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Penguins Update: Missing Our Veteran Leaders – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Missing Our Veteran Leaders

This is the last time I’ll write about departed veterans like Matt Cullen, Ron Hainsey and Chris Kunitz. I promise.

They’ve moved on and so must we. I get it. Honest, I do.

Except we miss ‘em. Big time. Perhaps not so much for what they contributed on the ice, which was considerable, as for what they provided behind the scenes and in the locker room.

I’ll digress for a moment. Sidney Crosby is the finest captain in hockey. His on-ice leadership is unmatched among his peers. He sets an exemplary example for his teammates with his passion, work ethic, attitude and comportment.

Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist also have an inspirational effect, both in word and deed. And there’s plenty of character in the room. Hard-rock defenseman Ian Cole, for one, would step in front of a cannon ball if it meant earning two points. You don’t win a Stanley Cup, let alone repeat as champions, without guys like that.

Yet there’s something about the effect a veteran presence can have on a team. Kind of a “been there, done that” mentality that helps a club stay even keel through the inevitable ups and downs of an 82-game grind. The poise to keep things together when external forces seem to be pulling it all apart.

Of all the high-profile moves Jim Rutherford made since taking over as general manager, signing Cullen may have been his most astute. His nickname…‘Team Dad’…said it all. Cullen was the guy everyone looked up to and adored. Sid, Geno, Kris Letang…everyone.

Now he’s gone. So is his steadying influence, along with his stellar penalty-killing and solid two-way play. Not to mention the ability to deflect pressure away from our core players, either with a timely goal or a sage bit of advice.

It reminds me of the role Bryan Trottier filled on our Cup teams of the early ’90s. Bill Guerin, too. Prior to ‘Billy G’s’ arrival in the spring of ‘09 , the team struggled. Guerin promptly took charge of the locker room, freeing up Sid and the original Kids to concentrate on hockey.

We’re feeling the loss of Kunitz as well. According to Penguins staffer, Michelle Crechiolo, ‘Kuni’ was always in the thick of things, whether it was playing cards on a team flight or joining in on the locker room hijinks. A glue guy.

No, he wasn’t the scorer he once had been. But Kunitz was pure warrior, hard and edgy. It didn’t matter if he was skating next to Sid or grinding out 10 minutes a game on the checking line. He gave you everything he had.

What an example he set.

It’s quite a contrast to this season’s squad, which seems to have a pathological need to trail by a couple of goals before reaching for the on switch. Sixty-minute efforts? About as rare as Morgan Silver Dollars.

Hainsey, too, had an impact during his brief stay in the ‘Burgh. Like a lighthouse in the face of a howling gale, he coolly stood his ground while Columbus and Washington threw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at our net last spring. The big guy brought a calming, rise-above-it presence to the mix.

We sure could use some of that now.

This isn’t meant to demean the newcomers. Matt Hunwick and Ryan Reaves, in particular, have reps as good guys in the room. Most hockey players do. But it’s not the same.

Fortunately, Rutherford has a pretty good feel for such things. Perhaps he’ll address the need through a trade, or a savvy free-agent signing down the road.

For now, there’s a void.

Puckpourri

The Penguins dropped a 4-3 decision to Boston yesterday afternoon at TD Garden, the team’s third loss in a row.

Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel and Crosby scored second-period goals for the Pens. Guentzel has three goals in his past two games, six in his past 10. With a goal and an assist, Sid recorded his second multiple-point game in 10 days.

Matt Murray, starting his fourth-straight game, yielded four goals on 33 shots, including the game-winner by David Pastrnak at 5:06 of the third period.

With a record of 11-10-3 and 25 points, the Pens are presently in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division. The locals trail in the race for the second wild-card spot by a point.

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10 Comments

  1. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    November 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Just saw the name Tyler Bozak resurface; no other names, just a note that JR could be talking to Toronto. I am not 100% on the source nor am I a Bozak fan per se, just figured I would throw come coal on the fire and see what happens

  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    November 25, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    I understand your point of view, I really do. However, from a been there done that point of view, with such a large percentage of returning players, veteran players, they shouldn’t need a Bryan Trottier, Bully Guerin, or Matt Cullen. Even the former young guys Sheary, Rust, Kuhnhackl, and I will even throw Maatta and Dumoulin in that group, should no longer need their hands held by a Matt Cullen.

    In Fact, I really don’t see veteran leadership as the problem. Watching yesterday’s matinee, particularly the first period, to beat an all too often repeated refrain, the Penguins were out Penguined. Boston beat us with team speed and aggressive fore checking, hinting that the problem is the exact opposite, the team is too old.

    Before the game began, the NBC talking heads talked all about the number of 24 year old and younger players on the Bruins’ team, many having come up to fill in for injured veterans, and how those kids have put the Bruins on a winning streak. Then you look down the Penguins bench and even a lot of the newer faces on the team, Rowney, Ruhwedel, Hunwick, Reaves, are no spring chickens, all the while, players like Sprong, Aston-Reese, Simon, Bengtsson, Pedan, and Tinordi, play their trade in WBS. Granted, not all of those younger players are Carl Hagelin fast, and you can’t throw that many kids into the mix.

    Part of the problem is the team is too slow; they are not winning the race for the puck, they are not jumping on opponents with an aggressive fore-check.

