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Casey Shea, KDKA, on the Penguins

October 25, 2011

Casey Shea, KDKA

First, can you tell readers about yourself – what you do with KDKA and how you got started there?

I started with KDKA during the summer of 2009. My primary job is to produce news content in the form of stories, videos, slideshows, etc. for our website. Before coming to Pittsburgh, I was a National Producer for the CBS Digital Media Group in New York City.  I am also the author of the Shea-ved Ice blog, which is dedicated to my thoughts on the Pittsburgh Penguins. I have always been a Penguins fan so to be able to write about them for the website is great.  Here’s the link to the blog: http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/tag/shea-ved-ice/

How worried should fans be about Malkin’s consistent injury issues? Are these indicative of more chronic issues or will we see the end of these issues at some point this season?

 My gut feeling on Malkin is that the early season soreness is just a lingering effect from the surgery. At this point, I’m not overly worried that he will continue to deal with this all season. I think the Pens are doing the right thing by holding him out at the moment. Malkin has been pushing himself during his recovery, but you can never recreate game intensity in practice.

The unknown was how his knee would hold up when the games started.  I’d rather see him be held out now so he can recover, than push it and not be available for the stretch run and playoffs. 

Does this team have enough offensive “punch” still at forward? Neal is on fire right now, but there seem to be so few pure scorers on this team, and it shows in their shooting percentages, Can they win as is?

I think we saw in the playoffs last year how much the Penguins struggled to score without guys like Sidney Crosby and Malkin. Also not having Dustin Jeffrey, Mark Letestu, etc. only compounded the scoring problems. Neal took a lot of heat last year for not being able to light the lamp, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Outside factors such as getting accustomed to a new system and a new city had to have affected his game.  He looks a lot more comfortable with his surroundings so far this season and the pucks are going in for him.

The question now isn’t if he can score, it’s can he sustain this pace? In the absence of Crosby and Malkin, the scoring load falls to guys like Neal, Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Steve Sullivan up front. Sullivan has had numerous golden opportunities in their most recent games against Montreal and New Jersey, but hasn’t been able to bury the puck.  They proved last season that they can win low-scoring regular season games.

However, in the playoffs their offensive struggles ultimately led to their demise.  Well, that and the power play, but we’ll get to that later. 

How does the team remedy this – or is this the makeup of a team who understands in scoring limitations and believes in just trying to get pucks on the net to hope for rebounds?

There’s nothing wrong with putting a bunch of pucks on net and crashing for rebounds. One of the first things they teach you in youth hockey is to put the puck on net because you never know what might happen. Right now, I think we need to get used to seeing goals coming from up and down the roster until the big guns return. As far as remedying the goal-scoring problem without Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins just need to get back to basics.

The fancy passing we’ve come to know and expect out of this team can’t be happening, especially when the best two players in the world aren’t on the ice.  The Pens have their best success when they get into the zone and cycle the puck. It generates momentum and leads to scoring chances.

Can Jeffrey be a scoring solution?

I think he has the potential to score at least 15 goals. He had seven in just 25 games with the Penguins last year, so I don’t think 15 is too big of a stretch. Even getting 10 from him would be a help while the Penguins get healthy. 

Right now, I wouldn’t expect him to be a guy the team turns to be a major factor in the goal scoring department. At the moment, it’s all about balanced scoring for the Penguins. So, anything he adds will make this team successful. 

How does Coach Bylsma get so much out of a team so riddled with injuries? What about him makes players respond so well to his leadership?

Quite simply, his system is what allows this team to be successful.  The fact that the same system is being used in Wilkes-Barres/Scranton allows the call-ups to step right in and feel comfortable. It’s hard enough to make an NHL roster, but being familiar with the system on the big stage goes a long way.  While it seems as if we’ve been watching the current core forever, this is still a very young hockey team. Bylsma comes across as a teacher and rarely loses his cool. His approach makes players want to be better.

The system is catered to how these current players want to play the game. Under Michel Therrien, guys like Crosby and Malkin were bottled up. Now, the system allows them to use their speed to create chances.  The Penguins are a very fast team and bottling them up made absolutely no sense. The players appeared to tune Therrien out after a while. Whether they did or not is pure speculation. It’s just how it looked to me.  Bylsma brought a new outlook, a new system and the team responded by winning the Stanley Cup. Players follow guys who win and Bylsma finds ways to win with what he’s given. There’s no reason to not trust his decisions.

How has this team addressed the power play – and while it’s too early to evaluate with Malikn and Crosby out so much, do you see signs of real improvement yet?

