Worrying about the depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins

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penguinslogo.gifIt’s Sunday morning and that sometimes means I get to thinking a bit wacky, but hold steady with me here through this one. There’s a very popular NHL team that, outside of a couple of signings, has been relatively very quiet. They improved one area that needed strengthening rather badly and that will certainly help them improve greatly. There was another nagging area that still hasn’t been fully addressed, and it’s an area that seen them even lose helpful players and it makes me worry a bit about them.

So who is this perplexing yet highly talented team? It’s the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens made their big splashes of the off-season by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to help offset the loss of Sergei Gonchar and strengthen their back line. While neither Martin nor Michalek have the offensive prowess of Gonchar, they’re outstanding players nonetheless and Martin will take over Gonchar’s role as the team’s puck-moving defenseman.  Aside from those two players, the only other signing of note they’ve made is the one made just the other day to lock down forward Arron Asham. The Penguins’ forward depth, as it stands now, looks to be worrisome.

Yes, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal are brilliant players and the amount of offense they bring to the table is more than impressive. With Staal and Malkin tentatively set to be playing on the same line together. That’s uniting Staal and his 49 points from last year (21g, 48a) with the other-worldly Malkin (28g, 49a in 65 games) in a partnership that should see both their numbers rise.Throwing a guy like Matt Cooke next to those two might even help him snap out of being more of a distraction than a helper.

Sidney Crosby, at the moment, seems like a man on an island. He’s looking at Pascal Dupuis as his main man on right wing now that Bill Guerin has seemingly moved on. Having a 51-goal scorer and annual MVP candidate find ways to make other players around him better is nothing new, but getting that complimentary piece on the right wing for him would be great. Chris Kunitz does a fine job playing the physical winger has its toll. He played in just 50 games last year for the Pens and scored 13 goals. Maybe it’s just a signal of what it’s like for the Pens in the salary cap world, but a potential Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis first line doesn’t really grab you by the collar and shake you up.

What’s working for the Pens is that their third and fourth lines are going to be real pains to deal with. Maxime Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Arron Asham, Craig Adams,  helps balance out their bottom two lines and gives them a bit more skill there. What the Pens have waiting in the wings in guys like Chris Conner and Mark Letestu make for decent depth players to fill holes when needed.

The Penguins are built like a team that will be a major pain in the rear-end come playoff time and there’s little doubt that they will be a playoff team, but is there enough offensively talented depth here to help them sustain a series against a team that throws the clamps down defensively? After all, we saw what an other-worldly goaltending performance and a defensive-centric approach did against the Pens in the playoffs last year.

While Staal’s time on the ice won’t suffer from being on the third line anymore, stressing time with just two lines, one of which that sees the team’s best player become even more of a target to clamp down on has to be a bit of a worry. This isn’t to say that the Pens are going to suffer, they won’t. You can’t suffer when you’ve got two of the best players in the league on your roster. Things might just not be as simple as they’ve always seemed is all.

With Rust still day-to-day, Sullivan isn’t in a ‘hypothetical’ mood when it comes to his lineup

Pittsburgh Penguins' Mike Sullivan stands behind Sidney Crosby (87) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan still has forward Bryan Rust listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he took a controversial hit from Patrick Marleau in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

(The league stated Tuesday that there will be no suspension for Marleau.)

As for Rust, who has six goals and nine points in these playoffs, his status hasn’t changed since the conclusion of the game. But with Game 2 set for Wednesday, Sullivan may have a lineup decision ahead of him if Rust isn’t able to play.

Sullivan, who said Rust is still being evaluated, was asked about the possibility of Eric Fehr moving up onto a line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, where Rust had been playing.

Naturally, Sullivan praised Fehr but didn’t want to delve into the possibilities for his lineup tomorrow.

“If he were to go back on that line, he’s a pretty good player. Regardless of which line he plays on, (Fehr) has had the ability to adapt his game. The one thing he does bring to the respective lines, he’s another center iceman that can take faceoffs in the defensive zone,” Sullivan told reporters.

“He has a real good awareness in the D zone. He’s pretty strong on the wall. He brings all of those elements to that line that we choose to put him on. We’ll make decisions accordingly depending on who we think is available for our lineup. But hypotheticals is not the world that we live in.”

