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CRASH THE NET: PENGUINS Q&A WITH BOB GROVE

Thursday, 05.25.2006 / 12:00 AM / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  pittsburghpenguins.com.  Click here to submit a question.

QUESTION: I have noticed over the season that the Pens need help at defense. But at the same time we do need a "true" goal scorer. Thats why i think the pens should choose Phil Kessel over Eric Johnson. With promising defensemen such as Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik, Noah Welch, and Kristopher Letang, we need someone who can actually finish Sidney's amazing plays. Draft Kessel, we'll be fine at defense for the future.

-EJ Banyasz of Chesapeake Beach, VA

BOB GROVE: The Penguins could well end up with Phil Kessel in the draft, which won't hurt them in the future. Even though Kessel has dropped a bit in scouts' eyes this season, he's still a very talented kid who should have a long career in the NHL. There are no indications that he's ready to leave the University of Minnesota in the next couple years, or that he's ready for the NHL at this point in his career, but the Penguins could do a lot worse in this draft.

One thing to remember, however, is that Kessel is a center, like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone. So he'll have his hands full making the team even in a couple years as a top six forward, and I don't think moving him to a new position at the NHL level is a good idea. Plus, his goal-scoring ability hasn't exactly overwhelmed anybody this season: he had one goal at the World Jr. Championships and one goal in the World Championships against much older competition.

QUESTION: Who would you rank as the top 5 all-time biggest Penguin-killers?

-Dave Harford of Portland, ME

BOB GROVE: There's a long list of potential candidates, for sure. Bobby Clarke is at the top of my list, having done everything in his power during his career to ensure that the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Penguins. He put up big numbers in doing so, scoring 108 points in 76 games against Pittsburgh. During his career, the Flyers went 52-19-10 against the Penguins. But, of course, he also completed about a million face washes and countless slashes. In my book, nobody topped Clarke as a Penguin-killer.

While we're talking Flyers, I also put Bernie Parent on my list. The Flyers' goaltender pitched 10 shutouts against the Penguins, more than anybody else on the planet before or since, and he was always there to make the big save when Pittsburgh would get some of its limited scoring chances. There's no doubt playing behind the Flyers made stopping the Penguins a little easier, given Philadelphia's physical intimidation of Pittsburgh teams, but Parent was an imposing figure on his own and always had an answer when he needed one. He was 21-9-6 in his career against the Penguins.

Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders also makes my list, having scored a whopping 42 goals in 53 career games against the Penguins. Playing with Bryan Trottier, Bossy absolutely tortured Pittsburgh -- especially on the power play. This guy had a release that was beyond description, and we are only left to wonder which records he might have broken if he wasn't limited by a bad back. An incredible goal-scorer who seemed to get one every night against the Penguins.

Mats Sundin of Toronto is another prolific forward who gets a place on my list. Just look at his ridiculous stats against the Penguins: he figured in on nine of the Leafs' 12 goals against Pittsburgh this season (3-6-9) and has 35 goals and 69 points in 46 career games against the Penguins. He's one of those guys who never seems to leave the ice when playing against Pittsburgh. He's everywhere, especially on the scoresheet.

My final Penguin-killer was Mike Ridley, the Washington Capitals' center who owned the Penguins between 1986 and 1994. Ridley had 76 points in 62 career games against the Penguins, most of those with the Caps, and never scored anywhere near that pace throughout his career.

Guy Lafleur merits mention, too, but as I said, there are plenty of candidates.

Who do you think were the biggest Penguin-killers of all-time? E-mail us here at Crash The Net and we'll post results.

QUESTION: The team didn't seem to fit together last year until the end of the season. Do you think that they will jell better this season than they did last year,and what did you think of LeClair's contribution to the team?

-Charles McKee of New Castle, PA

BOB GROVE: I believe the Penguins will display a lot more and better chemistry next season than they did this season, although honestly it would hard for a team to display less. While the Penguins will be active in free agency, they will not be as active as they were last summer. That means fewer new faces and less time to get everybody on the same page. I also think the team will benefit from the fact Michel Therrien prefers more structure than did Ed Olczyk.

As far as LeClair, I thought he was everything the Penguins wanted him to be in the second half of the season. He was not always healthy in the first half and got off to a slow start that wasn't helped by the team's struggles, but after that I thought he was a positive factor on the ice and also provided leadership. Let's remember that in his long career he had never been on a team that struggled like that, and he wasn't exactly comfortable with losing his alternate captaincy, either. That's understandable, but it makes his play later in the season all the more impressive.