The signs of improvement are there. Pucks are getting to the net on a more frequent basis and there’s been better puck movement once they get set up. However, the problem is still getting set up in the zone. At times, the zone entries are the same as they were last year. Basically, Kris Letang lugs the puck through the neutral zone with his four teammates stopped at the blue line. When Letang enters the zone, he’s met with a wall of defenders and no one to pass to.  The guys without the puck need to be hitting the line with speed so Letang has an option to either pass or chip it deep. 

From a personnel standpoint, I’d make two changes right now.  Paul Martin has looked lost on the second unit and I’m not entirely sure why. His decisions with the puck have left a lot to be desired to this point. When healthy, I’d prefer to see Zbynek Michalek out there. He’s got a decent shot and he’s not afraid to let it fly.  Also, I’d take Matt Cooke off the ice for power plays.  If he’s only going to the net to set up screens, put Mark Letestu or Jeffrey out there. Cooke seems to have been able to change his game, but he’s not the first guy I would think of to use on the power play. Maybe things will change when the team gets healthy. Time will tell. 

What has Bill Guerin brought to this team – how has he been working with the players?

I’ll admit it. I wasn’t a big fan of trading for Guerin at first. I’ll also admit, my judgment of that deal was completely wrong.  What a fantastic deal that turned out to be and not just because he helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.  He brought a veteran presence into a young locker room, but didn’t have the “holier than thou” mentality just because he had been around longer.

Guerin took Crosby under his wing and showed him how to be a leader. He showed all the “kids” the right way to play the game. When the team faced adversity, they looked to Guerin because he’d been there before.  Having him in the front office as a player development coach is only going to do wonders for the prospects in the system. 

What does the team do for the new players like Sullivan, Neal and Park to get them “indoctrinated” – what do the players and coaches do to welcome them and make them feel a part of the team?

I’m not entirely certain how the team rolls out the red carpet for new players to the team. However, the free agent signings over the past couple of years have wanted to be members of the team.  You run the risk in trades with players being unhappy with having been traded. Steve Sullivan for example wanted to be a Penguin because of the winning attitude here. He’s nearing the end of his career and figures this team to have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup.  Could he have gotten more money elsewhere? It’s hard to say, but his eagerness to come to Pittsburgh makes welcoming him to the team much easier. 

 The guys in the locker room have always appeared to welcome new guys to the team with open arms. If Arron Asham can come in from Philly and fit right in, surely anyone can right? 

 Coach Bylsma has been questioned at times for aggressively mixing his lineups from game to game. Do you see this as an issue as it pertains to “chemistry”  – do the players mention this at all?

I have no problem with the way he shuffles the lines. With all the injuries, he is forced to experiment with different line combinations to get the most out of the team. I think the players understand that as well and know if they play well, they’ll see more ice time.  Coaches change lines around during games all the time based on how the game unfolds. I think it comes with the territory and the players all accept that.  I also think that when the Penguins are back to 100 percent, the shuffling won’t be as drastic as we’ve seen. Hopefully the end of the injuries comes soon. 

Cory Pronman of the Hockey Prospectus in a recent interview (https://pittsburghsportsdailybulletin.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/corey-pronman-hockey-prospectus/)  ranked the Penguins organization 25th in the NHL in terms of prospects. What are your thoughts on his analysis?

Well, he’s certainly entitled to his opinion and that’s what makes all of this fun and interesting. I certainly wouldn’t rank the Penguins that low considering how well these guys have stepped into the NHL to fill in.

Last year was a big test to see just what the Penguins have in the farm. Guys like Letestu and Jeffrey stepped in and performed well before injuries sidelined them.  This season, Joe Vitale had an amazing training camp and preseason, which earned him a roster spot with the big club.  Joe Morrow had an impressive showing in camp, Scott Harrington is another solid defenseman and Beau Bennett has the potential to develop into a top six forward. While they aren’t on the level of a Crosby or Malkin, they’re still NHL quality players that will eventually crack the Penguins’ roster. 

The list goes on, but the fact the Penguins still enjoyed success down the stretch last season with what seemed like an AHL-dominated roster, the future of Penguins hockey still seems bright to me.  The biggest question mark is if Eric Tangradi can pull it together and live up to the hype surrounding him. I think he has the ability to do so, but consistency is his biggest problem. 

Any last thoughts for readers?

 It’s still very early in the season, but the Penguins look like one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference right now. I think fans should be excited to see how well the team is performing without their top stars. It certainly brings a smile to my face to think how good this team will be when Crosby and Malkin are back as everyday players. 

Be sure to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.

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