The Pens are in Tampa. They don't play until Wednesday night. Bylsma gave them Monday off.
Big news of the day Monday was the demotion - I suppose - of winger Eric Tangradi to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Tangradi had a goal and an assist in nine games, but this was more than likely a foregone conclusion for him. He looked solid during the first few games in terms of his positioning and board play. He showed some glimpses of what he may eventually do in front of the net.
But he's still in his second full season as a pro and it showed. After playing a season-high 16:35 against the Devils in the third game of the year, his ice time steadily declined and dipped below 10 minutes against Ottawa last Monday. Nine or ten minutes a night isn't going to help his development, not when he could be getting more than twice that in Wilkes-Barre.
It might be the last that Pittsburgh sees of Tangradi until much later this year, barring an injury or perhaps the NHL club's failure to locate Mike Comrie.
But how about Tangradi as another testament to the core of this Pens team?
Look at where this team currently has its cap money tied up for the next three seasons.
Crosby is 23 and he's not going anywhere. Malkin is 24 and he's likely not going anywhere. Staal is 22. Letang is 23. Lovejoy is 26. Fleury is 25, nearly 26. Goligoski is 25. Tangradi is 21. The latter two still have restricted free agency to deal with..
Even the "old" guys - Michalek (27), Martin (29), Orpik (just turned 30) and Cooke (32) - aren't old. The three defensemen are in their primes and signed for three or four more years.
Look at everything we've seen this team accomplish over the last three years, and then realize that it might just be scratching the surface with this new core. Whereas the previous group was relying moreso on veteran players in more prominent roles, this group is now comprised of players who will likely be playing together in the same lineup for the better part of the next three, four, maybe even five seasons. And almost all of these guys are either in their prime years, or still a couple of years away from entering them.
Is there another team in the league that can claim this kind of depth, with so many critical pieces all within a few years of each other in terms of age?
It comes back to what Ray Shero said the day he took over. Paraphrasing a bit here, this wasn't about making a one-year run at a championship and hoping it worked out. It was about sustaining success and continuity to remain in contention for a Stanley Cup year in and year out.
He took a core group from a last-place team that he inherited from the previous administration and over a four-year span parlayed that into a playoff appearance following a near-50 point turnaround in the standings, a Cup runner-up, a Stanley Cup champion and came within one game of a third straight Eastern Conf. Finals appearance.
Now he's got HIS core group in place.
Just throwing this out there. Over the course of his admittedly brief NHL career, Derek Engelland has fought just about every other game. Beyond that, the kid can play. He's averaging 14+ minutes of ice time a night and he's dressed in 8 of 9 games so far. His cap hit is $500,000 for this year. Eric Godard's cap hit is $750,000 and he's dressed in three games. Not sayin'. Just sayin'.
Thank you, Montreal, for getting Jaroslav Halak the hell out of the Eastern Conference. And no, I'm not sold on Carey Price's start.
WEEKLY FLYER HATE: Sergei Bobrovsky. 2.78 GAA. .901 save percentage. Sergei Bobrovsky, Planet Earth. Planet Earth, Sergei Bobrovsky.
Haven't heard many media types mention it - either national or local - and given that it happened the same night as Hockey Night in Canada, it was too late to make Coach's Corner...maybe next week. But at some point in the St. Louis game, there was a play Sidney Crosby made that really stood out. The Blues had an odd-man rush, a 3-on-2 heading across center red and into the Pittsburgh zone. Crosby was backchecking and was about a half-step behind the rush. The Blues' puck carrier leading the rush tried to get the puck back to their trailer - B.J. Crombeen, I think - just as Crosby was almost back. Crosby slid out to try to block the pass, forcing Crombeen to hurdle him. The rush was broken up.
Imagine Ovechkin making a play like that? Routinely? Ironic that it comes just a few days after Japers Rink posted this.
I can think of about four, maybe five players regarded as "elite" who would sell out to make a play like that on a regular basis, and two of them are Red Wings. People want to know why Crosby gets the publicity that he does. It's not all about scoring goals and serving as a mouthpiece for the league. Watch the guy play over the course of a season, and you see several instances of plays like this. There are few forwards in the league that backcheck as well and as often as Crosby.
