olympics, when the other players are due to first report back.

On The Penguins

A popular discussion of late is what do the Penguins need more; A top-6 winger or a top-4 defenseman? You can make an argument one way or another but the reality of the situation is that they need to upgrade at both positions. However, with so many teams still in the playoff mix, finding a top-4 defenseman is difficult and adding a winger remains the most likely option.
At this point, all serious trade talks have been in on a winger not a defenseman as some of Pittsburgh’s “D” targets have yet to be made available.
Sidney Crosby’s line is solidfied going into the trade deadline for one of the first times in Crosby’s career. Would the Penguins like a more dynamic winger on Crosby’s wing, absolutely but the team believes Chris Kunitz brings a lot more to the table than what others believe. Sooner or later, he’s going to need to put the puck in the net at a more consistent basis or he’ll become a serious cap problem but this is the hand the Penguins have been dealt with.

Veteran Bill Guerin is a good fit on Crosby’s wing, providing size and the ability to put the puck in the net. A concern by some in the organization is Guerin taking a step back down the stretch like we’ve seen from previous upper 30’s veterans (Recchi, Roberts) but the Penguins are very comfortable with Guerin, Kunitz as Crosby’s wingers.
Therefore, their focus is finding a winger for Evgeni Malkin. The organization has not come around to the idea of using Jordan Staal/Evgeni Malkin together in a more of permanent role, which forces Pittsburgh to bring in a winger at the trade deadline. Due to cap problems, it’s harder said than done.
The team had high hopes for Ruslan Fedotenko being that 20-25 goal winger for Malkin but that hasn’t panned out. What Pittsburgh can’t do is a take a risk, not make an upgrade, and bank on Fedotenko being the player he was last spring. Last year going into the playoffs, Fedotenko was playing his best hockey of his career. This season he’s been the Penguins most under-achieving forward who has a team worst minus-13 rating.
What the Penguins are looking for is a front presence winger which is why their focus has been on Raffi Torres.

Notes/Observations

*Members of the organization I talk too have been highly disappointed in Jay McKee. Most importantly, his inability to clear the front of the net.
Some argue that he’s only making $800,000 and should be given the benefit of the doubt but he’s truly a $4 million a year defenseman due to his previous deal with the St. Louis Blues, before being boughtout last June.
The Penguins didn’t expect him to fill the role of Rob Scuderi completely but in the off-season there was a lot of talk that the Penguins top “6” had the ability to be better than the top-6 from last year that helped deliver a championship.
*A stat that jumps out is Craig Adams being a minus-7. Members of the 4th line are not required to score goals but be responisible in the defensive zone.
*Sidney Crosby (39 goals -35 assists) is one goal away from reaching the 40 goal plateau for the first time in his career. Crosby’s remains very much in the mix for the league lead in goals (39, 3 behind Ovechkin, 42) but Alex Ovechkin is running away with the points lead as he has a 12 point lead over Crosby (74 points).
Crosby does not have enough goal scorers around him to catch Ovechkin and most notably, the Penguins struggles on the power play will likely keep Crosby from making a serious run.
Ovechkin is on his way to a third straight M.V.P trophy. He leads the league in goals, points and plus/minus.

Will the Capitals break the Penguins record?

The Washington Capitals are three wins away from tying the (1992-1993) Pittsburgh Penguins NHL record for 17 straight wins. To break the record, Washington will have to win their next four games on the road.
Regular season champions doesn’t mean anything, just ask the San Jose Sharks but the Capitals appear to have learned how to handle success, which will go a long way for them in the playoffs.
The free agent signing of Mike Knuble may be the most under-rated signing of the summer. Knuble has provided a calming presence in the Capitals locker room and has made Alexander Ovechkin even more dangerous due to his ability to win battles in the corners and provide a net presence.
Ovechkin hasn’t had that power forward type of player on his line in the past. Knuble has 21 goals – 18 assists – 39 points on the season, including a plus/minus rating of +22. Knuble signed a two year deal worth $5.6 million.
In free agency, Pittsburgh expressed significant interest but never made an offer as Knuble signed early and Pittsburgh was minotoring Rob Scuderi and didn’t want to close the door on Ruslan Fedotenko.

Penguins re-assign Mark Letestu

The Pittsburgh Penguins re-assigned forward Mark Letestu to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, the team announced this morning.
Letestu recorded his first career NHL goal (and point) in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 victory over Buffalo Feb. 1. Letestu, who made his NHL debut Nov. 14 against Boston, has appeared in seven games this season for Pittsburgh.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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