Penguins hope their new grit can wipe away pain of playoff ouster
September 19, 2010 8:00 AM
Newcomer Zybnek Michalek, one of the marquee offseason acquisitions, pressures Mike Rupp, left, during the first day of camp Saturday at the Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Always has. Always will.
Sometimes, the ache lasts for days.
Sometimes, for weeks.
Or, at least, that is how it seems.
Indeed, four-plus months after their season ended so abruptly, so emphatically, with a 5-2 loss to Montreal in Game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, some of the Penguins still wince at the very mention of that series.
Even though they are getting a fresh start, now that training camp for the 2010-11 season has begun, the sting has not eased for some guys.
• Game: Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings in their preseason opener, the first sporting event at the Consol Energy Center.
• When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Not when, less than a year after capping a Stanley Cup run with a champagne salute, the Penguins' season-ending toast went down like a cup of ground glass, with a pepper-spray chaser.
"It's not done yet," center Max Talbot said. "It's still pretty much in my mind."
That might be because, as a Montreal native, he received regular -- it must have seemed like hourly -- reminders of the Canadiens' victory throughout the offseason.
"It was tough," Talbot said. "It was not something enjoyable, obviously. It started when everyone starts coming to talk to you and you're like, 'Shut up.' ... It was tough to digest for sure."
The defeat did not go down much easier for defenseman Kris Letang, another Montreal resident.
"I live downtown," he said, "so I heard it every day."
A number of factors made Montreal's upset possible. The Canadiens got countless big saves from goalie Jaroslav Halak, while the Penguins did not get nearly enough from Marc-Andre Fleury. Montreal forwards such as Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta produced big goals, the Penguins' elite forwards did not.
"There were a lot of little things [that went wrong]," forward Mike Rupp said. "I guess we just didn't find a way.
"There are no consolations, but we dominated the series in a lot of different ways, I feel. We just didn't score goals. They came up with timely goals, and that's the difference. There are no excuses.
"We were obviously right there, and it's frustrating, because we feel we were the better hockey club."
Maybe, but they were not the one that advanced to the Eastern Conference final.
Getting back there -- and beyond -- is the objective from the group that went through its first on-ice workouts Saturday at the Consol Energy Center. The lineup is not the same as the one knocked off by the Canadiens and, to hear the players tell it, it is a better one.
"We're way more mobile that we were, more versatile on the back end," Letang said.
Rupp believes that while intangibles are important -- "We have a group of guys who are a year older, a year hungrier and want to get back, and we've added some guys who want to do the same" -- the talents of free-agent defenseman Paul Martin, his one-time teammate in New Jersey, will be a major plus, as well.
"He's going to be an awesome addition to this team," Rupp said. "There's a lot of untapped [potential] with him that's going to be reached here."
Martin and fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek were the Penguins' marquee additions during the summer, but forwards they picked up could be significant contributors as well.
Some, such as Mike Comrie, have serious offensive ability. Just about all should make the Penguins a little less pleasant to play against.
"We've added some grit," Talbot said. "A guy like [Arron Asham], and Comrie. I fought [Comrie], and [Tyler Kennedy] fought him. He's a gritty guy."
Having the right players, and putting them in the right places, is a critical part of winning a Cup.
So is having things fall into place the way they did for the Penguins in 2009.
"You look at when we won the Cup, there were so many things that happened at the right moment," Talbot said.
"So many key events that just happened.
"A momentum swing, or a big save from [Fleury], a big goal, a good bounce off the boards. It didn't happened last year. I don't know why that is, but it didn't happen. So you have to move on."