Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
- The story I never got to finish about the Penguins fourth line is still sitting in my drafts folder, staring at me after more than six weeks. The quotes from the departed Riley Sheahan, the injured Zach Aston-Reese and Garrett Wilson are in some parts nearly identical. The group took pride in shutting down the opposition and getting the puck deep. Each used the phrase, “We take pride in…”
Currently, it’s the Penguins third line with Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist which is doing the dirty work and the damage.
Zach Aston-Reese dropped a little nugget for me to follow up with Penguins center Matt Cullen, too. Cullen is a rock on the ice and a great communicator, except when he misses a scoring chance.
Apparently, he gets angry on the bench, afterward. Aston-Reese chuckled when he told me. Clearly, he knew he was giving me a good conversation starter but I haven’t yet had the chance.
- The fourth line has also not been on the ice much over the past six to eight games, either. Injuries which separated the unit, Aston-Reese’s promotion to the second line and bench shortening have limited the ice time of the line. Cullen remains a fixture with about 10 minutes per night as the Penguins use him as a primary penalty killer and sprinkle his services on the third line, occasionally.
This weekend will be less a test of the Penguins newfound mettle and more a test of their mental readiness. An afternoon game against a Western Conference team which poses little to no direct threat has the hallmarks of a snoozer–especially with the specter of Philadelphia waiting in the wings.
Oh, Philadelphia. Will Erik Gudbranson be asked to settle a score? Wayne Simmonds concussed Brian Dumoulin, but Simmonds was dealt to Nashville (which is coming up next week). However, Shayne Gostisbhere tackled Kris Letang and in the process presumably injured Letang.
Philadelphia is essentially out of the playoff race and recent speculation from Flyers media types has posited Chuck Fletcher will offer a contract to every possible RFA and every UFA. It’s never a good sign when the media turns it’s attention to next season with more than 10 games to go in the current season.
- I’ll believe any GM has the cajones to submit an RFA offer sheet when I see it. In an odd twist, as long as GMs publicly discuss their reasons for not doing it and don’t discuss privately amongst themselves, it seems a collusion suit is implausible.
It’s time someone bucked up and started slinging offer sheets. Would you deal a first, second and third round pick for Patrik Laine, Mitchell Marner or Mikko Rantanen? I do believe I would. And twice on Sunday.
The Penguins, however, cannot sling any big-time RFA offer sheets as they lack a 2020 second-round pick. Not that they would, anyway. The Penguins will have a few RFA negotiations coming up: Aston-Reese, Jusso Riikola, and Teddy Blueger.
- The Arizona (just move them to Houston already) Coyotes have a three-point lead for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Given their man-games lost chart has at times looked more like their opening night roster than the on-ice product, Tocchet deserves extreme praise as the coach.
His previous coaching stints were not spectacular but it appears he was ready for this one. Arizona could make the postseason by riding a gunshy goalie cast off by the Minnesota Wild, Darcy Keumper and a hobbled Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
If Arizona makes the playoffs, Tocchet would be every bit as deserving of the Jack Adams award as the New York Islanders boss Barry Trotz. Hopefully, fans show up for the spring hockey.
- The Penguins first General Manager Jack Riley wanted to name the team the Pittsburgh Shamrocks to honor the large Irish community in Pittsburgh.
Fortunately, the team wised up and chose an aggressive, menacing mascot.
- Amanda Kessel is a finalist for the NWHL MVP award. We hear she’s a nice girl, tries hard, loves the game (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)
When will the Penguins ownership or anybody else in Pittsburgh cough up the paltry sum to bring an NWHL franchise here? You don’t think Amanda Kessel or good women’s hockey could draw a couple thousand on a Saturday in Cranberry?
One line brawl with a team from Philadelphia and they would sell out.
- Washington Capitals goal-machine Alex Ovechkin spoke Tuesday morning after the morning skate in Pittsburgh. A couple of notes jumped out at me.
Is winning the division important?
“Obviously, yeah, but the most important thing is to be in the playoffs,” he said.
The local reporter was working a “Malkin is underappreciated” angle that day. He asked Ovechkin if Malkin was underappreciated because he’s not Sidney Crosby or Ovechkin, to which Ovechkin quickly replied, “He’s Malkin.”
Later, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan went into greater detail and agreed Malkin doesn’t get his full deserves, but I thought Ovechkin’s answer gave Malkin more praise or credit.
And for all of the Penguins stories and talented players, Malkin is still the most fascinating to me.