Penguins' Talbot rediscovers game, Fu Manchu


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Max Talbot isn't the first athlete to look in the mirror when he wasn't happy with his job performance.

People in just about every line of work do it all the time.

Talbot, though, is one of the few to do it literally.

And to act on what he saw looking back at him.

"I was just shaving, and I was like, 'I have to be Max again,' " he said. " 'A crazy guy. Just go and do my stuff again. That [Fu Manchu] might be part of it.' "

Getting back the on-ice persona he wanted to be, Talbot concluded, was directly linked to his facial hair, and so he has regrown the moustache that he has worn sporadically throughout his career.

And, coincidentally or otherwise, he heads into the game tonight at Dallas riding the momentum of perhaps his two finest showings of the season.

"I think he's more relaxed, more comfortable," said assistant coach Tony Granato, who works with the forwards.


Today

Game: Penguins at Dallas Stars, 8:38 p.m. today, American Airlines Center.

TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.

Probable goaltending: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Kari Lehtonen for Stars.

Penguins: Have won past two games in Dallas after losing five in row there. ... C Mark Letestu does not have goal in five games after getting four in his first seven. ... Have been assessed 11 major penalties, tying for fourth most in NHL.

Stars: Are 3-3 at home. ... D Stephane Robidas led league with plus-minus rating of plus-10 before games Tuesday night. ... Rank sixth in league ... and four spots behind Penguins ... with 274 hits.

Of note: Stars are 2-3 when outshooting opponents, but 4-1 when being outshot.


Probably. And Talbot definitely has been more hairy.

Of course, there isn't a direct physical connection between his work on the ice and the amount of hair on his face -- we're not talking about Samson and the strength that came from his flowing locks here -- the Fu Manchu helps to establish a mindset that seems to bring out the best in Talbot.

"Hockey is a mental game," he said. "We always say when a guy doesn't score that it's his confidence, that he thinks too much.

"Why does a great player have a slump, then he starts scoring again? It's not because he loses his skill. It's because sometimes you think too much or something."

Talbot said he doesn't recall if he sported the Fu Manchu at any point during the 2009-10 season, and that's understandable. No one could blame him for wanting to forget everything about that season.

After claiming a permanent place in franchise lore by scoring both goals in the Penguins' 2-1 victory against Detroit in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final, Talbot endured a season that ran the gamut from awful to abysmal.

He missed the first quarter while recovering from shoulder surgery, and never seemed to find his rhythm. While he's not a guy whose contribution should be measured solely by statistics, the fact that he finished with two goals and five assists in 45 games can't be ignored.

That means Talbot contributed one fewer point than Martin Skoula, who appeared in just 33 games before being traded to Toronto, and that he'd scored as many times in the biggest game of his life as he did in the entire regular season that followed.

"[Last season] was pretty bad," Talbot said.

He is keenly aware that he currently has as many goals as he contributed all last season -- "That's awesome," Talbot said -- although he still doesn't have an assist to go along with them.

Point-production, though, is not the most significant facet of his game. Talbot is tenacious and versatile enough to work anywhere from the first line to the fourth. He also is averaging three minutes, 18 seconds of short-handed ice time per game, most of any Penguins forward.

"Position-wise, he can [move around the lineup]," Granato said. "And, obviously, the [penalty-killing] thing is important, that we have six forwards [involved]. Without [injured center Jordan Staal], a lot of those guys have been asked to increase their minutes."

For Talbot, the key is not only being in the game, but also effectively being immersed in it, as has been the case lately.

"He's been a little more physical," Granato said. "He has to be a physical pain to play against. He has to be an in-your-face player. He has to be one who gets in on the forecheck and can play in the other team's end for [extended] periods of time."

Talbot acknowledged the upgrade in his performance lately, but isn't complacent about it.

"I'm definitely not satisfied," he said. "I don't think anyone should be. I'm hungry, and I'm heading in the right direction, which means a lot for me, mentally.

"I'm getting there, and it's always a process of being confident and trying to find the bounces and trying to find your game."

That should be a bit easier for Talbot, now that he knows where to look.


Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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