Shelly Anderson: The Penguins probably would like to forget what happened over the weekend, but we're ready to chat about that and anything else Penguins-related that's on your mind.
Shelly Anderson: Before we begin, lots of news from practice today. Defenseman Kris Letang (stroke) practiced as expected and said afterward he still is intent on playing again but doesn't know when that will be or whether it might be this season. Beau Bennett, (wrist/hand surgery) who has been on the ice for practice, now has clearance for contact and needs another few sessions before he might play. Winger James Neal (concussion) was something of a surprise addition. He got clearance for full participation this morning and could play as soon as Tuesday when Dallas visits Consol Energy Center. Winger Chris Kunitz, who crashed legs-first into a goal post last week, skated separately for 10 minutes before practice, then returned for the main session. He also is a possibility to return for the Stars game. Defenseman Paul Martin (hand surgery) skated in full gear before practice. He had what looked like extra padding under his right glove but stickhandled and shot the puck. The team's Olympians other than Kunitz -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, Olli Maatta and Brooks Orpik -- were given the day off.
Billy: Who do you believe will be the next prospect to play normal minutes in the NHL in the next few seasons?
Shelly Anderson: Good question. Of course, a lot depends on free agency comings and goings, but I would have to go with defenseman Derek Pouliot, given how highly the club regards him. He'll be a first-year pro next season.
Simon: Which of the UFA defensemen will be resigned this offseason? And do the Pens prefer to keep Nisky or Orpik?
Shelly Anderson: You would have to think that Matt Niskanen would be a top priority, and he has said he really likes being with the Penguins, but if he gets the urge to test free agency, his play this season might have priced him out of the Penguins' reach. I don't know if it's an either/or with him and Brooks Orpik. I expected a little more from a fully healthy Orpik this season, but then you see what he did in shutting down Alex Ovechkin,. And don't forget about Deryk Engelland. He doesn't cost a bundle and could be re-signed.
RRP: In yesterday's 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Tanner Glass, thought by many to be a 4th line player, played over 13 minutes, including 11+ minutes of even strength ice time. In those 11 minutes of ES play, Glass was on the ice for ONE SHOT FOR and 17 SHOTS AGAINST. The kind of ratio you'd expect to find if a high school team took the ice against an NHL squad. Instead of losing time, Bylsma continues to place Tanner Glass on the first line. Injuries are used as the excuse, but Glass was used in place of players like Jayson Megna (who had a goal) and Brian Gibbons who had an assist and was creating chances all over the ice. Why does no one question Dan Bylsma's horrific game management? From Glass and Adams on the top-2 lines, to refusing to use last change to get favorable match-ups, Bylsma is given a pass regardless of how seasons end. As a fan of hockey and intelligence, the one-dimensional way this team is managed and covered saddens me.
Shelly Anderson: Tanner Glass spent a lot of that game on the top line with Sidney Crosby. Does Crosby get a pass? At times, Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons had shifts with Crosby, too. It's certainly your right to question coaching or anything else about the team you follow. We do ask questions about line combinations and such, but we reporters are not columnists and are not allowed to offer opinions in our writing.
Simon: On Saturday, Simon Despres was the Penguins best player on the ice in terms of shots and puck possession. This team doesn't seem to think those things are important, and instead blames a 0-4 loss on a penalty taken 2 minutes into the game. A penalty, mind you, that was taken protecting the goalie. When will anyone ask Dan some tough questions about his decisions?
Shelly Anderson: Again, we do ask questions. I have long said that when fans complain that reporters don't ask "tough questions," what they are really asking is for us to ask questions out of anger, to confront coaches and players. Sorry, we don't do that. We get their explanations and pass them along. That's our job. How you respond to their answers is certainly up to you.
Arby: Shelly, the lack of accountability on this team is astounding. Certain veterans who make the same mistakes over and over again never get called out, benched, or scratched. Certain rookies who make those mistakes far less are benched or scratched almost immediately. Is this team's favoritism and fondness for certain players holding back their potential?
Shelly Anderson: Now that's a different question than the previous couple. Coaches tend to stick with the players they are most comfortable with, and young players with a lot of potential might be given more leeway to learn from their mistakes than veterans who perhaps shouldn't be making those mistakes. Is that what's going on with the Penguins? Possibly.
Fordy: Can we talk honestly about the treatment Despres has been getting? With Despres on ice on Saturday against the Flyers, the Pens had 17 shot attempts to the Flyers' 5 (77.3%). With him off ice, it was 7-35 (16.7%). That's a Corsi Rel of +60.6%, the highest of any d-men. As well, no goals were scored with him on the ice in a blowout game. In light of these statistics, what do you make of Bylsma's decision to bench his best statistical defensemen in the next game instead of Engelland, a decision that left him with only two puck-moving d-men for the powerplays, resulting in Engelland... tripping over nothing and causing the gamewinning shorthanded goal? What do you think these kinds of decisions (that Despres has faced all year) have on Despres's mindset going into games?
Shelly Anderson: There is little question that Simon Despres is one of the young players whose mistakes are not well tolerated. I have heard the word "doghouse" in relation to him, and that doesn't seem farfetched. Why, is anyone's guess. I was a bit surprised the Penguins didn't trade him before the NHL deadline to give him a fresh start somewhere else, but there might not have been a great return being offered. The Penguins have not done a great job is showing that they attach great value to him.
peterg: Why did Dan out Glass on the 1st when he can only hit? Megna, Gibbons or Goc would have mad much more sense.
Shelly Anderson: One of Chris Kunitz's attributes is his physical play and fearlessness in high-traffic situations. Tanner Glass isn't Kunitz, but he does have those traits. And, as stated, Megna and Gibbons got a few shifts on the top line, too. But it seems likely that Kunitz will be back soon.
