Shelly Anderson's Penguins hockey chat transcript: 12.2.13

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Shelly Anderson: Hello, everyone. Don't be jealous, but long story short coming to you from south Florida with a view of the ocean today. That doesn't mean we can't discuss the Penguins. We'll go live at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. You can post your questions beforehand, too.

The Chief: Shelly, don't forget to use sun tan lotion! Why is the team still in Florida?

Shelly Anderson: Well, the Penguins aren't still in Florida. They originally were going to stay here and practice today before flying to Long Island. Eventually, they decided to go home directly after Saturday's game here, and they practiced at home today before a flight to Long Island. But there is no reasonable financial way to change flights on Thanksgiving weekend on commercial airlines.

The Chief: Shelly . I realize it is only three games but Simon Despres seems to have matured from last year. Your thoughts on his play and when all are healthy is he one of the top six come playoff time?

Shelly Anderson: Agreed. In the short time since he was recalled from the AHL, Despres has looked confident and solid. There's little question being demoted during training camp had an effect on him, probably in a couple of ways. It probably was a wake-up call. In addition, he listened to club management and concentrated heavily on his defensive play. If (when?) all the Penguins defensemen are healthy, it's going to be really tough to pick the top six to dress every game and for the playoffs. But they have all been healthy for what, one game?

Reese: Do you think that the team is at their best point?

Shelly Anderson: The Penguins certainly are playing well, but they had at least one really good stretch earlier this season. I don't think you can say they are at their best until they get some key players back from injury -- namely, Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin and Beau Bennett -- and get rolling with a full lineup. Then ask me if the team is at its best.

Dan: This is a big IF, but if the Pens are healthy on D, what do you see the pairings looking like?

Shelly Anderson: Addressed this a couple of questions ago, but I would still like to see a stretch of games with Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang playing together, even though maybe the Penguins might lean toward Letang and Olli Maatta. Scuderi's responsible play suits Letang, I think. Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik are fine. That leaves a musical chairs situation with the third pairing, with Maatta, Matt Niskanen, Robert Bortuzzo and Deryk Engelland available. But, again, let's see if these guys can ever all be healthy at the same time.

GoPens: Do you think Letang is worth his money?

Shelly Anderson: Tough question. $58 million is a lot of money, and Letang is not following up his season as a Norris Trophy finalist with his best play. I also believe he is not healthy, that the knee injury he got late in training camp is something that is lingering. I just don't notice his skating like I normally would.

dave: Why can't Bortuzzo get in the lineup?

Shelly Anderson: Good question. Robert Bortuzzo seems to be an odd man out right now with Despres up from the AHL and playing well. Coach Dan Bylsma was asked about that today, and he didn't have an overly satisfying answer.
By the way, you should be following the Penguins blog on the Post-Gazette site. We post links to audio of Bylsma and players being interviewed following just about every practice, skate and game.

GoPens: Do you think Chris Kunitz SHOULD make Team Canada?

Shelly Anderson: Yes, I think he's deserving. His numbers would seem to be good enough -- more than a point a game dating to the start of last season. And having that chemistry with Sidney Crosby is a bonus you can't overlook. Crosby went through a couple of combinations in 2010. If you value Crosby the way you should, why not put him in the best situation to succeed?

GoPens: Who do you think should be paired with 71 & 18? 36 or 19?

Shelly Anderson: James Neal and Evgeni Malkin are so strong together on that second line. Jussi Jokinen has had good chemistry with Malkin at times, but Beau Bennett is more likely a part of the Penguins extended future and probably is better suited as a top-six forward with his skill. It's a moot point for a while, though, as Bennett recovers from surgery for a broken hand/wrist.,

Willy: Have you heard any rumblings on possible trades?

Shelly Anderson: No, actually. Not even from you guys.

GoPens: Would you rather see Despres in the lineup than Engo/Borts?

Shelly Anderson: I like the way Despres is playing and the fact that he seems to have found a nice balance between moving the puck, joining the rush and not being a liability defensively, but I also think Bortuzzo brings a physical element that Despres doesn't. Engelland also is physical, but he would be behind Bortuzzo on my depth chart for most games.

Pens n at: Shelly, do you watch any of the WBS Penguin games? I saw highlights of the Bears vs Baby Pens game that went into overtime this past weekend. Who is making a name for themselves down at the Penguin's AHL level recently?

Shelly Anderson: No, I don't have a chance to see them. I do try to follow along, and most of the players who seemingly have stood out are with the NHL Penguins now or have been. Harry Zolnierczyk keeps scoring down there. Eric Hartzell, the goaltending prospect, has had a couple of strong games. He was hurt early in the season and then spent some time in the ECHL.

Pens n at: Is it safe to say that Malkin is over his slump by now?

Shelly Anderson: Yes, more than fair. He never stopped piling up the assists, so his slump really was a matter of some glaring mistakes/giveaways and a propensity to pass up shots. I asked him after Saturday's game if he was on top of his game. He said no, and suggested that he still needs to shoot rather than pass at times. I'm looking forward to the time when he does think he's on top of his game.

Coachfi: Speaking of Team Canada-do we really want Fleury to make the team?

Shelly Anderson: You bring up an interesting point. I think it would be a good experience for Marc-Andre Fleury to play in Sochi -- "play" being the operative word. He went to Vancouver as Canada's No 3 goalie. He did not play and really didn't get any practice time given the ice time constraints, so he was rusty as heck when he came back. But there is that nagging notion that an overworked Fleury is not a good Fleury come playoff time.

dave: Did the referee give Malkin a warning about his jersey before calling the penalty on him?

Shelly Anderson: Yes, that is required before a delay-of-game, illegal equipment penalty can be assessed. The problem was in how Malkin's hockey pants fit him and his jersey often getting tucked by itself. The Penguins apparently have addressed that, although they haven't said how.

Mark: Has Zatkoff's play noticeablty improved since his early season debacles....was not imprssed early on from what I saw...did not think he was NHL caliber....but he has been on a roll lately....your thoughts...thanks!

Shelly Anderson: I have to side with coach Dan Bylsma on this one -- it's tough to judge a player on his very first game, or even two, in the NHL, and that might be particularly true of a goalie. Zatkoff really only had one truly bad game, his debut at Florida. The loss to the Islanders came in part by a bad third period by the whole team.

Ed: Even with previous, proven success of 14/71/18, why does HCDB seem reluctant to put that line together?

Shelly Anderson: Because Chris Kunitz can work well with either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, but Crosby seems to be ultra-comfortable with Kunitz.

Brandon: Does Neal or Kunitz have a better shot at making Team Canada? And do you see Maatta making Team Finland?

Shelly Anderson: Probably Kunitz, and that's no knock on a sniper like James Neal. But he was hurt for a good stretch of time -- and he's not Sidney Crosby's linemate.
Jussi Jokinen seems to think that Olli Maatta will make Finland's team. I'll defer to him since I haven't really evaluated Finland's defensemen.

Shelly Anderson: OK, thanks, everyone. First time in a while I had to leave a handful of questions hanging -- although I think we hit most of the topics. But please come back next week and we'll chat again.

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