Shelly Anderson: The Penguins are back in the East, and the chat is back for another installment.
The Chief: Shelly, hope you enjoyed the West Coast Trip! Assuming everyone stays healthy (big assumption) your thoughts on what the four lines will look like come playoff time?
Shelly Anderson: Good question, and you're right about not knowing who might be available because of health or getting sent to the AHL.
It seems the crucial piece of the puzzle is top-line right wing, with Pascal Dupuis out for the season after inee surgery. Figure that out, and the rest could come together fairly well. The prime candidates to skate with left winger Chris Kunitz and center Sidney Crosby seem to be Beau Bennett, if he can get and stay healthy, and newcomer Lee Stempniak. The other of those two seems destined for the third line. Can't see changing the Jussi Jokinen-Evgeni Malkin-James Neal second line. Wingers on the third line would be the next question, with Brandon Sutter at center. Taylor Pyatt, Tanner Glass, Marcel Goc and Brian Gibbons would seem the likely candidates. Gibbons could be sent to the AHL, though. I like Joe Vitale centering the fourth line, with two of several guys available to be his wingers -- Craig Adams and whichever of the above guys isn't on the third line.
Skyla: Hi Shelly! Olli Maata continues to impress and I love to watch the kid play. Is there any chance he gets any looks on the first power play unit, especially with Martin and Letang out? He seems to make things happen out there with his good shot and instincts. Thanks !
Shelly Anderson: Possibly, but right now the Penguins seem happy with Evgeni Malkin manning one point spot, so the top unit has just one defenseman. Paul Martin will claim the other point when he come back from hand surgery. Matt Niskanen is proving to be a capable point man, too, and has more experience than Maatta. He'll get his time on the second unit, you would think.
Dan: It seems all the so called experts think the East is down to Pens and Bruins...I've been watching the Rangers and Tampa quite closely and feel they are legitimate finalists...Thoughts ?
Shelly Anderson: Hard to say without seeing the matchups. Certainly, the Penguins and Bruins -- and, for the moment at least, Boston has passed the Penguins for first place -- would be anyone's top picks. The Rangers have the goaltending. I'm not sure I'd put Tampa Bay up as high as you do.
Ross: Is there enough time for Vokoun to make a push to be Flower's backup in the playoffs or is he getting ready for next year? Since teams dont normally carry 3 goalies.
Shelly Anderson: There's no reason the Penguins can't carry three goalies in the playoffs, when the salary cap is suspended. Tomas Vokoun has said he's medically cleared and trying to get back his game shape and game sharpness. It would seem there is time to Vokoun to get into some games. When, or even whether. the Penguins get him a start remains to be seen.
dave: Earlier in the season, they were concerned about the number of games Maata was playing. Do they still have that concern? Have injuries prevented them from giving him some rest?
Shelly Anderson: The Penguins went as far as sitting Maatta for a game, I believe in December, when he hit a minor lull. But since then, he certainly isn't showing signs of fatigue, mentally or physically. The Olympics only seemed to energize him. There have been games where the team had enough healthy defensemen to sit Maatta. The choice pretty obviously is to play him.
Tony C: how do reporters get trade info before it happens? One in particular seems to get so much info that I would think it's to the detriment of the organization...why would they want to tip their hand?
Shelly Anderson: Sorry, can't spill all our secrets.
Chad: How disappointing have Orpik and Scuderi been recently? Do you feel Orpik is a goner next year? How about Scuderi? Do the Pens cut bait next year with him?
Shelly Anderson: As has been said here before, Brooks Orpik isn't having his greatest season. I haven't noticed big gaffes by Scuderi, who is under contract beyond this season. Orpik is one of a few defensemen on the team whose contract is up after this season. I would imagine he might have to take a cut to be re-signed. He has declined to talk about his contract status for future, so it's hard to say what he would be looking for in the summer. The Penguins might make a bigger push to re-sign Matt Niskanen.
dave: Why is Malkin on the point on the PP? It creates a defensive problem (as we saw in SJ), and it takes one of your best scorers further away from the net.
Shelly Anderson: Because they don't want to have a power play without their big four forwards -- Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Malkin. There's always a bit of a trade-off there because he's got to be a "defenseman" in some situations when the puck goes the other way. They have Kunitz, who is a net-front guy. And while philosophically I like defensemen on the points, having Malkin there hasn't exactly hurt; the Penguins lead the NHL on the power play.
Nick: Let's say Paul Martin comes back before the playoffs, who do you see as the top six defenseman. Also, what pairings would you envision.
Shelly Anderson: It seems as if the Penguins are using this stretch of games to look at a lot of different combinations, with mixed results. Orpik with Scuderi in the outdoor game in Chicago didn't look as good on the ice as it might on paper, for instance. I don't want to take a stab at the pairings at this point.
Chris: Could they send Zatkoff down to WBS if they wanted Vokoun to be the backup in the playoffs?
Shelly Anderson: I don't believe backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff is eligible for the AHL playoffs this season. The Penguins, in a paper move, sent Brian Gibbons and Simon Despres back to Wilkes-Barre last week and then immediately recalled them, making them eligible for the AHL postseason. The Penguins could keep Zatkoff around but use Vokoun as the backup in the playoffs, should they choose to go that way.
Tim: With all the talent defensively in WBS and major juniors, why do the Pens seem so hesitant on wanting to let anyone go, being through free agency or trade?
Shelly Anderson: Because of situations we've seen with injuries. The Penguins were down to six healthy defensemen Friday at Anaheim. The Penguins seem to believe in the rule of thumb that you should have 10 NHL-caliber defensemen in your organization.
westCoast: Crosby has been taking a lot of heat of late for not scoring, not necessarily from pens fans but outsiders saying Toews is better. What they dont understand is that his wingers have always been average. Gibbons? Comeon! There has never been good physical wingers on his line.
Shelly Anderson: I'm not plugged in to that criticism, but I would imagine some of it stems from the game the Penguins and Blackhawks played. Chris Kunitz isn't a fighter, but he is a physical player in his own right who can finish. Hard-working, speedy players who can finish would seem to be the best fits for Crosby's wingers.
Nick: Any idea what the salary cap will be next year? the Canadian dollar could really screw the pens out of resigning some players.
Shelly Anderson: Projections have it going up over $70 million, but it won't be set for a few months.
Chris: Do you think Engelland is a better D-man or winger?
Shelly Anderson: Defenseman. That's his training. He's done a remarkable job when used as a fourth-line winger, but as coach Dan Bylsma was quick to point out Friday night, his past two goals have come while playing defense -- and Friday's goal came on a very nice shot.
Dan: Who are the top unsigned college free agents this year ? Do you know if the Pens have any interest ?
Shelly Anderson: That's not something I've taken a look at, sorry.
Shelly Anderson: First time in a while I've run out of questions before 3 o'cock. Any last one or two?
dave: Despres has been playing better lately. Any idea why?
Shelly Anderson: Perhaps just comfort level and opportunity, and maybe getting past the trade deadline. Those are the variables that have changed.
JamesinNYC: Do they give away the farm for Kessel this summer?
Shelly Anderson: They might try again, but Vancouver seems to be holding out for an awfully big return.
Shelly Anderson: OK, everyone. Thanks. We'll chat again next week, after back-to-backs with a couple of Penguins fans' favorite opponents.