Molinari On The Penguins: One more factor to throw into mix when explaining club's sluggish start

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It is not, of course, the explanation for all that has gone wrong for the Penguins during the first four weeks of this season.

It is not the only reason their offense has been less productive than expected, or that they have failed to protect several third-period leads that seemed -- and should have been -- comfortable.

But there's good reason to believe it is one of them.

To this point of the season, the Penguins have not cycled the puck -- gotten it deep into the attacking zone, then maintained possession along the boards and behind the goal line -- nearly as often or effectively as they did in much of 2007-08.

An efficient cycle not only can wear down opposing players and thus lead to scoring opportunities, but can alter the flow of a game, especially when more than one line is doing it.

If, for example, the Penguins had been able to cycle the puck well for a few shifts during the third period against Washington Oct. 16, they might have disrupted the momentum the Capitals built en route to scoring three unanswered goals that made Washington's 4-3 victory possible.

Part of the problem, and arguably most of it, is the roster turnover the Penguins experienced after last season. They lost a number of powerful forwards who are comfortable grinding it out -- guys like Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Georges Laraque, Adam Hall and Gary Roberts -- and did not fill their roster spots with players whose games are similar.

Center Sidney Crosby, though, pointed out recently that other factors often have prevented the Penguins from establishing a cycle, let alone maintaining one.

"If you're not making good passes and you're not executing, you're not going to get control in the other team's end," he said. "Some of it has to do with execution, some of it has to do with just focusing on wining battles.

"The more battles you win, the more opportunities you're going to have to have the puck and make plays down there."

While guys with size and strength tend to be most effective along the boards, a player doesn't necessarily have to be brawny. Petr Sykora, for one, isn't built to bull past opponents, but has shown he can be effective on the cycle.

That bolsters coach Michel Therrien's contention that cycling is not as much a matter of personnel as it is "about chemistry and about executing."

Not surprisingly, then, Therrien insists that his current collection of forwards can handle that part of their duties capably.

"They will," he said. "They have to.

"We're going to work with them. We want them to play the Penguins' way. Everyone has to play the Penguins' way."

Two for the price of won

The Penguins have some of the most dynamic young talents in the game, and predictably, tend to be a pretty good draw when they go on the road. Not everywhere, though. Not if an ongoing promotion on Long Island is any indication, at least.

The New York Islanders have guaranteed fans who purchase tickets for a game against the Penguins Nov. 26 more than just a fun evening if their club wins -- they'll get a ticket for another game.

And it won't be just any game; it will be Dec. 16 against Washington which, like the Penguins, features some of the league's most gifted and entertaining young talents.

Of course, the promotion, which is billed as the "Victory Plan," probably says more about the trouble the Islanders have selling tickets than it does about the marquee value of the Penguins and Capitals.

New York had announced a capacity crowd for just one of five home dates before Montreal visited Nassau Coliseum last night, and even failed to fill the building for a game against the arch-rival New York Rangers last Monday.

The Islanders, incidentally, also are scheduled to offer the "Victory Plan" for games against Florida, Anaheim and Minnesota later in the season.

Can you 'C' the difference?

There are, of course, numerous differences between hockey in the NHL and in the minor leagues. Some --- skill levels and salaries, for starters -- are pretty obvious. Others, not so much.

The turnover in captaincies, for example.

The Penguins, who entered the NHL in 1967, have had 13. In order: Ab McDonald, Earl Ingarfield, Ron Schock, Jean Pronovost, Orest Kindrchuk, Randy Carlyle, Mike Bullard, Terry Ruskowski, Dan Frawley, Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr and Crosby.

That's actually a fairly large group, with many of the captains having relatively brief tenures.

The Penguins' turnover among captains, however, is nothing like that found in the minors, where rosters are far more fluid and players' tenures rarely last more than a few years, if that.

Consider their American Hockey League affiliate, where team members chose forward David Gove to wear the "C" in this, the franchise's 10th season. Which made him, coincidentally enough, the 13th captain in Baby Penguins history.

Gove's predecessors were Tyler Wright, Steve Leach, John Slaney, Sven Butenschon, Jason MacDonald, Tom Kostopoulos, Kris Beech, Patrick Boileau, Alain Nasreddine, Rob Scuderi, Micki DuPont and Nathan Smith.

Dave Molinari can be reached at .


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