Molinari on the Penguins: Dec. 30, 2008 ... remember that date
Penguins Executive Vice President and General Manager Ray Shero -- "We have young leaders, and they're growing into this. "
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The players-only meeting the Penguins held after their 5-2 loss to Boston at Mellon Arena last Tuesday was a fairly predictable move to combat the adversity they'd be experiencing, even if the timing was a bit peculiar.
The Penguins had, after all, simply been beaten by a superior opponent, and there was no reason to think a lack of effort or focus played a major role in the outcome. (Which certainly wasn't the case after recent home-ice losses to Toronto and Tampa Bay.)
But that meeting could prove to be a milestone in the evolution of this team. Not because of anything in particular was said during it, but the simple fact that it took place at all.
Just a day earlier, general manager Ray Shero had been talking about the absence of take-charge veterans in the locker room, and how the young players who make up the club's nucleus have to learn to assert themselves.
"This is part of the growth of this team," he said. "We have young leaders, and they're growing into this. Those older players are not here.
"This is [Marc-Andre] Fleury's team, this is [Sidney] Crosby's team, this is [Evgeni] Malkin's team. [Ryan] Whitney. This is their team.
"They have to grab this thing, in terms of leadership roles. You talk about developing players, you develop leaders, as well. It takes time."
In this case, a little more than 24 hours. At least for one significant step in the process.
Paul Bissonnette has undergone a remarkable transformation during the past year or so, morphing from a near-pariah in the organization to a guy management has no qualms about plugging into its NHL lineup.
And, even though he isn't going to develop into that big-time goal-scorer the Penguins would like to graft onto one of Sidney Crosby's wings, Bissonnette has shown a bit of an offensive touch in the American Hockey League lately. At the time of his most recent promotion to the Penguins, he had put up six points in the previous six games.
"I had a little point streak going there," he said. "It was nice."
And it wasn't an accident. Bissonnette was drafted as a defenseman, but moved into an enforcer/blue-collar forward role last season. He wasn't content simply getting by on muscle, and, when he was assigned to Wilkes-Barre for the first time this season, he took management's admonition at face value.
"They basically told me to go down there and focus on playing, developing my skills," he said. "They wanted me to play more and gave me some good ice time."
And when he isn't working on his passing and shooting, Bissonnette is learning the fine art of discretion, the importance of trading punches with opponents only when it serves a purpose for his team.
"I'm even working on telling tough guys, 'No, I don't want to fight tonight,' " he said. "There's no reason to make them a factor when they didn't need to be."
Especially not when Bissonnette is proving he can be a factor in so many other ways.
Marc-Andre Fleury knew when he broke into the NHL that there was much to learn about playing his position, that there would be a lot of struggles and a lot of work.
And there have been.
No problem. Fleury isn't allergic to perspiration, and he's proven to be a pretty quick study, as evidenced by the improvements he has made in technique and puckhandling.
During his early days in the league, Fleury relied on his remarkable athleticism and reflexes to stop pucks. Now, he has enhanced his natural talents with a strong, and ever-improving, grasp of how his position is to be played and his efforts to move the puck to his teammates don't constitute black comedy anymore.
But the one thing Fleury didn't anticipate was that he'd miss significant chunks of two consecutive seasons because of injuries.
A high ankle sprain forced him to sit out 28 games in 2007-08, and he missed a month after injuring his groin against Buffalo Nov. 15.
Getting hurt obviously is an occupational hazard, but it's also something with which Fleury had little experience until the past 13 months.
Not surprisingly, he doesn't want to have rehabilitation become a staple of his regimen as his career progresses. And, given the very different nature of his two significant injuries, he isn't concerned about the possibility of being labeled "injury-prone," a thoroughly alien notion for most of his career.
"It [stinks]," Fleury said. "Before, I never had anything. I try to take care of my body. I work hard, try to stay strong. Stuff happens sometimes.
"I don't want to be like that. I want to do what's best for my body, stay healthy and go from there."
First Published January 4, 2009 12:00 am