Dave Molinari On The Penguins -- Georges Laraque is still the champ
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Gary Roberts is a bull of a man. He's 210 pounds of muscle and malice aforethought, and there's more fat on a steel I-beam than on his 6-foot-2 frame.
So it did not seem like a complete mismatch when, at the end of practice a few days ago, he and teammate Georges Laraque squared off in a mock fight. There was plenty of sweater-pulling and lots of punches thrown -- none of which, by design, landed -- and, to the casual observer, no obvious victor.
But the view from up-close was decidedly different.
"Thank goodness it was only play-fighting," Roberts said.
Laraque concurred that he and Roberts had squared off strictly for entertainment purposes -- "We just did it for fun, to make the guys laugh a little," he said -- but it also reinforced a rather significant point, just in case anyone had forgotten: Laraque is one seriously tough individual.
He has been one of hockey's elite heavyweights, but has had only a few fights since the Penguins acquired him from Phoenix at the trade deadline in late February. That included one during an exhibition game in Montreal last month, when Canadiens defenseman Andrew Archer prodded Laraque into dropping his gloves and spent the next day having his face surgically repaired.
So while the limited number of bouts Laraque has had as a Penguin likely reflects several things, including his modest ice time and a focus on upgrading his overall skills, it also bolsters the notion that opponents with even a tiny interest in personal well-being aren't eager to challenge him.
Count Roberts among the guys who don't think that would be, uh, prudent.
"Are you kidding?" he said. "I might not be the brightest guy out there, but I know better than to fight a guy like Georges. I have never been put in that situation, and don't intend on being put in that situation."
Roberts can be a scary one at times, too. Especially for opponents who find themselves along the boards while he bears down on them like a stampeding buffalo.
But from Roberts' perspective, Laraque might be even more frightening.
"He's probably the best heavyweight in the National Hockey League, so to have him on our team feels pretty good," Roberts said. "I'm glad he's on our side, that's all I can say."
Learning new skills
Defenseman Darryl Sydor, who had a thoroughly forgettable start to his first season with the Penguins, still is adjusting to a lot of things.
A new city. New teammates. A new coach, with a new system. And a new goaltender, which is a lot more of a change than many might realize.
In Dallas, Sydor worked with Marty Turco, who moves the puck better than some defenseman. Here, he plays in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, whose puckhandling, while significantly better than it was when he broke into the league, falls somewhere between marginal and mediocre.
"I'm not going to beat around the bush," Sydor said. "You play with a goalie who moves the puck like Marty, you don't really go back for the puck that much.
"[With Fleury,] you have to move your feet, you have to get back. In a roundabout way, you maybe get a little lazy the other way, so it's an adjustment."
Don't let the door hit you ...
The Penguins not only cut defenseman Paul Bissonnette from their roster during training camp last month, but told him not to bother reporting to their farm team in Wilkes-Barre.
That was a less-than-subtle way of reminding Bissonette that he doesn't have a place in the organization's future.
A few months after he was drafted in 2003, Bissonnette made a serious run at earning a place in the Penguins' lineup during training camp, but at least one off-ice incident and several unimpressive stints with the Baby Penguins cemented his status as a non-prospect in the eyes of the front office.
Bissonnette, who will be a free agent next summer, has joined the Penguins' ECHL affiliate in Wheeling for its training camp, and figures to stay with the Nailers until the Penguins trade him or his contract expires.
"It's just a matter of time. Just make the best of the situation. Hopefully something will happen and I can rub it in Pittsburgh's face."
If anyone detects hostility in those words, well, that seems like a pretty accurate assessment. Bissonnette certainly didn't hide his bitterness about how things played out last month.
"I went to Pittsburgh for camp in the summer and the head coach for Wilkes-Barre (Todd Richards) said, 'People make mistakes and we're going to give you a clean slate this year,' " Bissonnette said.
"I said, 'You don't have to do that, but it's unreal. Thank you.' So I came into camp with an open mind."
It closed pretty quickly, though. "I get to camp and it's the same old swan song. I didn't even get to scrimmage, so I was like, 'OK, that's fine. Get me out of here.'"
Which they did. For good.'
First Published October 14, 2007 12:00 am