‘It was frustrating for me,’ says Tarasenko after struggling offensively versus Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko has opened up about his play in the Western Conference Final versus the San Jose Sharks, who held the talented forward off the score sheet in five of six games.

It wasn’t until the third period of Game 6 that Tarasenko finally broke his slump, scoring twice as St. Louis tried one last desperation comeback attempt. It didn’t work. The Blues were eliminated and the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Final.

“They played really tight and they backchecked so hard,” said Tarasenko, as per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s just experience. It was frustrating for me. I wish I could do better. I’m supposed to do better.”

After a 40-goal regular season, the 24-year-old Tarasenko’s point production through the first two rounds — versus Chicago and Dallas — was solid, with 13 points in 14 games.

But the Sharks kept him in check.

His lack of production became a key focal point as the third-round series carried on. Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who signed a one-year extension to stay in St. Louis, admitted Tarasenko was “learning hard lessons” against the Sharks and that he had to fight through the tight checking in order to produce offensively.

As the series continued, Hitchcock added that Tarasenko just needed to play within the system, and that getting away from that is perhaps a “natural tendency” for young players pressing to make things happen in crucial situations.

There had been talk about a rift between Tarasenko and Hitchcock, especially after video replays showed the two in a brief but heated exchange at the bench during the first round. Of course, the coach later downplayed it.

As the Blues’ playoff run ended, there was speculation about why, exactly, Tarasenko didn’t address the media on the same day the rest of his teammates did.

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson:

More importantly, Tarasenko’s no comment closed the book on his season without addressing the elephant in the dressing room.

There is growing speculation of friction between Tarasenko and the Blues. Is there a rift between the star and his club?

If I’m a member of that front office, I sure would have liked a player under contract until 2023 to squash such a story on Saturday.

On the subject of any perceived issues between the Blues organization and Tarasenko, both parties responded:

 

 

The Russians say they’re in ‘negotiations’ with the NHL to get Voynov into the World Cup

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Yesterday in Pittsburgh, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that Slava Voynov was still suspended and, because of that, would not be allowed to play in the upcoming World Cup.

Bettman also said that the Russian Ice Hockey Federation had been told as much.

However, it seems the Russians — who last week added Voynov to their World Cup roster — still haven’t given up on trying to get the 26-year-old defensemen into the tournament.

From Russian News Agency TASS:

“The Russian Ice Hockey Federation is holding negotiations with the organizers of the World Cup – the NHL – concerning the issue of national team’s defender Vyacheslav Voynov,” the RHF’s press service told TASS on Tuesday adding that besides the Russian and US sides the negotiations also involve Rene Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

“The Russian Ice Hockey Federation hopes that the organizers of the international competition will make a positive decision on the issue and the defender will be allowed to be included in the roster of the Russian national team,” the RHF added.

Known in the United States as Slava Voynov he played in the past for NHL’s Los Angeles Kings before the North American Hockey League suspended him over domestic violence charges and the player returned last autumn back home, where he is currently playing for the national team and KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg club.

Time will tell if the Russians can convince the NHL to change its stance. They could sure use Voynov, given the relative weakness of their defense. But Bettman did not sound yesterday like he was open to a negotiation.

The Russians, for the record, have maintained that it’s not the NHL’s decision to make.

So perhaps that’s the big question here — who has the final say on the matter? Officially, the World Cup “is a joint effort of the NHLPA and the NHL, in cooperation with the International Ice Hockey Federation.”

It’s just not entirely clear how that bit of boilerplate applies to the Voynov situation.

Report: Bruins’ Khokhlachev to sign in KHL

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Alexander Khokhlachev’s time with the Boston Bruins is up, according to a report out of Russia that has the 22-year-old forward signing with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

The deal reportedly won’t be announced until after June 30; Khokhlachev is under contract with the B’s until then. But the fact he’s apparently decided to depart for the KHL should come as no surprise.

A second-round draft pick in 2011, Khokhlachev has spent the last three seasons piling up points in the AHL; however, he’s only appeared in nine NHL games.

Earlier this month, his agent told CBS Boston, “Alexander did not really get a chance for all the years that he signed a deal, for four years, the deals he signed with Boston, didn’t really get a chance to play in the National Hockey League, so he won’t stay in the organization.”

SKA acquired Khokhlachev’s KHL rights last summer.

Related: Khokhlachev just wants a chance