Hossa needs to start scoring

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As former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was building his league into the best in the history of American sports, one thought helped guide him.

If it ain't broke, fix it anyway.

In other words, don't be afraid to take something successful and try to make it better.

So it should be with the Penguins.

They are 6-0 in these Stanley Cup playoffs, but coach Michel Therrien can't be afraid to try to make the team's power play more effective.

Therrien needs to replace Marian Hossa with Petr Sykora on the top unit.

Hossa isn't finishing well enough to keep his spot on the top group.

Therrien didn't want to hear that yesterday, of course. One, he's loath to make any lineup changes when his team is winning. Two, he knows he has to be supportive of his veteran player. He knows he's going to need Hossa somewhere along the Penguins' Cup odyssey.

Hence Therrien's vigorous defense of Hossa:

"Marian Hossa is more than just a goal scorer. He's a good checker. He's good defensively. He has a lot of speed. He's tough to defend. He has a nice chemistry right now with Sid [Crosby]. He's getting a ton of chances ..."

Enough already.

It's true, all true.

No one is suggesting Hossa has been a disappointment as a player since the Penguins made the big February trade to get him from Atlanta. But he has been a disappointment as a goal scorer. It didn't seem so bad when he had just three goals in the 12 regular-season games he played with the Penguins, one an empty-netter. But he has only two goals in the six playoff games despite averaging an NHL-high 5.83 shots per game. That's a pretty lame 5.7 percent conversion rate.

That qualifies as a disappointment, right?

Didn't the Penguins bring on Hossa to score big goals at playoff time?

"We brought him here to play with Sid, because he has the speed to play with Sid," Therrien said. "He enables us to play a tempo game. It's not only about scoring goals.

"As a coach, I can't demand that any player scores one or two or three goals. That would be like a baseball manager asking a guy to hit two home runs ..."

At that point, Therrien pulled out an imaginary bat in the bowels of Mellon Arena and pretended to swing left-handed for distant fences.

Reminded me of Willie Stargell, actually.

"A guy would go up to the plate trying too hard to hit home runs if a manager asked for that," Therrien said. "That never works. It's the same in hockey. All I can demand from any player is work ethic and effort and concentration and playing the system and using his speed.

"Hossa is giving me everything I'm asking of him."

Are you getting the idea Therrien still is in Hossa's corner?

Hey, Hossa is talented enough to pop in three goals tonight when the Penguins play Game 3 against the New York Rangers at the world's most famous arena. That's why it was nice to think the garbage goal he scored Friday night in Game 1 -- off Rangers center Scott Gomez's skate -- might get him going.

But there Hossa was in Game 2 Sunday afternoon, failing to convert any of his game-high seven shots. That doesn't count the few other times he got the puck in scoring position and missed the net. His best scoring chance came early when Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped him on a breakaway.

On a lot of days, a blown opportunity like that would have cost the Penguins.

"I'm not a pure goal scorer," Hossa said. "I'm not like [Alexander] Ovechkin or [Ilya] Kovalchuk. I'm not in that category. I'm more like a two-way guy. I like to score goals and help out offensively. But I also like to help the team defensively.

"I don't think I was brought here just to score goals."

That part about Ovechkin and Kovalchuk was an easy admission for Hossa yesterday. We'll see if it's just as easy after the season when he becomes a free agent and negotiates his next contract. Do you think he might want to be paid like a pure goal scorer then?

Not to be cynical.

Right now, it's easy to think Hossa won't be worth the big money to the Penguins. But who knows? Maybe by July 1, he'll have a bunch of goals and a Stanley Cup to strengthen his case. For now, though, the puck isn't going in for him. At least as a goal scorer, he's adding to his reputation for coming up small in the playoffs. In 701 career regular-season games, he has 299 goals, an average of .43 per game. In 61 postseason games, he has 15 goals, an average of .25.

That's why Sykora is a better choice on the Penguins' top power play. He did well on that unit before the Hossa trade and when Crosby was out with a high ankle sprain. He's a finisher. He had 15 power-play goals during the season and another during these playoffs in limited ice time.

No, there's nothing wrong with the Penguins' 24.2 percent conversion rate on the power play.

But is it so wrong to think it could be better?

It's worth saying one more time.

If it ain't broke, fix it anyway.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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