QUESTION: During one of the Penguins' playoff runs in the late 90's did their uniforms have icicles on them? I've been trying to collect jerseys from all different Penguins eras. Is there a place where I could find all of the Penguins' previous uniforms?

-Chris of St Catharines, Ontario

BOB GROVE: Go to pittsburghpenguins.com, click on the "History" link and pull down to "Uniform History." That will give you pictures of the uniform styles the Penguins have employed through the years and some text about the changes. I don't remember any icicles, however.

QUESTION: With NHL Television ratings at an all time low and the lack of interest increasing throughout this post-season, do you think the "New" NHL has gone overboard with the way the officiating is taking place?

Q.2: Do you expect more of the same style (Euro / Pond play) of hockey in the future of the NHL or do you see a shift back to the passion/rivalry style of hockey which we saw in the late 80's early 90's when hockey seemed to be at its peak?

Q.3: (Please do not answer this politically correct) Has Gary Bettman wore out his welcome with the NHL Owners like he has with the core fan base?

-Dan Shanko of Richmond, VA

BOB GROVE: Well, Dan, I've got to say that you and I are coming at these questions from completely different perspectives. I put zero stock in television ratings, and I believe that is especially understandable at this time because of two factors: 1), the NHL is coming off a complete season being wiped out by labor strife, something no other major pro league has ever been through and something which will have a predictable effect on viewership; and 2), the NHL's contract with NBC and OLN means NHL games are available in far fewer households than two years ago when ESPN had the contract. There was nowhere for the NHL's ratings to go but down. I think the NHL should try and attract casual American sports fans, of course, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. The league needs to be a strong gate draw in its 30 markets and strong in local TV ratings. When someone points out that the NHL's ratings are below badminton and ping-pong, I just shrug my shoulders. I don't believe the NHL will ever get strong national numbers because too few people have personal experience with the game. By the way, I don't sense a lack of interest increasing as the playoffs go on, regardless of what the numbers say.

I don't think the league has gone overboard with the way the game is being called. They've finally got it right, actually. The game is going back to the skilled players, the pace is up, goal-scoring is up and hitting is still great. Anyone who tells you the game is not as physical just isn't paying attention. Did you see the Sharks-Oilers series? Great hitting game in and game out. The speed of the game actually can ratchet up the intensity of the hits that are delivered, and I wouldn't call this pond hockey.

As far as Bettman goes, I believe the NHL expanded too quickly on his watch and also failed to respond appropriately to the clutch-and-grab tactics that rendered the game almost unwatchable in the early part of this decade. But I think Bettman displayed great leadership during the lockout in keeping owners together and focused on a better day. He understood that the pain of losing a season would be great but that the payoff could be greater. That's what's happened. Every team in the NHL now has a better chance to be profitable than it did prior to the lockout. The game is better and more enjoyable to watch. It's more fan-focused. I understand if some fans are less than happy with some of the things Bettman has done over the years. But many of them seem to be enjoying the game the way it's being played and managed now, and he has to get a lot of credit for that. If that qualifies as being politcally correct, so be it. That's how I see it. Besides, I don't get any points for saying the "right" thing. No one at pittsburghpenguins.com has ever asked me to do anything other than state my opinion.

QUESTION: Two of the prospects you mentioned, Peluso and Gifford, have signed with colleges (U. of Denver & Mankato St, I believe) so they don't have to be signed.  I'm pretty sure they have 4 more years now before they have to be signed.  

-Bill Thompson of Raleigh, NC

BOB GROVE: Thanks for correcting me. Brian Gifford, the Penguins' third-round pick in 2004, is headed for the University of Denver next season, while Chris Peluso, the Penguins' seventh-round pick in 2004, is headed to Bemidji State. That means they don't have to be signed.

While we're on the subject of corrections, Michelle from Ottawa writes to point out that I mispronounced Moncton, site of the Memorial Cup, last week. She says it should be pronounced "Muncton," with the same initial vowel sound as we hear many Canadians use in saying "Muntreal." That's just the American in me. As anyone who studies regional dialects will tell you, being a Pittsburgh native means I'm linguistically challenged. Just be glad I'm not jaggin yunz about reddin up your room, tellin yunz to pick up the gumbands on the floor, quit drinking so much pop or eating so many hoagies or so much jumbo. Or tellin you to be careful because the sidewalk is slippy.

Crash the Net is a weekly web feature appearing as a written column AND as a podcast on  pittsburghpenguins.com.  Click here to submit a question.


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