Penguins playing to their strength of recent addition
March 24, 2014 11:07 PM
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
The Penguins' Marcel Goc celebrates Olli Maatta's goal during the first period of a game against the Sharks earlier this month.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Marcel Goc has caused some confusion since he joined the Penguins.
Not among his teammates or coaches, but among those who track line combinations and try to assign meaning to them.
That was especially true earlier this month when Goc began centering a couple of wingers usually associated with the third line, while center Brandon Sutter appeared to have been demoted from the third to the fourth line.
Sutter balked at that idea, and it turns out the bottom two lines have been a bit blurred since Goc’s arrival. That’s because Goc is a defensively sound forward who is strong on faceoffs and gives the Penguins the option of using different looks beyond the top two lines.
“We’re kind of all over the map,” Sutter said. “I couldn’t really tell you what’s what, but I don’t really worry about it. We just go out and play.”
In more recent games Goc has moved to the wing at times and played with Sutter. That not only provides a strong defensive look, but it also gives the Penguins strength on faceoffs when they are trying to keep the puck away from opponents’ more skilled forwards.
“It’s good when you’ve got a righty and a lefty, so you have two guys who can go on their strong sides,” said Goc, who shoots left-handed while Sutter shoots right-handed. “It doesn’t matter where the faceoff is.
“I like playing with [Sutter]. I think he’s an easy guy to play with. He tries to help me, talk me through the plays we’re going to make on the ice. It’s a big thing that I know exactly where everybody’s supposed to be.”
The game tonight against Phoenix at Consol Energy Center will be Goc’s 11th with the Penguins since he arrived in a March 5 trade with Florida in exchange for a 2014 fifth-round draft pick and a 2015 third-round pick.
Goc, 30, has killed penalties. He has won 53.9 percent of his faceoffs.
He hasn’t figured prominently in the offense — he has one assist in 10 games and it came in his Penguins debut. That doesn’t surprise anyone, including him.
“I’ve been used defensively and for faceoffs,” Goc said. “I try to do my job in our own end, defensive zone. It’s the role I had in Florida and, before, Nashville.”
As soon as he learned he had been traded to the Penguins, Goc figured he wouldn’t have anyone heaping offensive expectations on him.
“They’ve got a lot of firepower up front with Sid [Crosby], [Evgeni] Malkin, [Chris Kunitz], [Jussi] Jokinen — you go down the [row],” he said, motioning toward the rest of the locker stalls in the Penguins dressing room at Consol Energy Center.
“I’m sure they got me for the defensive part, and I’m trying to be on top of my game and help the team that way.”
That’s exactly what the Penguins wanted from Goc.
“In addition to [penalty killing and faceoffs], at different times, different matchups, we’ve used him in a defensive situation, used him up on the wing in a defensive situation, a second draw man on the ice,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
“With our matchup situation going, typically we have two lines that we’re comfortable with playing against other teams’ top lines in a defensive situation. He’s a guy we’ve inserted on the second one to be that guy for us.”
In a 1-0 loss Sunday against St. Louis, the Penguins dressed seven defensemen. With only 11 forwards, Goc sometimes centered for Tanner Glass and Brian Gibbons, and other times moved to the wing with Sutter and Gibbons.
The toughest part of his transition has been learning the Penguins’ terminology, particularly on faceoff plays.
“Some are the same. You know them from teams before, but they’re different names,” he said. “That’s the hardest part. Then, you’ve got to execute it on the ice. I think I’ve got most of it now. Now, it’s just get the little things right and create more chemistry. I hope they like the way I play.”
The game tonight is the third of a Penguin’s four-game homestand. There’s no telling how long Goc will be with the club — he’s living in a hotel and eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer — but at least he’s getting to see more of the city than the inside of buses, hotel rooms and the arena, which were his impressions of Pittsburgh as a visiting player.
“We have a little home stretch here, so I get to drive around a little downtown, go to a couple of different restaurants,” Goc said. “I like it.”
He’s new enough that he’s barely been recognized away from the arena.
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