By Mark Madden The other night, a Penguins player opined to me that Paul Martin would be a more than ample replacement for Sergei Gonchar, and might even be Gonchar’s equal on the power play. That’s quite a statement, but it could well be true. Gonchar was the decade’s best power-play quarterback, no doubt. But the decade’s over. Gonchar made a rash of old-man mistakes down the stretch run, and he’s never been worse than Game 7 against Montreal. Gonchar’s best bet was adrenaline via a change of scenery. The Penguins’ best bet was an upgrade. That’s what Martin is, an upgrade. Immeasurably better defensively, very solid when it comes to puck possession and distribution. Seven years younger. Gonchar is more accomplished than Martin on the man-advantage, but if the switch means Crosby or Malkin becomes the PP’s fulcrum, maybe that’s for the better.
Don’t assume that Mike Comrie was signed to play wing alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It could happen, but Comrie is also a strong possibility to center the third line. Other moves being considered are: *Malkin and Jordan Staal will play together, but Malkin will be the one moving to wing, specifically right wing. Matt Cooke may round out that line, the better to maximize possession down low and create space for Malkin. Malkin operates well out of scrambles. *Eric Tangradi is being mooted as a third-liner at the start of his NHL career. I believe that would be a mistake. Yeah, it worked with Jaromir Jagr. But it didn’t work with Aleksey Morozov. Morozov spent so much time playing on the third and fourth lines, he ultimately became a third- or fourth-liner. His style morphed, and not for the better. Talent-wise, Tangradi is a lot closer toRead More »
By Mark Madden Now that the dust has settled on free agency, what did the Penguins really do this off-season? The Penguins are going to be harder to play against. That means an awful lot. Some Penguins spent much of last season in a haze of Stanley Cup complacency. The loss of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi left the Pens without a true shutdown defenseman. Marc-Andre Fleury had an off-year. So did Evgeni Malkin, at least by his lofty standards. Even though Sidney Crosby amazingly and dramatically improved in three different categories (goal-scoring, face-offs, shootouts), the Penguins just weren’t a difficult opponent. You wouldn’t get bruised, aggravated or exhausted most nights.
Eight Penguins players will be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Most will do the club a favor by departing. It’s tough to imagine any circumstance where the Penguins keep Ruslan Fedotenko or Alexei Ponikarovsky. Jordan Leopold or Jay McKee might be retained at minimal cost, but probably not. That leaves four players subject to debate. *The Penguins will not be able to afford Matt Cooke. They should have signed Cooke when they could have, but now they can’t. He’ll get a year more than the Pens offer and at least a half-mil more per year than the Pens offer. You can’t pay a third-line wing what Cooke will get, especially when you need first- and second-line wings. GM Ray Shero replaced Jarkko Ruutu with Cooke. Now he’ll replace Cooke with somebody else. No big deal. *I can’t picture a scenario where Mark Eaton doesn’t return. He’s a good fitRead More »
By MARK MADDEN The Penguins could have won every game of the ongoing Montreal series, though it would have been stopped after four. They’ve enjoyed a shot edge and a territorial edge. Yet the Canadiens have survived, forcing Game 7. The Canadiens are opportunistic. Don’t confuse that with lucky (though some element of good fortune is involved; consider the Penguins hitting three goalposts in Game 6). Nearly every time the Canadiens get a good chance, they capitalize. The Penguins could negate some of these chances, but haven’t. Witness Game 6: *Kris Letang loses control of the puck, then falls down. One pass later, the puck is on the stick of Mike Cammalleri, the series’ hottest shooter. 1-0, Montreal. *Tomas Plekanec drives the net, Max Talbot loses Cammalleri, Cammalleri converts a great backhand. 2-2. *Jaroslav Spacek, finally recovered from his hysterectomy, scores through a screen. 3-2, Montreal. *Alex Goligoski and JordanRead More »
By MARK MADDEN Some questions were answered last night at Montreal’s Bell Centre. Marc-Andre Fleury answered yours. Evgeni Malkin answered mine. Fleury, the subject of undue fan criticism despite winning eight of his last nine playoff series, made playing awesome look easy. He made a terrific save on the Mike Cammalleri one-timer, and on the Tomas Plekanec re-direct (Sergei Gonchar’s man both times; not hatin’, just sayin’). Calm, agility, anticipation, the big save at the big moment…that’s why Fleury is THAT guy. Malkin, meanwhile, was rotten until he scored, inspired after. But the result is what counts. I don’t care WHY Malkin gets started. I’m just happy he GOT started. One-time, nice placement, no chance, nothing but net. After that, Malkin played great. Fleury got a bit lucky. Maxim Lapierre hit the crossbar. Cammalleri missed a breakaway. But Fleury’s third-period stops on Cammalleri and Plekanec were big-league. The most disturbingRead More »
By Mark Madden I pride myself in being able to work up a good, unhealthy pessimism regarding any situation. But that’s tough to do when it comes to the Pens-Sens playoff series. Ottawa lost too much secondary scoring when Alex Kovalev got hurt, and they’re playing the wrong goalie. Brian Elliott had a better year, but Pascal Leclaire is better. The Senators acquired him to be their No. 1, but lost faith too quick. Imagine the Penguins sticking with Ty Conklin in the 2008 playoffs. So, Penguins in 7. I would say 6, even 5, but this team seems determined to do things the hard way. Evgeni Malkin is the story. If Ottawa’s shutdown defense pair of Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips controls Sidney Crosby, Malkin will have to shoulder a bigger burden. He’s certainly capable, but the Senators are a frustrating team to play against, and Malkin has provenRead More »
In one way, Bill Guerin’s back spasms came at an opportune time for Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma: He hasn’t yet had to make a tough choice regarding which forward to scratch when all are healthy. But he will. So, what do you do with Max Talbot? Talbot has just one goal in 32 games. Just four assists. He’s minus-3. Whether it’s because of injury or rust, Talbot clearly isn’t the same player and shows very few signs of returning to last year’s form. He’ll never skate with Evgeni Malkin again, at least not this season; that’s going to be Alexei Ponikarovsky and Ruslan Fedotenko, with the latter playing well now that March has arrived. It’s hard to bench Craig Adams – right-handed face-off guy, good PK. It’s hard to sit Mike Rupp – a legitimate physical presence, versatile and having a career year statistically. Speaking of career years, how doRead More »
By MARK MADDEN The NHL never sees the big picture. That’s why it will never escape its niche. The Olympics had a storybook ending. The face of hockey scores in overtime to defeat a determined American team. It was win-win, although it probably doesn’t feel that way to Brooks Orpik. Two days later, Pittsburgh hosts Buffalo. The face of hockey takes on the goalie he beat for Olympics gold. Sidney Crosby vs. Ryan Miller. It’s the perfect storm, a reenactment on the NHL level. The NHL couldn’t have planned it better, which is how you know the NHL didn’t plan it. Inexplicably, the game isn’t on national TV. Versus is going with Philadelphia at Tampa Bay. Still more inexplicably, Miller won’t start in goal for Buffalo. The game won’t even grab the lead on SportsCenter. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman needed to make two things happen: He needed to make VersusRead More »