Dave Molinari on the Penguins: Ryan Malone takes post-graduate class in the sweet science
During his first few seasons in the NHL, Ryan Malone fought very much like the college-trained player that he is.
Which is to say, rarely. And poorly.
Sure, there have been a few college products who could acquit themselves well in almost any fight, but those are very much the exception, and understandably so. Fighting is banned in college hockey, which means it's a talent players don't have reason to develop during their formative years.
But during the past few offseasons, Malone has made a point of trying to add that to his repertoire, and it is working. He had six fights on his 2007-08 resume before the Penguins visited Atlanta last night and, in his most recent one, broke the orbital bone of Toronto forward Mark Bell.
Malone isn't going to supplant Georges Laraque as the Penguins' enforcer of choice anytime soon, but at 6 feet 4, 224 pounds, he's not someone opponents necessarily will be eager to trade punches with now that he's getting an idea of how to do it effectively.
"I'm still learning," Malone said. "It's tough, coming from college. You just don't fight in college. The only way to get better at it is to keep practicing. It's something I don't mind doing."
He has altered his summer training regimen, replacing early cardiovascular work with a kickboxing/boxing class in Minneapolis.
The instructor, Malone said, "pretty much shows you how to protect yourself. Obviously, it helps on the ice when you have to do it. You never know when you have to protect yourself."
Those lessons help, of course, but Malone also picks up practical (and sometimes painful) pointers in game situations. An early season bout with Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore is one example.
"I'm learning little things, like where to grip on the jersey," Malone said. "Commodore, I kind of gripped him around the neck and let him swing freely with the right, which wasn't a good idea."
Point (and punches) taken, and Malone applied the knowledge he gained against Commodore to a fight with David Clarkson of New Jersey about a month later.
"The Clarkson one, I kind of grabbed his arm," he said. "I felt I was in more control of that one. Every fight is different."
While there weren't a lot of screaming headlines when Carolina sent goalie John Grahame to its American Hockey League affiliate in Albany, N.Y., a week or so ago, at least a few Penguins partisans likely were delighted to hear about the move.
There is, you see, no active goalie -- not Martin Brodeur or Roberto Luongo or Miikka Kiprusoff or anyone else -- who has tormented them in recent years the way Grahame has.
His career record against the Penguins: 9-1-1, with a 1.97 goals-against average. He is 87-88-13 against the rest of the league.
The Jan. 1 outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo went about as well as could be expected, at least under those circumstances, but during one of the intermissions, a Penguins executive floated an intriguing suggestion for upgrading the entertainment value of future outdoor games:
Guarantee both teams one point, then have them compete to see who gets a second.
With a point in his pocket before the opening faceoff, even the most defensive-minded coach might not object to turning his players loose.
Weather-related issues still could hold down the number of scoring chances, of course, but letting the players try to take full advantage of their skills is more in keeping with the "pond hockey" theme.
Then again, a good case could be made that the All-Star Game is the perfect -- and maybe the only truly appropriate -- setting for an outdoor game. No one bothers playing defense in those, anyway, and the outcome really doesn't matter, so there will be no lasting impact if some quirk of the weather determines which team wins.
The NHL routinely uses the American Hockey League as a test site for potential rules changes, and there is an interesting one getting a look-see this season.
It calls for all power plays to start with a faceoff in the defensive zone of the team that is killing the penalty. Previously, the location of the faceoff was determined by where play was blown dead and could have been anywhere on the ice.
The obvious intention of the change is to give the power play a head start on applying pressure that could lead to a goal.
"It's to create offense, certainly," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "That's what it's for. Everything is about creating offense."
Assistant GM Chuck Fletcher, who serves as GM of the Baby Penguins, has given the rule an unqualified endorsement and clearly would like to see it adopted by the NHL.
First Published January 13, 2008 12:00 am