What do Malone, Ruutu, Roberts and Laraque have in common?
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Q: What do Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque have in common, beside the fact that they are all gone from the team? They played the game with an edge and an urgency that not enough of the remaining Pens seem to have. I have grown weary already of watching the listless play of late. Where are the guys who are willing to muck in the corners and maintain control of the puck? Who play a physical, in-your-face style that can inspire their teammates? Don't you think the current Pens lack grit?
Bob Buterbaugh, Glen Campbell, Pa.
MOLINARI: Losing the players you listed, along with Adam Hall, during the offseason clearly cost the Penguins some grit and toughness, and that's a deficit general manager Ray Shero wasn't able to make up. It's not that Shero doesn't appreciate the importance of those qualities; just that the NHL's salary cap often forces teams to make difficult personnel decisions, and letting those guys leave -- whether it was because they wanted more money than the Penguins could afford, or more years than Shero thought prudent or simply because there was doubt about the player's ability to make a significant contribution -- is a prime example.
The 2008-09 Penguins are not as tough to play against as last year's team, and that probably isn't going to change unless Shero decides to overhaul his lineup, which is not something anyone should expect in the near future from an executive who has earned a reputation for patience. (Especially when that approach has been so successful for the franchise during the 2 ?? years Shero has been in charge.)
Probably the best the Penguins can hope for is that the guys who were brought in over the summer can make the contributions expected from them. That Miroslav Satan, for example, can continue to score consistently. He's on pace for a 41-goal season and if he can give the Penguins that, they likely will be willing to overlook any physical shortcomings in his game.
Q: These wingers need to step it up. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the best players to set you up for a goal. How many goals did Robbie Brown get winging for Lemieux? These wingers need to skate hard, get open and fire that puck hard to the net. Lemieux made Kevin Stevens look great. And all Stevens did was charge the net, create havoc in front and shoot hard to the net.
Ed, West View
MOLINARI: There's no question the Penguins need to get more production, especially at even-strength, from their wingers, an issue that has existed since the start of the season. That's particularly true of the wingers who play with Crosby, since his forte is setting up goals, not scoring them.
What isn't so obvious is why people seem to feel that playing on a line with Lemieux was the prefect elixir for any winger, that skating alongside him was tantamount to receiving an engraved invitation to the all-star game. The reality is, for every Warren Young who had unprecedented success when placed with Lemieux, there was a Dwight Mathiasen, who accomplished virtually nothing in that spot. Yes, Lemieux was an exceptional playmaker -- there wasn't much ordinary about any aspect of his game -- but he did not, contrary to the belief of some, have the ability to turn a potted plant into a 35-goal scorer.
Which begins us back to the point about the success some of Lemieux's linemates did enjoy. What some people seem to forget, or perhaps never knew, was that Brown shattered a number of scoring records while playing in the Western Hockey League and, as has been stated in this space before, thought the game more like Lemieux than anyone else Lemieux ever played with. (Yes, that includes Ron Francis and Jaromir Jagr.) Brown skated like he was knee-deep in sand, but he knew where to go to be in position to score, and had the hands to make it happen once he got there. If, early in his career, Brown had had even average skating ability, or even the work ethic that he displayed when he reinvented himself as a defensive winger late in his career, he might well have spent his entire time in the NHL as a core player with the Penguins.
Stevens, meanwhile, was regarded by many as the premier power forward of his generation, although supporters of people like Cam Neely surely don't agree. The point, though, is that Stevens had size and good hands and was a strong skater. To suggest that what he achieved is strictly a by-product of playing on Lemieux's line is simply not a reflection of reality.
Yes, players like Young and Brown and Stevens benefited from having Lemieux for a linemate, but that worked both ways. After all, what's the point of making plays if there isn't a linemate or two capable of turning them into goals?
First Published November 4, 2008 12:29 am