    Another problem area is the reluctance of players to take the puck into the dirty areas and fight for goals. One of the things I loved about the kid Johnson in the preseason was how he skated into traffic with the puck and held on to it, as light as he was. I am sick and tired of watching players pass up open shots to try and make that last pretty pass, only to lose a golden opportunity. Kids trying to prove themselves and greedy enough to drive the net or at least shoot that open shot.

    Recently, Phil mentioned an interview by the old 29er who talked about a level of complacency after the 90s Pens won their back-to-back Cups. I remember that year. While chasing that 3-peat attempt, that incarnation of the Pens won the President’s Trophy. Unfortunately for them, they traded away younger players for older veterans to chase that 3-peat and the young kids of NYI skated rings around them (the injury to Artie didn’t help, but they were in trouble from the get go in that series).

    Maybe things will still work out if the team waits another month, as Phil suggests, but the longer the team waits, the deeper the hole that they dig gets.

    And I am still suggesting that Letang be dealt. I still thin he has some good years left in him, but dealing him is a good place to shake things up. He was on the ice for at least 3 of the goals against yesterday, including the game winner. Look at what Pouliot is doing in Van, a change of scenery often does wonders for veterans.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 25, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      Really interesting thoughts and analysis. Especially the part about other teams beating us at our own game. I’ve heard other folks say the very same thing.

      What’s that old saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Well, in this case, it looks like other teams have copied our Cup-winning formula. Or, at least our blueprint from two years ago, when we were faster than greased lightning.

      Again, I think so many of our issues stem from not being dialed in, mentally, emotionally or otherwise. As Mike Sullivan said after yesterday’s loss, “We got outplayed. They played harder than we did.”

      How true.

      Also, agree wholeheartedly with your observations about us not winning puck battles. I’ve been tracking our stats all year, and noticed our takeaway numbers had been really low of late. To me, that equates to wrestling the puck from a foe in a one-on-one battle. Anyway, I looked up our ranking, and we’re 25th (and that includes yesterday’s season high of 15 takeaways).

      The last two seasons we were 16th.

      Short of a complete attitude transplant, I sure don’t know what the answer is. Although again, I like ‘Sully’s’ take.

      “It all starts with a mindset and a readiness,” he said. “That’s what it boils down to. Every player’s got to take ownership for their own preparedness so we’re ready from the drop of the puck.”

      Regarding a trade? This is totally without basis, mind you. But I’ve read that Marc Bergevin in Montreal may be looking to shake up his team. If so, I wonder if he and JR have been talking, possibly about a multi-player swap.

      Some of the key elements would seem to fit. Two struggling teams. Letang being from Montreal, Galchenyuk still struggling to find his game. And now, according to Pensburgh, the possibility that Max Pacioretty could be available. You start connecting the dots and begin to wonder if something might be cookin.’

      Again, this is pure speculation on my part.

      Rick

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 25, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        Multi-player swap? sort of a Recchi – Coffey for K Samuelsson – Tocchet – Wregget? Hmmm.

        I could be okay with that. (like my opinion counts)

        What are you thinking? Who would you package and who would you ask for? Galchenyuk and Pacioretty for Letang and who?

        I still would like to get a real “D” man but I hate to say it, right now moving Letang may be addition by subtraction.

        • 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
          November 25, 2017 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          Could they be setting up Cole for a trade? They aren’t going to sign him come summer and he would likely be more desirable than Letang at this point. I could see him packaged in a deal.

          — 55

          • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
            November 25, 2017 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

            Hey 55,

            They could be setting him up for a trade. I did think about that. He is UFA this summer and he hasn’t been really playing all that well. No doubt he is thinking to himself that with Maatta and Dumoulin getting big raises the team really isn’t going to open up the Purse strings for him too (Although I did read somewhere that the Cap is being projected to go up significantly next year, but I am not sure if it will stay up), but I don’t see the team getting an impact player for him and they need an impact player.

            I know we won tonight and in pretty good fashion, but that is only the 4th really solid win this season. It would take a string of wins like that to convince me that the team will be alright without a major wake-up call.

            Honestly, if it were me, Letang and Hunwick would be the players I would look to deal. Despite winning fairly big on the score board, I have not seen the team keep the shots under 30 when Hunwick has skated and that is a recipe for disaster.

            • 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
              November 28, 2017 at 12:37 am | Permalink

              It’s been pretty much verified that Cole is being shopped. The Pens have given Cole’s agent the freedom to sign a completely new deal with whomever signs him and voiding the existing contract. Giving Cole a fair shake and, I guess, designating him a UFA immediately. Too bad they can’t do that with Letang.

  3. November 25, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Bringing in a quality veteran that has never had a chance to win a cup would definitely have a great effect on the locker room. This is going to sound funny, but Jagr. They would be bringing in a guy who won two cups in a row early in his career then nothing. There is nothing that could remind the team of what they have right now more than that. It would also give them a great reason to push for the third cup in a row.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 25, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      Interesting thoughts on Jagr. I’d always wished that somehow things could have worked out so he could perhaps finish his career in the ‘Burgh. And there’s no doubt he can still play, even at age 45.

      I just don’t think he’d be an especially good fit, given that he plays right wing…where we’re relatively flush…and likes to work the right half-boards–the favored domain of Sid and Geno.

      Coupled with his lack of speed, I just don’t think he’d work out for us. Wish I felt differently…it would make for one heck of a story.

      Rick

  4. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    November 25, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Great photo, Phil!


            

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