Random thoughts from here and there...
--Jeff Taffe and Ryan Stone got the call from Pittsburgh. Taffe is not surprising, he’s shown he can be a decent and serviceable player in a NHL capacity, but Stone is. He’s a prospect that’s never panned out and has seemed to spin his wheels. He’s not the best skater but has decent all-around skill and the willingness to throw his body around. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s given the opportunity to catch on. A couple years ago though, hell maybe even before this year, it would be hard to imagine that Stone would be the sixth AHL level forward to get the call to the NHL (or to have stuck originally like Bill Thomas and Paul Bissonnette did).
--Dany Sabourin has almost the same number of minutes played as Marc-Andre Fleury this season…Sabourin’s GAA is notably better (2.47 to 2.86) and his save percentage is slightly higher than the Flower (.911 to .907). Will there be controversy? No, of course not, but the interesting thing is to watch if Fleury can come back and play as lights out as he did last season under a similarly long layoff.
--Speaking of injuries and layoffs, it’s been 196 days since June 4th; the day the Penguins watched the Red Wings skate the Cup and the last time Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar played meaningful games. Isn’t it weird how such an occasion can seem so distant yet so near at the exact same time? Whitney ought to be back in a week’s time, which will be interesting to see how quickly he gets up to speed himself. And what does it mean for the Penguins blueline? Mark Eaton figures to sit 8th on the depth chart at that point, and what of Phillipe Boucher and Hal Gill, are they still in the lineup every night? Whitney’s return, though a blessing, also brings with it several tough questions.
--Don’t pay too much mind of Alex Kovalev’s 20+ game goal-less streak. What we can’t get over is how good he and old pal Robert Lang look out there. As 2/3 (with Martin Straka) of what the best 2nd line of this decade, Kovy and Bobby Lang have gotten the band back together and are playing some nice music. Lang, has 22 points in 30 games, not bad for a guy who’s gonna turn 38 years old in two days.
--In fact, if you think about it, few players who seem so inconsistent have actually been quietly steadier than Lang over the past decade. Since he established himself in Pittsburgh in 1998-99 with a 21 goal 44 point season, Lang has hit averaged 68.88 points a season, hitting the 50+ mark every time. Sure he’s bounced around to five teams and owes a lot of his stats to playing with supremely skilled wingers like Kovalev and Jaromir Jagr, but Lang’s staying power has been impressive.
--Something interesting caught our eye from the Post-Gazette yesterday and has stuck with us, so we’ll share…What names stick out to you (hint: the first two)
Still, 10 players -- forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Eric Godard and Tim Wallace, defensemen Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski and goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin -- went on the ice with assistant coaches Andre Savard and Mike Yeo and goalie coach Gilles Meloche for the better part of an hour [on Monday].
When the two leading scorers in the league are showing up for an optional practice that a lot of the team didn’t strap ‘em up for, that says something. The team understandably needed and deserved a maintenance day after a grueling schedule. But when the best players are out there constantly working, constantly showing up, that’s leadership and that’s a good sign.
Well the four day break is over tomorrow and the Pens are back in Atlanta for the second time in a month. In a bit of a programming note, it’s going to be a little slow over here during the weekend, we’re making a pilgrimage back to Pittsburgh to visit family and watch the Penguins break out the third jerseys in person against the Make Beliefs.