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Matt Bodenschatz – Faceoff Factor

October 14, 2011

Matt Bodenschatz – Faceoff Factor

Can you let readers know what’s new at the http://www.faceoff-factor.com/ – there’s a new site design for starters.

First off, thanks for the opportunity to talk hockey!  Faceoff Factor has a brand new design implemented and maintained by our new web and graphic designer, Doug Graham.  In addition to the design, Doug has added a new feature called “Talk Amongst Yourselves,” which gives readers an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics before a story is written on FF.  As always, Mike Adams will deliver Game Grades, Jesse Marshall will deliver prospect news and analysis, and the rest of the staff will deliver unique opinions on the Penguins and NHL at large.

James Neal is off to a strong start. What do you attribute this to -was he just “unlucky” last season?

I have been a big James Neal fan for a few years now, and even suggested a year earlier that an Alex Goligoski for Neal swap would benefit both teams.  Last season, his lack of production, in my opinion, can be attributed to a number of things.  For starters, Neal was accustomed to being the third wheel on a line with two high powered offensive players in Dallas.  Coming to Pittsburgh, he was relegated to Mark Letestu and Alex Kovalev, making him the top dog.  Put any secondary-type player in that position and he’ll struggle to score.  Additionally, he was stuck adjusting to a new system on a team without its most talented players.  There was a lot of pressure to produce, and I think it got to him a bit.  Now, this year, he’s had an opportunity to go through Camp Bylsma and, more importantly, has had a chance to skate with Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan, two excellent playmakers.  I don’t think there’s any coincidence that after an adjustment period and an upgrade in linemates, he’s back to the Neal we saw in Dallas.

Conversely, Sullivan seems to be pressing. What are your thoughts on his expected contribution?

Steve Sullivan isn’t known much as a shooter, but rather a playmaker.  I don’t necessarily see him as pressing, but rather finding his way.  I’ve been impressed with his skating and vision and think he’ll be a strong contributor to the team once he settles in.

Vitale has played inspired hockey – will there be room for him on this roster though when Crosby and Jeffrey return?

Last night we saw Mark Letestu riding the pine as Malkin made his way back into the lineup.  As the team gets healthier, I expect to see more of the same, with Joe Vitale getting the fourth line center job.  Don’t get me wrong, I was impressed with Letestu last season and like what he brings to the table, but Vitale, in my opinion, brings a defensive element, a physical element, and a faceoff element that Letestu just doesn’t.  Vitale is a better fit for a bottom line — and I think he’ll win out when it comes time to make room for Sidney Crosby and Dustin Jeffrey.

Speaking of returns, what do you expect the top two lines to look like once Crosby and Jeffrey do return?

That’s a difficult question.  Ideally, I’d like to see Crosby with Kunitz and Kennedy, leaving Malkin with Neal and Sullivan, but Bylsma likes to shuffles lines, making it difficult to predict.

The power play so far is much improved. What do you attribute this to?

From what I can see, there is significantly more unpredictable movement, which can be difficult to defend.  Add in the resurgence of Kris Letang as a dominant offensive (and defensive) defenseman and the addition of the creative Sullivan, and it’s a recipe for success.  It’s early, but for the most part I’m liking what I’m seeing with the man advantage.

Any concerns about the minutes being logged so far by Letang and Staal?

Yes and no.  Obviously, these two players have increased minutes because of injuries to Crosby, Malkin and Orpik, which means this shouldn’t be a permanent thing.  That being said, we don’t know when Crosby and Orpik will return, and with a heavy schedule over the next few weeks, it’s slightly alarming and concerning that Letang and Staal are skating so much.  Let’s just hope they don’t wear out, as it’s a long season.

Any early surprises so far with the team?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the play of Matt Cooke and Richard Park.  While both have proven capable in the past, it’s nice to see both having success again.  For Cooke, he appears to have a new-found dedication to respecting his opponents and focusing on hockey — and the result has been tremendous.  For Park, he appeared a likely AHL candidate, but his strong penalty killing (bolstered by a shorthanded goal earlier this week) has given him an opportunity to not only stick with the team, but get quality minutes.  It’s always nice to see a former Penguin return and do well.

Was it at all disturbing to you how enthusiastically the fans responded to the punishment Asham doled out on Washington’s Beagle – especially in light of Crosby’s concussion issues?

Boy, that’s a loaded question.  From a hockey perspective happening “at the spur of the moment,” fans at a game want big plays and hard hits.  Fights are no exception.  In the spur of the moment, fans always are going to be thrilled with a big TKO that results in some blood.  But, I also think most fans are smart enough not to want to see the opponent be significantly injured — hence the applause and stick-taps from the fans and players.

The scoring seems to still be down for this team – even with Malkin in the lineup. What’s the issue behind the scoring problems early on?

No Sidney Crosby.  Let’s face it, he is the key to this team’s offense.  Last season, we saw a bare bones offense without Malkin and Crosby.  This year, it has increased a bit due to Malkin’s return, but Malkin can only do so much when he faces the top defense pairings and defensive forwards each shift.  When Crosby returns, it will give the Penguins that much-needed one-two punch, which should help to increase their offensive efforts and put them back into elite territory.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Watch with pride.  I have a feeling what we are seeing is the making of a very special season from a very special team.  The Penguins are loaded from top to bottom, and with injured players closer to a return, things will get even better.  This has all the makings of being an amazing season, and I for one am enjoying the ride so far!

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