In which we talk Stars, Neal, Letang, powerplays both on ice and off, and John Matrix scouts a prospect.
I made my first trip to Consol for an actual game this past Friday night to see the Pens and Stars. It marked the first time I’ve seen this team play live since training camp, so naturally I have some thoughts, dudes…
It was a great game to watch live, especially since Gulutzan has the Stars playing an up-tempo style similar to that which the Pens employ. Lots of puck movement. Lots of energy on the part of both teams. Here’s hoping that the NHL continues to bring in coaches like Bylsma, Gulutzan and Kevin Dineen – guys who emphasize puck possession and playing as much of the game on the offensive side of center red. With goals-per-game mostly declining since the lockout, the last thing we really need to see are more trap-friendly coaches. Right, St. Louis?
There wasn’t a player on this team that needed a strong start to this season more than James Neal did. 17 games and 11 goals later, I think this is more than what most of us ever expected, especially with Sid out and Malkin only healthy for about half of the games played thus far. Amazing to see what the benefit of a full training camp has done, as well as the chance to get completely settled in. Neal looks faster than he did last year, and his release may be the quickest on this team.
Great job by the Pens shutting down Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn – two top-20 scorers who were held to just four shots all night, all by Eriksson.
Tough to completely appreciate how solid an all-around defenseman Kris Letang is becoming until you see him in person. Incredible. He’s all over the ice the same way Troy Polamalu is all over a football field. He’s going to make mistakes from time to time in coverages (as he did a time or two against Carolina on Saturday night), but that’ll happen when you’re a 24-year old defenseman. But the kid’s mobility and his trust in it allows him to play all over the ice and take chances that few others in the league can afford to take at his position.
Legitimate criticism here? That extended 5-on-3 against Carolina. Was I the only one who had flashbacks to last year that nearly found me curled up in the fetal position and crying while watching that? Predictable to the point of mind-numbing. Not enough shooting. Can't really complain because the power play has been largely very good this year. But ouch.
If they re-did that 2005 draft, where does Letang go? He was the 62nd overall pick and that draft was absolutely loaded. Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Carey Price, Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, JAMES NEAL, Paul Stastny, and Keith Yandle all went in various spots in that draft. In a re-draft, I think Letang is a definite top ten, and possibly a top-five pick.
Want to mention this. I think it was very clearly time for his Pens tenure to come to an end when it did, but I'll always be a fan of Craig Patrick. The 2005 Entry Draft was his last as GM of the Penguins, and the impact of that draft is very much being felt on this franchise. Crosby was first, obviously. Letang was taken with the first pick of the third round. And the team’s very last pick in that draft was Joe Vitale, currently second on the team in faceoff percentage at 54.6% (Dick Park leads at 55%).
WINGER FOR SID ALERT: Denver University forward and Pens 2010 first-round pick Beau Bennett has 7 points (2G, 5A) in five games for the Pioneers. Missed a couple of games with a wrist injury, but he scored a goal in his first game back. And now I have an excuse to post this:
Our seats for the Stars game were up in Section 232, Row Q, which is the very last row in that particular corner. First time I’ve seen a game in Consol from the corners. I love that perspective because you can see almost the entire ice, and it’s very easy to see game flow and plays develop. Those seats are also above the Jumbotron so I found that unlike some other seats, I was watching the ice rather than being almost automatically drawn to the Jumbotron. Not sure there’s really a horrible seat in that building, but I can’t recommend those corner seats enough. Solid.
Not as solid: Consol chicken fingers. Yikes. Either they’re not so good, or I just got an order that was sitting under a heat lamp for eight hours. Might need to splurge for Burgatory next time.
Had to love this, though. Seats were right in front of the standing room only section, so there were some people back there, naturally. Dude behind me says to his buddy, “Sid’s coming back Tuesday for sure. I know it. And if he doesn’t, he’s not playing the rest of the year.”
Yes, because obviously there aren’t 64 other games that need to be played after the Avs game before the regular season ends.
How do you even make that leap, though? There’s 80% of the season left to play.
All of this is part of an interesting dynamic watching the reactions to Crosby as his return draws ever closer. About a month ago, Jeremy Roenick went on his infamous rant about the incessant questioning of Crosby when there was nothing to report. While Roenick could’ve chosen his words more carefully, the crux of his rant was this – stop putting him in front of a microphone until there’s something to report.
Now it appears that the Pens & Crosby may be content to do just that – not really say anything until there’s something to report. Sid has limited his availability and if my Twitter feed is any accurate measuring stick, there’s now visible frustration that he’s not talking.
Frustration when he was talking with nothing to update. Now there's frustration that he's not really talking.
Can’t have it both ways, can you?
Look, the questions from the media are going to be there regardless of how much anyone – the Pens, Crosby, Roenick – wants them to stop. First, it’s their job. Second, Crosby's is the most prominent name in hockey. Last week Canadian media outlets had their hockey writers haul ass to Pittsburgh to cover practices in the couple of days leading up to the Stars game. Why? Because there was talk – mostly local media and fan-generated – that he may be back November 11.
Keep in mind that prior to mid-week last week, neither the Pens nor Crosby ever openly discussed November 11 as a return date. Nope, back when Sid was cleared for contact, everyone kind of looked at the schedule, saw a huge break leading up to the game and the opportunity for lots of practice time, and said, “Hey, November 11!”
And that’s fine. Fans are going to speculate on that because that’s what fans do. The local media will talk about it as well, because that’s what they do. Nothing wrong with any of that, and how much you choose to buy into that speculation is up to you.
Not saying fans can't get frustrated. We all can't wait for Sid to get back. But just take it for what it is – another day in the recovery process, and another day closer to the end of the line that is CrosbyWatch.
Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. Now that's a power play.