Dave Molinari on the Penguins: A weekly look inside the team, the issues, the questions
Sunday, February 18, 2007
A Calder-on of opinion boils down to one choice -- Geno
The poll was unscientific, premature and, for all practical purposes, irrelevant.
But the information it turned up was at least a little bit interesting.
It showed that, amazed as Jordan Staal's teammates are by how effective he has been as an 18-year-old in the NHL, they still believe center Evgeni Malkin, known in the locker room as "Geno," is the clear choice for NHL Rookie of the Year.
Nine players were selected at random after practice a few days ago and asked to identify which first-year NHL player they thought would be most worthy of receiving the Calder Trophy if it were awarded that afternoon. (Which, by the way, it wasn't.)
All respondents were granted anonymity, with the goal of encouraging candor by removing any danger of alienating a teammate who might feel slighted by an unvarnished opinion. Even then, not all of the players could settle on a favorite but of those who did, Malkin was the guy.
The individuals polled were asked to pick the league's top rookie (to that point of the season) and briefly explain their selection. The responses:
"I'd give it to Malkin
, just because he leads rookies in goals and points, and it's not like he's a 23- or 24-year-old. He's 20. He might have a lot more ice time than [Staal], but at the same time, he's 12th in the league in scoring. And I'd be willing to bet money he's in the top nine or 10 by the end of the year."
. He and Staal have had tremendous success [as linemates]. They work so well together, maybe Geno being the centerman and taking a little more responsibility defensively, I would have to go with Geno. But it's close."
"Can I say two?
How many points does Geno have? It's between him and Jordan. Jordan has so many [short-handed] goals, most in the league, so that's pretty sick. And Geno has lots of points. I'll go with Geno, I think."
"It wouldn't be fair to say
, because I haven't paid enough attention to all the other rookies around the league. I don't know what they've done. I know our two rookies, in particular, have been phenomenal, but I don't know enough about what the other rookies around the league have done."
"Can I say two guys?
It would have to be Staal or Geno. They've both stepped up. The most improved from Day 1 of training camp until now has definitely been [Staal]. He's improved so fast, it's incredible. He just gets more confident every day. Geno obviously had a lot of hype and can change a game with one shift. That is a tough question. I don't know."
"I really only know of three
. That [Anze] Kopitar from L.A., I haven't really seen him play because he's all the way out on the West Coast. So if I were to choose, I'd say Geno. He's still learning to play the North American game, but he's exciting to watch when he has the puck. Like [Sidney Crosby], he's just come into the league and drawn a buzz. People come to watch him and Sid play the game, and that's what makes our team exciting. ... I couldn't have imagined Jordan scoring 23 goals by this time. At the start of the year, I think that if he would have gotten 10 or 12 , that would have been a pretty good start. But Geno has scored some highlight-reel goals."
"I'd vote for Malkin
. He's had a huge impact not only on our team, but overall. He's a game-breaker. He can make a difference. He's been, at times, close to our best player, for stretches, and has been pretty dominant."
"I think I'd vote for Geno
. It's a close race with [Staal], though. A close race. I love the way [Staal] is playing, but for stats and everything, the number of goals [Malkin] has -- and big goals, too ..."
"It's tough between [Staal] and Geno
. Kopitar from L.A. is doing pretty well, too, so I think there are probably three of them really in the running. But it's tough, because Geno has a lot of assists, and [Staal] has, like, six. It's up in the air between those two. That's too tough for me to make a decision. They're both having great years. [Staal] has really turned it on of late, but Geno had four points in the game when [Staal] had a hat trick, so it's going back and forth. We'll see how they both end up."
Trend-setters or rebels?
Erik Christensen scooped the puck up with his stick behind the net and, without breaking stride, curled out around the left post and whipped a shot under the crossbar.
It was flawless execution of a lacrosse-style goal.
Something Christensen, who has some of the best hands on this team, made look effortless when he was the first player on the ice before a recent practice.
But also something he insists he would never consider doing in a game, even though there is no rule against it.
"If you try it and you miss, you look stupid," he said. "I'm not established enough yet to be able to try doing stuff like that. Even if I play 12 years in this league, I would never try that."
Crosby did while playing junior hockey and, not surprisingly, got a goal. Then took a ferocious beating from people who claimed he was disrespecting the other team, if not the game itself. "He got a lot of criticism," Christensen said.
Crosby isn't intimidated by much, so if he decides it would benefit his team to break out the lacrosse move again, it's safe to assume he'll do it.
But whether he, or any other Penguin, will try a completely behind-the-back shot a few guys experimented with after being inspired by the American Hockey League skills competition is another matter.
"It actually looks ridiculous," Christensen said. "But interesting."
Trend-setters: Part II
In the NFL, when a coach is entering the final year of a contract, he's a lame duck. In the NHL, he's just one of the guys in the crowd.
Michel Therrien of the Penguins has the balance of this season and 2007-08 left on his contract and has not had any discussions about a new one. General manager Ray Shero, who said he will not publicly discuss contractual dealings with coaches, noted that many accomplished coaches complete their contracts before negotiating a new one, and Therrien said his contract status is a non-issue with him.
"It's not on my mind," he said. "My focus is on the team. My focus is on this season."