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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

5 Scary Things About the Pittsburgh Penguins by @ChicksDigHockey

Halloween is a time for dressing up and being scared by goblins and ghouls. It's also a time for revealing what makes our spines tingle and our flesh crawl. Here are 5 things that have me on edge about the Pens:

  Deryk Engelland is playing wing because the Pens need toughness at wing. That’s like saying I really want ketchup on my hot dog but we don’t have any so I’ll add red food coloring to mayonnaise. When asked in a recent interview what he'd like to do Engelland replied, “I still would rather be a D-man, but whatever they need is good. It adds to my game, another position I can play. In the long run if that’s what they need, I’m willing to do that.” Dustin Byfuglien was able to make the transition with Atlanta but Engelland is no Byfuglien.

Dan Bylsma loves that “I’ll try anything” kind of attitude in a player. Bylsma and Engo have been together since they were both with WBS Penguins. It’s clear the coach admires Engelland’s toughness and work ethic but you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (or something like that). I think Coach Bylsma sees the best in his players and tries to bring that out to a fault. I felt like he did that with Tyler Kennedy and would have continued had TK not been traded. What really scared me during the Toronto game was, when Scuderi left with an injury and someone actually said, “That’s why Engelland at wing is a good idea.”


          The multiple personalities of Geno.  Evgeni malkin both intrigues and scares me. He has such a great sense of what’s happening on the ice at any given time. When he’s all in you can tell by the way he handles the puck; He’s fluid.  He uses that big body to get between the puck and the defender as he deftly navigates behind the net. When he’s not all in, for whatever reason, he makes sloppy turn overs in the offensive zone and takes stupid penalties; hooking seems to be a favorite. On one hand he has 10 points in 12 games while on the other hand he is tied with Tanner Glass for most PIM. This season he has discovered that he can win face-offs. He has such talent but there are times when it feels like his mood over-shadows it.

      Maklin seems generous to a fault, often passing the puck when taking a shot himself may have been better. Since Neal’s injury, he seems to work well with Jussi Jokinen and Jokinen seems to compliment Geno’s style. It’s apparent that he plays his best game when he has chemistry with his winger. Malkin and James Neal, however, have what could be described as one of the best bromances in hockey…ever. Their off season tweets were captivating as each accused the other of being lazy but always with lots of affection : )))))) A healthy line of Neal, Jokinen and Malkin promises to be exciting and if past experiences count for anything, will elevate Geno’s game to a scary level worthy of his salary.
3.       The Power Play.  At this writing, in 12 games, the Pens have had 43 power play opportunities and only converted on 8. At the beginning of the season, it looked as though the Pens had worked out their past season’s power play difficulties. As injuries have taken their toll, the PP has sunk into a quagmire of suckage.
The injury plagued five man units need to work on confidence in their roles and trust in their team mates. Other teams have more movement in their power play but there are times when the Pens’ PP looks like they’re practicing passing drills. Their predictability is easily read by the opposing goalie and even the most basic PK set up seems able to foil them. They get set in their positions then.….passing…passing…more passing….then, the defenseman at the point fires a one-timer and the man in front of the net hopes for a rebound.

 I don’t have the answer to what will put the PP back on track. It’s great that Letang is back but the price for his return was at least 4 weeks without Rob Scuderi. It scares me that for as much as the players on the top unit have played together (minus Neal) that they don’t have chemistry or a better handle on what it takes to get the puck in the net when the other team is short-handed.

4.       James Neal’s injury. Neal’s absence is felt everywhere. Geno misses him, the power play misses him and the team as a whole, except the PK and Sid’s line, is feeling his loss. The injuries to Neal and Bennett have derailed a promising start by the 3rd line, which had included Kobasew and Bennett as the wingers for center Brandon Sutter. The 4th line, in turn, is a jumble of who’s left on the bench.  Nealer’s absence is messing with the Pen’s feng shui, if you will.
      Neal has been out since his injury Oct. 3rd and has been off the ice since. He will need to be released to skate and then get up to speed; we’re talking deep into November. Until then, the Pens are missing their sniper and Geno is missing a winger he seems to love more than Borscht.  It’s scary to think Nealer may be out long enough for rink rust to set in.
5.      Olli Maatta is scary good. He’s 19 and plays with the composure of someone with 10 years more experience. The Pens cautiously gambled on him and so far, so good. If the question surrounding him was ”How much will a season with The London Knights under the Hunter brother’s tutelage benefit Maatta?” the answer seemed to be “not much”.

      On a roster with a wealth of defense and more in the pipeline, Maatta’s youth and lack of professional experience has never been a criticism. He plays with poise and an understanding of his role on the ice. The beauty of all of this is the opportunity to mold him into a great defenseman while he plays alongside Letang, Scuderi, Orpik and Martin. How scary is it that he could become a hybrid of all four?

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