Hockey Talk: Malkin’s Future

January 21, 2008
Malkin and Ovechkin

Caps star Alex Ovechkin and Pens stud Evgeni Malkin, former Russian league roommates, put on a show to remember Monday night in Pittsburgh

First of all, to anybody who hasn’t seen it, or for anyone who has and just wants to have their mind blown again, take a look at this Rick Nash goal from last Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes. Goal of the century at the least, if not the best goal of all-time. Ranks right next to this goal from Washington’s Alex Ovechkin which was, coincidentally, against the Coyotes as well.

Speaking of Ovechkin and the Caps, if you missed Monday night’s game in Pittsburgh, you missed one of the best games of the season. In a hotly contested offensive shoot-out, the Pens and Caps went back and forth all night. Ovechkin put on his usual show, scoring two goals and an assist, plus a shoot-out goal to put the Caps ahead.

Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin continued to find the back of the net at a ridiculous pace, scoring two goals while assisting on a Ryan Malone power play goal early in the third period. Malkin and Ovechkin put on an absolute show in the ‘Burgh, making electric play after electric play all night long. The two even almost dropped the gloves in the second after Ovechkin tried delivering a big hit (fast-forward to the 8 second mark if your really impatient) on Malkin. Needless to say, Malkin proved to be the tougher Russian.

The big thing I take away from this game, however, is Malkin’s performance, and how it could effect the future of the Pens. Prior discussions on this forum and countless others have questioned whether Malkin, whose face-off performances have not been all that impressive to date, should be moved to a wing position next to Crosby as a long-term solution. I think Monday night’s game proves that keeping Crosby and Malkin split is necessary to maximize both players talents.

Malkin’s started hit the back of the net with a lot more regularity when Pens’ coach Michel Therrien began using Malkin as a wingman on the top scoring line next to Crosby. However, there is just no way the Pens can keep those two together. Malkin would just be too valuable centering the second line, being the Ron Francis to Sidney Crosby as Mario Lemieux, or Mark Messier to the Oiler’s Wayne Gretzky, if you will. Malkin creates way to many opportunities on his own to use him as a pure scorer next to Crosby. The guy has too much talent not to captain his own line.

One more intriguing stat that I take away from Monday’s game — the Pens were an impressive 3-of-8 on the power play tonight. That’s without Sidney Crosby in the line-up. Also worth noting, Petr Sykora has scored 8 of his 14 goals this season on the power play, which is odd considering he hasn’t even been a regular on the top power play unit, so far as I know. Maybe Therrien needs has some considering to do regarding his power play units once Crosby returns. We’ll see if tonight’s power play success was a fluke, or if maybe Crosby’s presence on the ice was somehow holding the Pens back, although I can’t imagine how it would be.

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Penguins’ Future Plans

January 15, 2008

After listening to Mark Madden ramble about the future of the Pens a little this afternoon, I had a few opinions that I decided might be best designed to be posted on here.

First of all, I want to address the, “What do the Pens do when Marc-Andre Fleury comes back?” question. While what Ty Conklin has done so far this season has been absolutely superb, you have to remember that the guy is 31 years old already. If he was really capable of playing at a level anywhere near as high as that which he’s performed since his December call-up, he would have already earned himself a starting job with a nice, long-term contract elsewhere. Fleury is still young enough that he has a future ahead of him, while Conklin is just a career back-up in the middle of a good hot streak.

That said, here are some interesting lines from Penguins’ defensemen Brooks Orpik that do make it sound as though Conklin could be more than just a flash in the pan.

“The big thing is the way he handles the puck,” Orpik said. “It makes it so much easier on the defense. It is really like having an extra defenseman out there.

“His saves speak for themselves. But one thing we have talked about as defensemen is how much easier things have been with the way he handles the puck.”

Perhaps Conklin’s performance is more than just him being on a hot streak. Maybe his stand-up style and consistent positioning are meshing well with the style of defense the Penguins like to play. One cannot help but notice that Conklin does an excellent job of controlling rebounds and always seems to be in the right place to knock down a shot. Meanwhile, he has only made a small handful of spectacular, Fleury-like saves. Maybe Michel Terrien and his defensive scheme just clicks better with a knowledgable, consistent, but not necessarily flashy goaltender? Something to consider when Fleury makes his return in the coming weeks.

The other major area of concern for the Pens down the road will be the question of adding a strong offensive winger to put next to Sidney Crosby in the coming years. Madden claimed the Pens would be much better off splitting Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up, allowing them each to center their own line, rather than placing the two together on one super-line. He referenced how Mario Lemieux had Hall of Famer Ron Francis centering the second line behind him during the Penquins stronger periods in the ’90’s, and honestly I agree with Madden there. You have to balance your talent to win hockey games.

But if, three years from now, you have Crosby and Malkin centering lines 1 and 2 respectively, while Max Talbot, arguably the best, most mucking-ist (the only word I could use to describe Maxime) third line center in the NHL, takes face-offs on the checking line. Where exactly does that leave Jordan Staal and Angelo Esposito? Staal, despite some struggles this year, still has one of the brightest futures ahead of him of maybe any 19 year old on the planet. It isn’t at all crazy to think he’ll be a 30 goal scorer year in and year out by the time he’s 22, and his improvements in the face-off circle this year would make it very tough to split him out to a wing position.

