By Brian Metzer
Much of my game night focus has been to the Beaver County Times over the past week, so a Penguins’ notebook is in order to cover much of what has been happening with the team as of late. It gives me a chance to weigh in on many of the thoughts and observations that I have had, while at the same time giving you some pertinent info! Let the brain download begin!
So without delay, here we go…
- A two-game slide against the Devils this past weekend aside, the Penguins have won seven of 10 and are looking like they could be major contenders in the Eastern Conference. The losses to New Jersey were frustrating for all involved, but that is something that tends to happen on a yearly basis against that team. It is also worth noting that the Penguins tend to have their share of successes against the Devils as well, such as the 5-1 victory they registered back on Feb. 2.
- Speaking of the Devils, David Clarkson has blossomed into a pretty tremendous player for them. He serves as a nice bit of thunder to Ilya Kovalchuk’s lightning. The big power forward now has 15-points (nine goals) in 13 games for the Devils. He is a force in front of the net, scoring many of his goals from about three feet or closer. He isn’t afraid to drop the mitts and has developed into a great leader. His breakout performance has some talking about him playing on the Canadian Olympic team.
- The Penguins finally traded Eric Tangradi. Anyone who has followed this blog, my twitter or facebook feed knows that I have been clamoring for this move for quite some time. He just wasn’t a fit here. The Dan Bylsma system calls for skating and a lot of it. Tangradi, albeit a great kid off the ice, wasn’t a terribly good skater. That worked against him from his earliest days in Pittsburgh. While skating with Malkin/Neal, there were times where he hadn’t penetrated the offensive zone yet and the play was already heading back the other direction. Hopefully he’ll find a home in Winnipeg, but even Ray Shero doesn’t believe that he is a top six player in the National Hockey League. The Penguins’ general manager mentioned his hope that Tangradi would find a role “in some team’s bottom six.”
- Matt Cooke was a lightning rod for praise and criticism during the Penguins’ 4-2 victory over the Senators Wednesday night. First up, he was the latest to take a turn skating with the Malkin/Neal line and was probably the most effective to this point. He picked up the first point by anyone in that role this season and played a strong, physical game. Unfortunately that physical play resulted in his skate accidentally coming up and lacerating the Achilles tendon of uber stud defenseman Erik Karlsson. The former Norris Trophy winner is expected to miss upwards of 4 to 6 months with the injury. Many north of the border felt that the play was intentional, I can’t agree with that. The biggest mistake Cooke made in that situation was allowing his skate to come off of the ice, but I can’t see much intent in the video, other than the intent to finish a check. The entire situation is unfortunate, as we are all robbed of one of the finest talents in the league, but there will be no discipline in the situation. The league ruled today that it was an accident and that there will be no hearing/discipline for Cooke.
- Speaking of the Malkin/Neal line, it looks like they just might be getting an infusion of skill in the near future. Though Ray Shero was very coy about the fact that Beau Bennett was in the house at the CONSOL Energy Center last night, the youngster was officially called up by the Penguins today. Bennett is still a bit raw and the Penguins do not want to rush him, but he gives the line-up an infusion of talent that just wasn’t there with Zach Boychuk, Tanner Glass, Tyler Kennedy, Dustin Jeffrey, Tangradi, or Cooke. The move also gives coach Dan Bylsma some options as he can shuffle Chris Kunitz back to the Malkin line if he’d like. Bennett strikes me as a player who could skate with either Crosby or Malkin, which would give the team another top six swing man a la Kunitz.
- Many fans were clamoring for Jeffrey to get a look with the Malkin line. Sure he has shown flashes of skill, but his game doesn’t have enough offensive consistency in it to warrant skating with those skill players. He is a valuable commodity, but one that will likely be skating for another organization before it’s all said and done.
- James Neal is doing his best Ozzy Osbourne impression and is “Flying High Again.” After scoring two more times Wednesday night, he now has 10 goals on the season to go with three assists. Neal is deadly from the top or between the circles and has an uncanny knack for getting open there. The good news is that Sidney Crosby has started to find him in those areas on the power play, which has helped Neal to the league’s lead in PP tallies with six. He led the league with 18 pp goals last year.
- In case you didn’t realize it, the Penguins were able to send Dylan Reese back to the farm without passing him through waivers. That situation came into play because he was brought up on emergency recall. Players who are on emergency recall can play up to 10 games without having to go through waivers on the way back down.
- In case it has been lost on you, Crosby has been on fire as of late and now sits just three points behind Thomas Vanek and the league’s scoring lead. He has notched 15 points in his last nine games. It is worth noting that he was actually held scoreless twice over that span, on the second and third games that that has happened this season. The Penguins’ captain is averaging close to two shots per game and has actually been the victim of a couple glimmering saves as of late. He’s going to give Vanek a run sooner, rather than later.
- Zach Boychuk might find himself back on the waiver wire, as he has seen his minutes fall from upwards of 12 when he arrived in Pittsburgh, to a low of 9:24 on Wednesday night. He has done some good things out there, but the bottom line for a guy who has gotten the opportunity to skate with a couple of studs like 71/18 is that you’re going to be judged on offensive performance – which he has had little to none of. He actually has just six shots on goal over his eight games with the Penguins.
Overall, the last week has been pretty good to the Penguins, as they find themselves sitting just one point behind the division/conference leading Devils. The two teams do not meet again until April, so the footrace will be waged by playing other Eastern Conference foes. I am already getting anxious for that trip into the Rock for the second to last game of the season, as it just might determine the top seed.
Stay tuned for more soon…