Sidney C.: Is it more likely that the Pens make a move for a 1RW at the draft or during free agency? Or like... ever?
Shelly Anderson: Sidney Crosby is comfortable with Pascal Dupuis, who should be back from knee surgery next season. There's also Beau Bennett as a possibility for Crosby's right wing, if he can get and stay healthy. So that might not be a top priority for the Penguins before next season.
Nick: Since being called up I think depres had represented himself well at the nhl level. Just wondering what your thoughts are on his play, and why he got scratched in favor of engellend.
Shelly Anderson: Simon Despres took a penalty early in Saturday's game, the Flyers scored on the ensuing power play, and coach Dan Bylsma called Despres out on it, though not by name. It seems as if the Flyers' Rinaldo also could have gotten a penalty, but that's not how it came down. Simon Despres has played well at times when he's been in the NHL this season. He devoted himself to the defensive side of his game while in the AHL, and it shows. That being said, you can really see a difference when watching him and Olli Maatta, who is so impressively composed. Maatta is the exception for a young defenseman, though.
Nick: Do you see Menga sticking at left wing on the third line, and your thoughts on how he looked Sunday.
Shelly Anderson: Dan Bylsma said today that he would like to get his third and fourth lines set and established before the playoffs. Megna probably will be an odd man out soon with players such as James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett coming back. I like Megna, though, and think he is an NHL-caliber player with good offensive instincts.
SDWC: For a team with so much talent, the Pens seem to have very little depth (especially forwards). They survived the earlier season stretch on missing their top 4 defensemen very nicely, but can't seem to do the same when the injuries are to the forwards. Gibbons, & Megna weren't even draft choices. This really could be troubling if there's a key injury come playoff time.
Shelly Anderson: The Penguins are much deeper throughout their organization at defense than at forward. But, as you said, they have done a great job of signing players, even some undrafted, who have filled in nicely.
SDWC: Sometimes I think the Penguins organization is more concerned with assembling an entertaining team than a championship team. I don't know if it's possible in the modern game to have both. The early 90s team could do it in the wide open NHL game of that era.
Shelly Anderson: Hey, not everyone can be as highly entertaining as New Jersey...
Seriously, I don't think the Penguins put a premium on the team being entertaining. It just happens when you have talent such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, etc., and an athletic goalie such as Marc-Andre Fleury.
Pete: Is a Pens/Flyers first round playoff matchup the worst thing that could happen to Pittsburgh?
Shelly Anderson: Based on the weekend, it wouldn't be idea. But it might not be the same Penguins team. Perhaps by then the top two lines will be intact and Paul Martin, if not Kris Letang, will be back. Then the challenge becomes not letting the Flyers get under the Penguins' skin.
Jim from Michigan: Shelly, I get NHL Center Ice and watch all the Penguin games. Born in Johnstown, live in MI now. What do the Penguins see in Tyler Pyatt he looks slow, doesn't use his size, seems afraid on the ice. I just don't get it.
Shelly Anderson: Taylor Pyatt has looked slow at times and took a bit of time to adjust to the Penguins' style. He's had some decent shifts here and there. I'm surprised he's not more physical given his size. He's someone who could get squeezed out as others get healthy,
Jim from Michigan: It just seems like the Flyers on every power play had a player in front of the net. In the past those players would get knocked down or pushed out of the crease. I didn't see that from Pittsburgh.
Shelly Anderson: The Penguins had a bad weekend on special teams all around. Every good power play has someone willing to battle for position in front of the net. The Penguins have had the top penalty-killing all season. I chalk it up to a bad weekend, but we'll see moving forward.
Siobhan: Are there any worries that free agents will shy away from coming to Pittsburgh following the loss by Team USA at the Olympics? Some players openly criticized Dan Bylsma's coaching.
Shelly Anderson: Interesting question, but i doubt it. This is still a top contender with elite players, and that is a draw.
Tim: I'm concerned about the Penguins toughness. It seems to me that when they play the physical teams, their stars disappear. Do you think the Pens go anywhere in the playoffs with a finesse team?
Shelly Anderson: I guess we'll see. There's not a lot of change that can happen now. The Penguins aren't grit-free, but there are times against some teams when they could up that part of their game.
steveg: Shelly -- you mentioned in an answer to an earlier chat that one can "see" a difference, in terms of composure, between Maatta and Despres, and I agree with you. But, do you think it is reasonable to conclude that SOME of the reason for that, is that the coaching staff has shown CONFIDENCE in Maatta, and allowed him to play THROUGH his mistakes, where as they have not done the same with Despres and thus he is playing with a lack of confidence, and fear of making a mistake?
Shelly Anderson: Makes sense to me.
steveg: Shelly -- I would respectfully like to follow up with your answer to a couple of questions in the chat -- where you were asked why reporters aren't asking tough questions of Coach Bylsma, and you said that the questions ARE being asked. If so, I don't recall seeing the answers published anywhere, and would love to. I am NOT suggesting asking them out of "anger," as you said is not appropriate, and I agree. But, I feel that part of journalism IS to ask the "tough questions," in a respectful way. I would love to see Coach Bylsma's answers to some of these "tough questions" (the use of Tanner Glass on top lines, the frequent benching of Simon Despres, etc. etc. etc.)
Shelly Anderson: You (all of you) should regularly read the Penguins blog on the Post-Gazette web site. We post links to every one of Dan Bylsma's interview sessions.
Kirk: If the Pens fail to get out of the eastern conference with the full roster back healthy do you see major changes in offseason? Fire GM/Blysma and major roster changes?
Shelly Anderson: Doubt it will be that extensive, but there could be changes. The window will start to close in a few years on the primes of the team's star core, so there is some urgency.
Shelly Anderson: OK, everyone. Lively today. Let's do it again next Monday.