SYSTEMATIC; AUTOMATIC

 

By MARK MADDEN Penguins coaches are reportedly considering a move of Mark Letestu to wing once Jordan Staal returns, the idea apparently being that Letestu could thus keep a spot on one of the top two lines if his current production continues. It’s a leap of faith betting Letestu can continue his scoring pace – this is a 25-year-old undrafted rookie – but there’s no denying he’s playing well. But even if Letestu does keep averaging a point per game, keep him at center. Penguins coaches believe the forward positions are interchangeable. For some, that’s true. For Letestu, it’s not. Letestu is a very systematic player, a coach on the rink. His best qualities naturally shine brightest at the most systematic position on the rink. That position is center. Move Letestu to wing, you play away from his strengths. That’s the last thing an unheralded player who’s suddenly making unexpectedRead More »

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.Read More »

BLAME WHERE IT SHOULD BE PLACED

 

By Mark Madden Yeah, Marc-Andre Fleury let in a terrible goal. But you won’t win much averaging two goals per game. The guys making $8.7m apiece have a goal and assist between them. Fleury’s numbers are better than Sid’s and Geno’s. No idea why Crosby and Malkin have struggled to produce. They’re getting shots, though they’re passing up quite a few, too (especially Malkin). Maybe they need to work down low more. It won’t be long before the citizens start jabbering, “You gotta get these guys wings.” Do you want scoring titles, or Stanley Cups? Furthermore, if those two ever get a grip on the power play, they’ll win every scoring title. The Pens’ top wings could be Long John Silver and Stephen Hawking, and it wouldn’t matter. Production on the PP stands between Sid, Geno and Art Ross.

ONE OF 82

 

By Mark Madden It definitely sucks losing to Philadelphia in the first game at Consol Energy Center. But it’s merely one of 82, and the Penguins played well enough to win. They just couldn’t score, especially not early when they could have blown the game wide open. Who figured Sid and Geno would go pointless? Who figured Letang and Martin would morph into Laurel and Hardy? Who figured Sergei Bobrovsky would be the new Tretiak, at least for a night? Don’t anoint Bobrovsky just yet. Great going pad to post, but he left a lot of net open up top. Bobrovsky will need to win 6-5 next time. If Martin hits the empty net early, it’s a different game. The Flyers were typically opportunistic: 2 PPGs, one shortie. They’re not bad, but the Pens shouldn’t be worried. If any Flyers fans are wallowing in triumph, well…when you only get smallRead More »

DEMOTE DESPRES

 

By Mark Madden The most intriguing battle for a position on the Penguins’ roster is for the final defensive spot – the No. 6 defenseman. The best choice, right now, is Simon Despres, the Pens’ first-round draft pick in 2009. Of those competing for the job, he’s the only one who has put together an impressive camp. All others have disappointed. But it’s not an easy decision. Despres still has Jr. ‘A’ eligibility. He can’t go to the American Hockey League, so it’s NHL or bust for the 6-foot-4, 205 pounder. If Despres plays 10 or more NHL games, a year of his contract gets burned. The Penguins need Despres to be a dominant defenseman in the long run. What currently serves as a better means to that end: Skating 8-10 minutes as a No. 6 at the NHL level, or getting lots of minutes, and in every conceivable situation,Read More »

LET THE BIG DOG EAT

 

By Mark Madden When NHL teams pick their final rosters, factors besides talent count. Fit. Two-way contracts. Waiver eligibility. The cap. For young players, the picture gets even blurrier. Intangibles are considered. What benefits the player most in the long run?

SHORT, BUT NOT ON ACUMEN

 

By Mark Madden As I interviewed Brett Sterling after the Penguins’ exhibition win over Detroit, I thought, “This guy’s not so short. I’m only a little bit taller.” Then I realized he was on skates, and I was sitting. Vaudeville aside, I wrote Sterling off even after he scored twice in a training camp scrimmage. Too small at 5-7. Career busher. Now, after his showing (and goal) vs. Detroit, I’m not so sure. Sterling knows how to score. I’m not referencing the 55 goals he tallied in one American Hockey League season, or anything he’s netted so far this preseason. But watch him. Sterling is always in the right place, his body and stick square to the potential pass, ready to adjust, ready for second chances. He’s a bit reminiscent of Robbie Brown. Not nearly the hockey IQ, but Sterling has the scoring basics. Sterling isn’t afraid to go theRead More »

SHERO A MUST-SIGN

 

The signing of GM Ray Shero to a five-year contract extension is as important as any deal the Penguins have negotiated since Shero joined the franchise in 2006. He would have had no shortage of suitors had free agency ever beckoned. The Penguins’ priorities, roster composition, contract lengths, knowing when the team is close, what’s needed to get there…it’s all Shero’s vision. I believe it’s the right vision. To deter from that vision for any reason would require losing a year or two to overhaul. The Penguins should use that year or two to win championships. Furthermore, the Pens’ stars seem to have faith in Shero. Me, too. I know hockey. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, I can nail you to the wall, be right every step of the way, and make you suffer, then suffer some more. Shero knows what he’s doing. I don’t mean toRead More »

THE INTANGIBLES OF MARC-ANDRE FLEURY

 

By Mark Madden I generally deal in tangibles. For example, I know the Penguins defense is much better. I know the Penguins’ youthful core (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, etc.) isn’t nearly done improving. I know Comrie and Asham will slot in favorably. Certain truisms apply. But Marc-Andre Fleury makes me dip into the intangible. For the Penguins to get back to the Stanley Cup final, Fleury needs to play better. He needs to elevate his goalkeeping. Here’s where it gets intangible: Fleury’s goals-against average last season was 2.65, 2.67 the campaign before. His save percentage last year was .905, .912 the year before. Hardly precipitous changes. Fleury’s numbers were 2.33 and .921 in 2007-08, but injuries curtailed his appearances to just 35 games that regular season. The numbers say Fleury played about as well in 2009-10 as in 2008-09, the Penguins’ Stanley Cup season. But my eyes said otherwise.