Some stuff from the junior/collegiate ranks:
Pretty cool note coming out of the Ontario Hockey League. Two Pittsburgh natives are currently one-two on the Saginaw Spirit in scoring. Center Vincent Trocheck is currently tied with winger Jordan Szwarz for the team lead with 14 points in 13 games (6G, 8A for Trocheck). Fellow Pittsburgher Brandon Saad sits just a point back with 13 points (7-6). Saad is eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and is already projected to be a top 10 pick. Hat tip on this to the Buzzing The Net blog on Yahoo Canada.
Since being returned by the Pens to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, Simon Despres has a goal and 7 assists in 7 games. He's a +6 over that span. He's just two points out of the top 20 in scoring defensemen in the "Q", despite playing half the time as many of the names in front of him.
Got a chance to see Robert Morris take on Air Force at the College Hockey Showcase a couple of Sundays ago. RMU won the game 3-2 on a very late goal by senior winger Nathan Longpre. The win moved them to 4-0-0 in their first season in Atlantic Hockey and while it's very early, they're currently ranked #19 in the country according to www.InsideCollegeHockey.com.
In lieu of the Mark Letestu comments from last week, keep an eye on both Longpre and RMU defenseman Denny Urban come March. Both were drawing the interests of NHL scouts last year and each had already been invited to the Penguins' developmental camp in 2009. Longpre lists at 6'0", 195 and is very quick with a physical edge to his game. Kid spent most of the Air Force game taking the puck right at the Air Force net, too. In 73 games since his sophomore year began, Longpre has now scored 28 goals, 49 assists and 77 points. Urban is a smaller (5'10", 168 lbs.), puck-moving defenseman whose style for RMU is very similar to that of Brian Rafalski or even Alex Goligoski. Urban had 10 goals and 14 assists in 35 games last year, and leads the team in scoring so far this year with a goal and five assists.
The Air Force-RMU game was a solid one for uniform junkies, too. Air Force's jerseys were just sharp. You can get a good look at them here. And I don't know if it's intentional, but the RMU jerseys are a nice sticktap to the USA Miracle on Ice jerseys - white with the blue (albeit navy) shoulders and the "R-M-U" letters diagonally down the front of the jersey in red and blue lettering. Classic.
One last RMU note. The 2010 Showcase was the third time I've had a chance to watch RMU's team play. I missed last year's Showcase upset of then #1 Miami (Ohio) as it took place the weekend of Snowmageddon and I couldn't get out of my driveway. I attended the 2008 Showcase when they lost to Ohio State. Prior to that, I hadn't seen them play since their first season in 2004-05 against Mercyhurst. I went partially because I've always kind of followed college hockey, but mostly because it was at least hockey filler during the lockout.
Amazing to see how far that program has come, considering this is just its sixth year of existence. Their former conference - the five-team CHA - (thankfully) dissolved after last season, allowing them to move up to Atlantic Hockey, which will provide a better overall pool of competition. Niagara moved with them, so those matchups will remain. Conference games against the likes of RIT, Mercyhurst and major out-of-conference games with Colgate (ECAC) and North Dakota (WCHA).
The team is entertaining to watch. Schooley has them playing a relentless up-and-down game. Lots of puck movement. Every check along the boards is finished. Big hits aren't marred by stoppages so goons can get their three minutes of ice time. The atmosphere (college bands) was great. I was very surprised, too, at the skill level. Schooley is bringing in some good players - better than what he's had in recent seasons. While Atlantic Hockey is probably considered a step down from the more traditional Hockey East, CCHA and WCHA programs, it's still very good hockey. college football fans, think of Atlantic Hockey as the Mountain West to the others as the Big Ten, SEC and Pac10 - it's still very good hockey. Definitely worth checking out, especially for the price of their tickets and with the Frozen Four coming to Pittsburgh in a few years.
We'll leave you with this. I have this on VHS somewhere. Don Cherry Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em 2. Circa 1990-91.
Last 1:30 or so. Holy hell.
Still love the line about Europe, complete with Tomas Sandstrom.