Penguins Notebook: Tocchet reshapes Downie's game, image for the better
Martin Skoula, who the Penguins traded away at the deadline, is checked by Penguins' Ruslan Fedotenko as Chris Kunitz (14) looks on during the first period Friday night. The Penguins traded Skoula to Toronto, who then turned around and dealt him to New Jersey a day later.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Steve Downie began to make a name for himself in hockey years ago.
For launching himself into Dean McAmmond of Ottawa in a preseason game in 2007, giving McAmmond a concussion and earning a 20-game suspension.
For cross-checking and fighting junior hockey teammate Akim Aliu in practice after Aliu declined to participate in a demeaning hazing incident and knocking out three of Aliu's teeth in the process.
For slashing minor-league linesman Mike Hamilton in a game, picking up another 20-game suspension.
Downie, playing for Tampa Bay, can't change history, but he is altering his image a bit.
He still is rugged and unpleasant to play against, but has developed into a valuable member of the Lightning's most-productive line, alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Downie enters Tampa Bay's game against the Penguins at 5:08 p.m. today at the St. Pete Times Forum with 17 goals, 23 assists and a team-best plus-18 plus-minus rating in 65 games.
"He had such a bad rap," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "We had to strip him down and start from square one."
Game: Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning, 5:08 p.m. today, St. Pete Times Forum.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Antero Niittymaki for Lightning.
Penguins: Have not gone three games without a victory since 0-5 skid Dec. 27-Jan. 3. ... RW Craig Adams does not have a point in 35 games or goal in 97. ... Are 21-6-5 in games decided by one goal.
Lightning: Have gone 18-8-6 at home, including 3-1 victory against Penguins Jan. 2 ... LW Ryan Malone has seven game-winning goals, one shy of single-season franchise record. ... Are second-most penalized team in NHL, averaging 16.6 minutes per game.
Hidden stat: Tampa Bay is 17-4-6 when scoring first.
Tocchet, who knows more than a little about blending toughness and talent, believes Downie is just beginning to realize his potential.
"He's not a huge guy (6-foot, 200 pounds), but I still think can be a prototypical power forward," Tocchet said. "He can score, he can hit and he can stick up for his teammates when has to."
Tocchet noted that Downie has been highly effective on the boards -- "You can't have enough of those guys" -- and described him as "a vacuum" when competing for loose pucks.
Downie hardly is a pacifist (his 190 penalty minutes are second most in the league, trailing only teammate Zenon Konopka's 202) and has been assessed five misconducts, but Tocchet is working with him on channeling his energies.
"We tell him has to stay away from refs, because he has a fuse," Tocchet said. "But we don't want him to lose his edge."
Players and coaches do not generally qualify as objective observers about things that happen during games, which is understandable in light of the physical and emotional investment they make in them.
That's why it was noteworthy when, after the Penguins' 3-1 loss at New Jersey Friday, Dan Bylsma of the Penguins exonerated the officials for failing to notice that Devils forward Travis Zajac had used his stick to knock goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's glove out of position to catch an Ilya Kovalchuk shot midway through the third period.
Replays confirmed that Zajac had interfered with Fleury, and Zajac readily admitted it after the game, but Bylsma said referees Bill McCreary and Greg Kimmerly should not necessarily be criticized for not detecting what Zajac did.
"I don't know how they're going to pick all that up," Bylsma said. "I don't know how, with the speed of the game and the situation and the positioning that the referees are in all the time, I don't know that that's a call they're possibly going to get right every time."
When some of Sidney Crosby's Olympic equipment, including the stick he used to score the gold-medal-winning overtime goal for Canada, was discovered in Toronto a few days ago, about a week after being declared missing, Crosby said he would be delighted to have it shown to the public in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It will not necessarily be a permanent display.
Crosby's camp has made it clear that he wants to have the stick and other equipment returned eventually so it can be part of his personal collection. It should be one of the better-decorated game rooms in Nova Scotia by the time his playing days are over.
First Published March 14, 2010 12:00 am