Columbus Blue Jackets' James Wisniewski, left, and Chris Conner chase a loose puck during the first period Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
With all of the hilarious "Geno bombs" lately, do you have the funniest prank you have witnessed pulled by the Penguins?
Yes, Evgeni Malkin has "interrupted" James Neal's postgame interviews a couple of times. You see little stuff all the time – tape balls thrown at teammates, things like that. Most likely a lot of pranks happes out of view of reporters or the public. But Marc-Andre Fleury pulled a good one last night after the win in Columbus. He wrapped several layers of tape around one leg each belonging to Dan Potash and his Root Sports videographer as they were interviewing goalie Jeff Zatkoff. When the interview ended, Potash had a tough time undoing the "cocoon" that held the two guys together and nearly fell on his wallet. Fleury had already scampered out of the locker room with a devilish grin on his face, but others had a good laugh.
Did you expect Despres to be the odd man out last night with Scuderi returning?
A little surprising. I admit that in the postgame crush, no one asked Dan Bylsma about that decision. Simon Despres has been playing well, but there are some possible reasons for him getting scratched with Rob Scuderi coming back from injury. It might have had to do with specific pairings Bylsma wanted, with righty-lefty, etc. Also, perhaps the Penguins were expecting Columbus to be physical – and the Blue Jackets were; they were credited with 50 hits – and while Despres is a big body, Robert Bortuzzo and Deryk Engelland are better known for their physical play. Bortuzzo was paired with Scuderi. Engelland, who played with Brooks Orpik, had a good game, and even got an assist. As more defensemen get healthy and back into the lineup, the decisions will get tougher.
Was it surprising that Malkin was placed on IR considering his injury is supposedly not that serious?
Not at all. It was just a procedural move. You have to understand how injured reserve works. It is retroactive to the time of the injury – in Evgeni Malkin's case, that was a Dec. 14 game at Detroit, when he slammed feet-first into the boards – and requires that a player miss seven days. So Malkin is eligible to come off of IR at any time. Placing him on IR allowed the Penguins to activate Rob Scuderi from IR without having to, say, send someone to Wilkes-Barre to meet the roster limit.
What winger is out there to be traded for and what D-men gets traded for him?
GM Ray Shero told the Post-Gazette's Dave Molinari that he's not diving into the trade market based on Pascal Dupuis' knee injury. The move probably will be getting Beau Bennett back in the coming weeks from a broken wrist. Bennett is a top-six forward; he just needs to show that he can stay healthy and play consistently over a long stretch. If that doesn't happen, or if things just aren't fitting together, then maybe Shero goes looking as the trade deadline (still more than two months away) approaches. With a lot of teams bunched up in some playoff races, it's too early for some teams to know whether they might be sellers or buyers.
Has Zatkoff earned the backup goalie spot even if Vokun comes back?
Sure looks like it. Seven wins in a row, and a two-year, $1.2 million contract extension go a long way. That said, if Tomas Vokoun gets clearance to come off of blood-thinners soon, it might be smart to get him some games so he can be in some semblance of game sharpness going into the playoffs. Zatkoff has no NHL playoff experience.
If Dupuis is gone for an extended time who takes his spot?
It doesn't seem likely that Pascal Dupuis will be back this season, given that he is expected to have surgery for a torn ACL in his right knee. In the short term, boy, James Neal certainly looked great on the ice with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz last night in Columbus, both at even strength and on the power play. Joe Vitale apparently is back in Dupuis' spot on Crosby's line today at practice in New Jersey, however. Neal undoubtedly will jump back to Evgeni Malkin's right wing when Malkin returns. I'm thinking Beau Bennett might get a long look on Crosby's right flank when he comes back.
If Kris Letang, who most have accepted is not the powerplay QB we all wanted to fill Gonchar's void years ago, continues to be irresponsible in his own end...why on earth would Ray want to keep on paying him that huge salary. Any chance Letang gets dealt before his no trade clause kicks in?
I don't think the Penguins have given up on Letang on the power play, but you're right -- he has not played at a level commensurate with his Norris Trophy candidacy last season. He also has not been healthy, that those two things might be related. The $58 million extension he signed is a big contract and identifies him as a core player. I don't get the sense that Letang would be the guy moved if they trade a defenseman, though.
Hi Shelly Happy New Year! we are at the 1/2 way point. What is the Pens biggest need heading to the post-season. Also Kunitz an Olympian?
Happy New Year, Roy. No lie, what they need most is a relatively healthy lineup. The Penguins are one of the best teams in the NHL, running away with the Metropolitan Division, but we've seen how tough things can get in the playoffs, so having something close to the projected lineup intact is essential. As for Chris Kunitz, he has earned a spot on that team, and not in some sort of coattails capacity. His numbers are outstanding, he goes to the net and why wouldn't you want someone who already has such great chemistry with Sidney Crosby? That said, I'm not in Steve Yzerman's head, so I can't predict whether Canada will take Kunitz.
Who is your pick for the Penguins MVP thus far?
I'm going to go splitsville on this and pick co-MVPs -- Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury. Those two guys are responsible for many points in the standings, and the confidence their teammates have in them is immensely valuable.
Does Neal automatically go back to working with Geno, or does Dan ride the wave of a hot Crosby/Kunitz/Neal line
Well, considering that Joe Vitale apparently was working on that line today in practice, it doesn't seem as if Neal has been super-glued to Crosby's line yet. I would expect Neal and Malkin to be reunited. But your question reminds me of the push to keep Chris Kunitz with Malkin and Neal after Crosby came back from injury. Sometimes, there is more than one right answer.
Your thoughts on moving a D-man for someone who has fallen out of favor elsewhere. I'm thinking a Top D prospect for Nail Yakupov. This deal would make sense for both sides. The Oilers need D-men and the Pens need some forwards.
I really like Yakupov's talent -- who wouldn't? -- but he would be a project in terms of personality. I don't see the Penguins going there.
Do you see Sutter resigning before the deadline? He has been pretty clutch in my modest opinion.
I haven't asked about Sutter's contract status lately -- or that of Brooks Orpik, for that matter. I agree, Sutter has been as advertised: a good two-way center who perfectly fits the role of third-line center. He's also young and seemingly durable. Not sure if you mean the trade deadline or July, but either way, I would be surprised if he does not re-sign.
How do you explain occasional blips like the 0-5 loss to Ottawa last Monday when otherwise the team has been playing really well?
That's one of the things that makes sports great -- those nights happen and they usually can't be predicted. It's possible on that night that the first-period injury to Dupuis rattled the team. Senators goaltender Craig Anderson also had a strong game. At least we get reminded now and then that the Penguins are human.
While in the regular season, is there any way the team can or should prepare differently for the playoffs than in the past to give itself the best chance of winning the Cup?
Differently from what? Teams regularly do their best to shore up their game, particularly defensively, during the stretch run to the playoffs. Shero certainly hasn't been afraid to make trades to try to improve the lineup. It's got to be disappointing for the Penguins and their fans for such a good team to not at least make it to the Stanley Cup final, but I don't see any fault with the way they have handled things in the regular season.
Did Neal accidently take a shot at Malkin with his Crosby comments? Did anyone else take it that way?
No, I don't think so. He was saying that he's a lucky dude in that he normally plays with a talent such as Malkin and, with Malkin out and now Dupuis out, he had a magical game playing with Crosby. I was the one who asked the question about playing with Crosby and Kunitz, and I didn't in any way interpret his answer as a dig.
OK, everyone. Lively session today. Next week we'll be coming to you from Vancouver. Please join us then.
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