With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ European vacation now over, they got back to work on Wednesday with their first practice at Mellon Arena in nearly 2-weeks. The Penguins, who split their opening weekend with the Ottawa Senators, got busy by working on key areas that need improvement. Chief among those are special teams and the power play. Having one of the most lethal powerplay units in the league last season, something was definitely missing last weekend as the Penguins went an abysmal 1-for-14 in their first 2-games. Sergei Gonchar was missing. With the accomplished defensemen out of the lineup for an extended period of time, the Penguins will need to find other ways to put the punch back in their powerplay.
Last season, Sergei Gonchar was the highly effective quarterback for the Penguins explosive powerplay. But with Gonchar out of the lineup and Whitney sidelined too, no other Penguin defenseman possesses the ability to effortlessly move across the blueline and set up Evgeni Malkin for the one-timer or to load up and blast one in hard from the blueline. It is a time of great opportunity for young defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski to step up and into the void, but it won’t come easy. As easy as Gonchar made it look, his skill was one borne out of experience…something the two young defensemen have not yet acquired. Look for Michel Therrien to try and speed up their development in this role, as he has few other stop-gap options in the current lineup. He will also stress getting back to basics as a time tested method of getting the powerplay back on track. The good news is that the season is just getting started and their is plenty of time to work these things out.
All this being said, I do have to give some credit to the Ottawa Senators for their aggressive penalty kill. They never allowed the Penguins’ potent offense to get their powerplay set up. As a result, the Penguins got very few quality scoring chances or set plays where a blast from the blueline could have resulted in a juicy rebound and an ensuing scrum in front of the net. This could become a problem, however, as other teams scout the Penguins’ injury-shortened blueline and determine that an aggressive penalty kill can effectively defuse their potent offensive line.
The defensive pairings continue to undergo change as Michel Therrien tries to deal with the loss of Gonchar and Whitney. The current pairings are Hal Gill/Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik/Kris Letang, and Mark Eaton/Darryl Sydor/Alex Goligoski.
The Penguins get back into action on Saturday night as they play their home opener against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils will be playing their 2nd game in 2-nights after coming off from their home opener Friday night against the New York Islanders. The Penguins will have had several days to recover from the European trip, and will hopefully be fully recovered and ready to play. Petr Sykora, who has yet to play a game due to a groin injury, is questionable for Saturday’s game.
The Penguins went out today and added center Mike Zigomanis from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for future considerations. Drafted 46th overall in 2001 by the Carolina Hurricanes, he was signed as a free agent by Phoenix on July 21, 2006. In 167 career NHL games, he has scored 33-points (19G, 14A) and accumulated 58-penalty minutes. Zigomanis will wear #15, and rounds out the Penguins roster at 23. Forward Jeff Taffe cleared waivers today and will be assigned to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Kris Beech was placed on unconditional waivers, and will leave the team and play in Europe if he clears the unconditional waiver wire. The Penguins assigned forward Janne Pesonen and goaltender John Curry to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as expected.