Nothing blocking Scuderi's improvement

Rob Scuderi is on pace for an 82-point season.

Sort of.

OK, so that's true only if you take his offensive production from the past two games -- ignoring the 28 that came before -- and project the totals over a full season, but hey, why get bogged down in details?

With one goal and seven assists, Scuderi already has surpassed his output from last season (no goals, five assists) and is closing in on the personal-best one goal and 10 assists he had two seasons ago.

Scuderi recorded his second two-point game in the NHL in the Penguins' 9-2 victory against the New York Islanders Thursday. And even though he was shut out in their 6-3 loss in Philadelphia two days later -- wonder if neutralizing him was the cornerstone of Flyers coach John Stevens' game plan? -- if Scuderi can stay healthy, odds are he'll reach unprecedented levels in offensive production during the next few months.

No one associated with the Penguins begrudges him that, but neither are they basing their hopes for the rest of the season on Scuderi maintaining the pace that has him in line to finish with two goals and 19 assists.

Most of what he contributes isn't easily quantified, and the things that are tend not to be very glamorous. Scuderi is the team leader with 76 blocked shots, which puts him in a tie for fifth place in the league going into last night's games.

Unfortunately, it's not so easy to attach a number to solid short-handed work or effectively clogging passing lanes or having a knack for disrupting opposing offenses with what coaches have taken to calling "a good stick."

"He makes the simple plays and he's there every game," said Penguins assistant coach Andre Savard, who oversees the defense. "Sometimes, you take that for granted."

That's partly because of the low-profile nature of his style and partly because Scuderi isn't hard-wired to draw attention to himself. That's illustrated by the way his success at blocking shots seems to impress everyone except himself.

"I've been a defensive defenseman for a long time now," he said. "It's always been part of the job description for me."

While Scuderi's basic game hasn't changed much, his skating and quickness have improved since he broke into the NHL during the 2003-04 season. So while processing information rapidly always has been a strength, he's now able to act on it even faster.

"His hockey sense has always been there," Savard said. "He reads the game really well. He has a good stick in tight and competes. He's there every game, he's there every shift."

Those qualities have made him an integral, if unspectacular, part of the Penguins' defense corps. Not that Scuderi would ever assume that his place there is secure.

"Just the way I'm wired, I don't take any of my time in this league for granted," he said. "I haven't been around for a long time, but I've seen what happens. In a short span of time, it can go from good things to bad things. You have to take it game by game, and try to get a little better every year."

He's done that, which is why it's fair to wonder if, by the time he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, Scuderi will have played his way out of the Penguins' plans on the basis of the rise in his market value.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "The most important thing is that the team is doing well. I think I'm playing well, but it's easy to play well when you have good teammates and a good team. I think that's been a big reason for my success."

At the same time, the front office can't overlook what Scuderi contributes to the Penguins' achievements. While he won't single-handedly be responsible for a spike in the demand for tickets and "SCUDERI 4" replica sweaters aren't the team's hottest piece of merchandise these days, winning enhances a club's popularity, and guys like Scuderi enhances its chances of winning.

"I love playing here," he said. "I like the team here. I've been here my entire career. I have no desire to leave, but that's also something that's out of my hands, in some ways."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published December 16, 2008 5:00 AM


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?