Esposito, the Penguins 1st round draft pick this past summer, has a bright, bright future ahead of him, except for his natural position is at center. Granted, I think there is still plenty of time to turn Esposito into a wing before he makes his NHL debut, even if it means holding him in the minors for an extra few months to a year.

That said, neither Esposito or Staal is a 4th line center. Both need to be on the ice, and Staal in particular needs to be at center. In my mind that leaves the Pens with two options:

A. Keep Malkin and Crosby together on line one while you build depth on the rest of the team, namely picking up another solid scorer to put next to Staal on line 2 and developing a solid core of defensemen to put in front of Fleury or whoever ends up being the Pens goalie of the future.

B. Let Malkin center the 2nd and line and use Staal as a trading piece to acquire a front line scorer, possibly Marian Hossa, who is known to be on the block this season.

It’s going to come down to a judgement decision on the Pens part, but honestly the offensive pieces are already very much in place for this team to compete for a title. Throw a better set of defenders and some consistent goaltending behind those scorers, and this team could be a serious contender in a highly competitive Eastern Conference.


Random Ramblings Pt. 2

December 18, 2007

So I don’t have anything in particular to mention in today’s post, so I’ll just give you some interesting links and a few tidbits of knowledge that I’ve got crammed into my slightly undersized head…

  • A must read from Rob Neyer of ESPN.com. Rob came across an interesting article regarding HGH use. Turns out it might not be so helpful after all, at least if you want to believe the college professor/scientist he quotes.
  • Brian Roberts has told the Associated Press that he did in fact try steroids in 2003, but said it was just a one-time deal, and that his moral values (morals in sports????) stopped him from trying the juice again. Question for my faithful readers…Since Roberts was the one name that everyone used to question the integrity of the Mitchell Report (this means you Peter Gammons), has the report gained a little credibility now?
  • A-Rod and agent Scott Boras are no longer talking. It’s been a pretty lousy off-season for Boras, despite A-Rod getting his big contract. Teams have been sick of his negotiating habits for a while now, and looks like players may be catching up.
  • Huntington seems dead-set on finding somebody to compete with Paulino for time behind the plate.
  • I remember seeing numbers somewhere that showed Paulino was a good game caller. I can’t remember where I saw those, but I did manage to find some revealing stats about Paulino’s work with John Van Benschoten this past summer.
  • Some criticism directed at the Pirates front office about the hiring of Troy Buckley as the organizations rover pitching instructor. Some interesting stats and what not at the bottom of that article as well.
  • Another good ‘roid article from Rob Neyer that I figured I’d put in here. Raises some questions about how Hall of Fame voters should view the last 15-20 years in baseball history.
  • For all my Penn State buddies from back home, sounds like you guys might be seeing more than Nittany Lion football at Beaver Stadium in the next couple of years. Definitely something I’d like to see.
  • And finally, some much-deserved props for some Penguins rookies who have been all but carrying the team for the past couple weeks. Without Tyler Kennedy’s offensive production and Kris Letang’s clutch shoot-out abilities, the Pens would be in some serious trouble at this point.

That should give you plenty to chew on for a few hours. Depending on flight schedules and potential blizzards in Boston, I could be stuck in the dorm for a good 3-4 days straight, so there is potential for some serious post-age in the near future.

I leave you with some disheartening news from Mr. College Basketball himself. Looks as though Dicky V might have “awesome baby’d” one too many times. All the best to you Dicky V. We’ll all be eagerly awaiting your courtside return.


Random Ramblings

December 12, 2007
  • Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is officially out 6-8 weeks with a high ankle sprain. It’s a big loss for the Pens, as Fleury had just turned his season around, winning four starts in a row after an amazingly inconsistent November.
    • The Pens will also be without center Maxime Talbot for approximately a month with an almost identical injury.
  • Steelers have lost DE Aaron Smith for the year. Any chance Pittsburgh had of competing with the Colts or Pats in the playoffs just died.
  • The Orioles have agreed to send shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Astros in exchange for five players, including outfielder Luke Scott, Michael Costanzo, who hit an impressive 27 home runs in Double-A Reading before being traded to the ‘Stro’s as part of the Brad Lidge deal, and three young fringe major league pitchers.

    Tejada brings a big name to Houston, but he also brings a $14 million contract that is probably a little hefty for his declining production.Most notably, from 2006 to 2007, his OPS saw a major decline, falling from .877 to .799. Every major statistical measurement of Tejada’s performance, with the exception of batting average and on-base percentage, was significantly below his career averages, and his 18 home runs were the least he’d hit since he slugged 11 home runs in 365 at bats in 1998, his second season in Oakland.

    The one thing that really scares coaches about Tejada is his defense. Tejada has slowed with age, and his play at short has begun to reflect that. The O’s had been talking about moving Tejada to third base, and the Astro’s might ask Miguel to do that at some point, maybe as soon as this season. It isn’t as though Ty Wigginton is the answer for them at the hot corner.

    As I peek at Tejada’s career stats, there is something very impressive that I feel to need to take note of — between 1999 and 2006, Tejada missed just five games, including appearances in every game of each season between 2001 and 2006. You don’t see too many guys in today’s game who are both willing and able to do that.

  • The Mitchell Report, said to contain over 50 names of known steroid users, is slated to be released at a press conference in New York tomorrow. Not a whole lot to comment on about that at this point, but expect a lengthy post from me tomorrow, especially if Roger Clemens’s name appears on the report, as I suspect it will.