Monday, January 21, 2008

Pre-game Washington thoughts

JP says Malkin hasn’t established himself as a center, citing mainly his very low faceoff percentage this year. Not that big of a deal to us; the biggest factors in improvement are experience and strength, two things that will come with time. We think Malkin’s improvement will continue. The style he likes to play; that of carrying the puck through the zone, dishing it to teammates and wheeling around a lot makes him a natural center. That he is defensively responsible and backchecks well as the deep forward in his own zone continues that.

Also JP takes a swipe at Malkin’s post-season performance. His pure stats weren’t bad (0g, 4a in 5 games) and the most games he had ever played in a season was 57 in the RSL; which doesn’t much compare to 83 in the NHL that he did last season. It will be interesting to see how JP’s boy Nicklas Backstrom handles the rest of the season, as he’s basically in the same uncharted waters and now is the #1 center due to Michael Nylander’s injury.

The Penguins calling up 3 players is significant. Our guess is the majority of the 3 banged up forwards (if not all of them) will miss this game. Losing Colby Armstrong, Adam Hall and Tyler Kennedy hurts, all play important roles. Hall is one of the top penalty killers.

But we are excited to see Chris Minard. At 26 he’s no spring chicken and hasn’t appeared in a NHL game yet. But he’s been productive this season in Wilkes-Barre and after a little slump after an opening night hat trick has become one of the team’s best offensive weapons. Minard’s a goal scorer and said to be willing to go into high traffic areas. We wouldn’t mind giving him a brief audition in a situation setup to give him success with other skilled players.

Also Tim Brent and especially Jonathan Filewich are prospects that have impressed before and diehard fans have long been awaiting seeing them in Pittsburgh. Tonight could be the chance.

Speaking of chances, huge game for Dany Sabourin. After the impressive shutout of Montreal the other night the pressure is back on him to stick in the starting lineup. A poor performance could end him back on the bench in favor of the Conkmania. And with Marc-Andre Fleury a couple of weeks from returning, who knows how many chances Sabs will have to prove that he shouldn’t be waived when there are 3 healthy goalies around (more on this later).

As always when you play the Caps you have to account for Alex Ovechkin. Sergei Gonchar has done pretty well so far shadowing AO, expect that to continue tonight. The real matchup could be trying to limit the Caps 2nd line, Alex Semin is finally over his high ankle sprain and producing points again and Tomas Fleischmann is playing the best hockey of his NHL career so far.

It will be interesting to see how this shorthanded and mish-mashed lineup the Pens throw out there responds. We fully expect the best out of Malkin, and hopefully Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora can carry their end of the bargain tonight. That, plus limiting Ovechkin, stopping Semin and staying out of the box as much as possible are the keys to the game. If the Pens do that, they’ll probably win. If not, the streak of games over the Caps will end at 6.



1) Sure, we do a blog piece on Conklin and wham, Sabourin starts consecutive games for the first time in a month! LOL
2) We agree that the Crosby injury will do a lot to possibly bring out players who may have been in his shadow, and force others to take a more active role in scoring.
3) So in the end it may help the pens to be a better team going into the stretch run. Much like the injury to M-A Fleury helped the franchise 'discover' Ty.

JP said...

I couldn't agree more regarding Backstrom (and wrote as much the other day).

As for Geno, I agree with Faux that this is a great opportunity for him to come out of the shadow and prove that he can be a #1 center. I think that in an ideal world (for the Pens, that is), he does so, the Pens add a sniper for Sid's wing, and they roll into the playoffs with two devastating lines rather than the "all your eggs in one basket" approach that they sometimes find themselves in with 87 and 71 on the same line (granted, that's a damn nice basket, but still...).

Hooks Orpik said...

You guys are right, this is definitely an opportunity for others. I'm glad this kind of forces a coach who, mystfyingly, uses Petr Sykora on an even-strength line with players like Ruutu more than Crosby and Malkin.

Geno and Sykora played together in Russia during the lockout and hopefully can build upon that rapport.

And I agree with you JP, while I do like to see Malkin and Crosby play together a little more than just on the PP, keeping them together exclusively (as they had been recently) is a little bit of overkill since both are natural centers.

In my demented perfect world Ray Shero can get JP Dumont for a song and a dance from his old pals in Nashville and near trade deadline returns of Crosby (and Scary Gary!) would give the Pens a group of 9 forwards that could rival anyone in the East.

JP said...

I'm a big Dumont fan (us JPs stick together) and had always thought he'd be a great fit for the Caps this year, given that they are short on Top 6 RWs (especially if you move Kozlov to 2nd line C with the Nylander injury), so it'd be fitting if the Pens dashed my hopes yet again by snagging him.