Penguins notebook: Some fresh insights on Western Conference


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The players Penguins general manager Ray Shero brought in at the NHL trade deadline are settling in quite nicely.

All four -- Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen -- have made significant, tangible contributions since arriving, and all figure to play meaningful roles in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Jokinen is the only one of the four with any experience in the Eastern Conference before joining the Penguins, which means the other three are learning about the clubs based on this side of the continent.

It also means that they have considerable insight on the Western Conference, a well-informed perspective on teams -- and not just the obvious ones, such as Chicago and Anaheim -- that could be major playoff forces.

"St. Louis is a team that [Dallas] always played that I found to be a hard-working team," said Morrow, formerly of the Stars. "They improved their [defense] a little bit with [Jay] Bouwmeester and [Jordan] Leopold.

"They just have a big, heavy-set group of forwards, and they're relentless. With [coach Ken] Hitchcock, they're a hard-working team, so I think the Blues are a team that could surprise some people."

The Blues are one of several clubs Murray, acquired from San Jose, feels bear watching in coming weeks.

"I remember us trying to knock [eventual Cup champion Los Angeles] out of the playoffs at the end of the [2011-12 regular] season because we knew they were a very dangerous team," he said. "So, for us, I don't think L.A. was a big sleeper. Media-wise, it seems like there is a lot of sleepers in the West. All the teams out there that make it are strong.

"St. Louis has a very strong team. When they're hot, they're tough to beat. We got knocked out by them last year.

"I think you're looking [at] Vancouver maybe not having the year they wanted, but [the Canucks are] starting to get healthy again."

Big returning workload

Evgeni Malkin, who missed the previous four games because of a shoulder injury, wasn't exactly eased back into the lineup when he returned for the Penguins' 4-2 loss Tuesday against Buffalo. He logged 21 minutes and 18 seconds of ice time, the most of any Penguins forward.

And he put it to pretty good use, recording an assist, a shot on goal (along with four others that didn't hit the net) and an 11-7 mark on faceoffs.

"He was dominant, as usual," Iginla said.

Coach Dan Bylsma offered a similar assessment.

"He played with a lot of jump, a lot of jam in his game," Bylsma said. "Just puck protection, holding people off and shooting the puck. He shot the puck, had a couple of chances. I thought he played real strong. He was himself."

The numbers game

Some numbers and nuggets heading into the Penguins' game tonight against New Jersey at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.:

• Eight Penguins players have reached double-figures in goals scored, most of any NHL team. They are Chris Kunitz (22), Pascal Dupuis (20), James Neal (18), Sidney Crosby (15), Iginla (14), Morrow (11), Brandon Sutter (11) and Jokinen (10).

• Iginla has a goal in each of the past four games.

• Devils left winger Steve Sullivan, who left the Penguins as a free agent in the summer, has two goals and two assists in seven games since being acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline.

• New Jersey is 2-1 against the Penguins, making it the only Atlantic Division team to beat them more than once this season.

• Devils left winger Ilya Kovalchuk is two assists shy of 400 for his career.

Tip-ins

Bylsma canceled practice Wednesday. ... The Penguins signed forward Anton Zlobin, a sixth-round draft choice in 2012, to a three-year entry-level contract. He had 29 goals and 62 assists in 61 games with Val-d'Or this season to finish ninth in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scoring race.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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