Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Observations from Penguins camp

Sidney Crosby skates during the first day of NHL hockey training camp, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in Pittsburgh. | Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

I was at Penguins training camp for 90 minutes. I absorbed enough to write a great column. Or this one. Refreshing hockey notes in 3, 2, 1…

*Kris Letang will benefit from the coaching change more than any Penguin. Breakout intricacies leading to a 70-foot stretch pass followed by a tip-dump wasted Letang’s skating and skill. New bench boss Mike Johnston will mostly get out of Letang’s way. You can be systematic without suffocating.
*“You can’t pay Letang $7.25 million if he’s not on the power play!” Johnston will put an end to that Yinzer whine by using Letang on the power play. Simple.
*Not crazy about seeing Sidney Crosby centering Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz during camp’s early days. Dupuis and Kunitz are the only top-six forwards that legit play left wing. Who plays on Evgeni Malkin’s left side? No logical choice.
*After five straight playoff disappointments despite talent good enough to do much better, there’s no upside to maintaining anyone’s comfort zone.
*Patric Hornqvist could be a solid right wing for Malkin. He consistently drives to the net, which will open up ice for Malkin. But will Malkin see it that way?
*The notion that Malkin shot less because James Neal was on his wing is silly. When Neal scored 40 goals in 2011-12, Malkin netted 50. Malkin averaged 4.5 shots per game in ’11-12, just 3.18 shots last season. But that’s on Malkin.
*Johnston talks about Brandon Sutter, Beau Bennett and Steve Downie as the third line. But Bennett and Downie are both right wings. The previous coaches believed that any wing could skate on either side. They were wrong.
*Any player will say he can do any job, or play any position. That’s an athlete’s nature. Jarome Iginla said he could play left wing. He was wrong.
*“We played a lot like robots last year.” Bennett’s quote, however unintentionally, was a scathing indictment of Dan Byslma’s coaching regime. Talent doesn’t paint by numbers. Hockey is a liquid game. Not freelance, but free-flow.
*After last season, a below-the-line Penguin told me that he didn’t always jump in when a star got hassled because an extra minor, no matter how righteous, often got you scratched or benched. I’m told that won’t be a problem this season. Before the new year is for establishing. After the new year is for preparation. The playoffs are for peaking. The new coaching staff has the proper priorities.
*In other words, Crosby doesn’t figure to get punched in the head as much.
*The Penguins should terrorize opposition standouts the same way Crosby and Malkin are targeted. Get your revenge first occasionally. Enter Downie.
*Daniel Carcillo should make the Penguins, if only to keep Downie from feeling lonely. When it comes to situation disturbers, two’s company.
*Toughness on defense may be the Penguins’ biggest tangible weakness. Robert Bortuzzo has to get a regular shift. Who else is going to clear the crease?
*One of the hokiest things Bylsma did was tout Simon Despres as a top-four defenseman following elimination by Boston in 2012, then never give him that opportunity. Despres won’t be as good as Paul Martin. But he could be an affordable version. If so, Martin gets traded for a needed top-six wing.
*Rob Scuderi says the ankle he broke last season is 100 per cent. It had better be, for his sake and the Penguins’.
*Marc-Andre Fleury will make GM Jim Rutherford regret not extending his contract. If Fleury plays well, he’d be a fool to not hit free agency and maximize his money. If Fleury leaves, whoever replaces him as the Penguins’ No. 1 goaltender won’t be as good. Bet that.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

No comments: