Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Just when I thought...

That Ottawa was exemplifying maximum silliness, they signed Brad Isbister, further signifying, on all fronts, that its all over as true contenders for the foreseeable future. 

Other teams have problems such as "Can Lombardi hang onto the #2 C position?", but not Ottawa. Sometimes, the sense that the clock is ticking on your "window" comes from fans or the local media, but at some point it comes from your teammates and management. I wouldn't call what Bryan Murray does "management", but, as in earlier posts, I wonder if the players themselves are under the impression that commitment to winning (with the best of intentions) are sinking to the bottom of the East wearing Murray's cement shoes. Also, their playoff production involving a lardy pseudo-Roman soldier. 

My Penguins are preparing to once again give every team they face this season a lot of trouble. I want to look at, in this installment, something which I feel will be a strength unusually attributed to Pittsburgh: Penalty killing. 

Fleury obviously is going to be as solid as any starter not playing for NJ this year. I don't care if Canadians will always remember MAF for his shortcomings in the WJC back in the day, the fact of the matter is Pittsburgh has a top-five netminder for the first time since the early 1990s (Before Barrasso could be counted on to pimp his .759 save %). Pierre McGuire can tell you, your best PK has to be in net. 

What is different is that the PK units were extremely effective last season, and with the omissions of Malone and Hossa, look to be improved going forward. I'm not worried about Hossa, basically, because I think the ice time he ate will be taken by one Evgeni Malkin, who's shown himself to be a force shorthanded. Sure, that was international competition, but when are the stakes higher or the teams you face more complete? 

Ryan Malone, on the other hand, as a winger, can be compensated for by a new Penguin, Matt Cooke. Matt Cooke is an outstanding PK forward, both in terms of positioning and tenacity. 

Speaking of tenacity, we have the pair I'm most confident of, Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot. Dupuis has been a 30-goal man in the past, and while he possesses lips like a lemur, also is extremely fast... and he knows how to use it. Max is Max, a man who should be wearing an A, a man who should be used to check primary or secondary scoring threats. Max is hungry, watching video of top face off men, plenty in the bank to pay the price near the net, and a fan favorite. 

That leaves Jordan Staal, who will probably be playing wing on the #2 line, a somewhat enigmatic figure given his ridiculous performances shorthanded as a rookie. The overall theme with Pittsburgh's PK forwards is the constant presence of shorthanded danger. J Staal plays blueline-to-blueline hockey, and while somewhat mercurial, doesn't have any problem crashing the net. 

I don't expect to see too much Sid on the PK. He'll see plenty of minutes, but I don't think Therrien wants Sid blocking shots and wearing himself down. Sid isn't terribly good at face offs (No Penguin is), so there won't be any draw-dump-changing going on either. That leaves secondary wings to fill that 3rd unit role, the Kennedys and the possibly Stone/Taffe types. 

I'm not aware of any special abilities any of our recent signings' PK abilities aside from Cooke. Pesonen... nobody knows nothin. I think Satan would love him some shorthanded breakaways, but I think he'd be more of a liability. Fedotenko should stick to jumping over the boards and only worrying about 2 things: staying onsides, and staying in the goalie's sightline. That is really all I want from him. He's got a pretty good shot, but I want to see him shelfing rebounds. 

Face offs remain the glaring inconsistency. This is what happens when your centres are 20, 21, 22, and 25. While I wish we would have signed Yannick Perreault to win draws when it matters, especially since PKs start in your zone 100% of the time this season, I'm comfortable with our guys learning themselves. 

The D? The D is the same line up that annihilated the Eastern conference, plus a healthy Mark Eaton. Whitney is out until roughly some team signs Sundin. That's OK. Assuming Andre Savard actually has responsibilities, this gives him a nice NHL look at Goligoski and Kris Letang on the PP. I feel that one of the two is going to be traded, by the way, and it may be Letang since he's a much more sought-after righty... it depends on the plans of one Carl Sneep, the 6-4 200 R prospect from 06, playing at BC this season. 

Darryl Sydor continues to be dangled in trademonger circles, although I'm sure he'll only be deasirable as a means to reach the cap floor. Return? Minimal. 

There is a bit of everything on this seasons' defensive menu. Hal Gill continues to be a light-armor cruiser. Gonch is the same steady scoring threat he's always been, and is coming off a season where denying him Norris candidacy was shocking. Brooks Orpik, on the other hand, is a blunt instrument who seemed really determined to smash forwards into the dasher. 

Eaton and Scuderi, they are the kind of defenders who don't make the spectacular happen, and I don't think you'll see anyone wearing their jersey at the Igloo. The things they do, however, effect the outcome of a hockey game in a big way. Shot-blocking is paramount to PKing, and these guys are outstanding. Scuderi is a typical, hard-working positional stay at home, while Eaton has a bit more intelligence is his arsenal in terms of getting the puck up-ice. Even with Whitney out, we have the capabilities of matching Gill, Scuds, and Orps with complimentary partners in Letang, Sydor, and Gonchar. 

Goligoski? I think many tmes this season we'll be going the 7 D-man route, because having an additional offensive threat from the blueline is preferrable to yet another Chris Minard-Connor James type. At least I hope so, because to ice a line featuring Eric Godard for anything other than attempting to break someone's orbital bone isn't going to get us closer to 2 points. I want to see Goligoski when we're leading a game and on the PP. How he does will determine how long we have 9 NHL-calibur defenders. 

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