Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Mini Calder Race in Pittsburgh?

We learned our lesson last year in the ‘Burgh about getting overly confident with new rookie players. While Crosby was phenomenal last year it quickly became apparent that you can’t rely on the "I" in team, no matter how good he is. This year, most of us took a little step back and said “well we finally got Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal but let’s not get too excited yet.” Despite a bit of a slow start out the gate from both of them, each has reached into their bag of tricks and have helped bump up the Pens lately in a godly sort of fashion.

Brother #3

Jordan Staal has a patience about him that you don’t always see a lot with hockey players. He knows where to be and what’s coming from his line mates. He’s a tall one, carrying a big stick and walking softly. Even on a rush or a break away he moves quickly yet almost in slow motion as if he’s waiting for that perfect moment to put the puck in. While some of us are yelling “shoot it damn it!” Jordan waits a second longer, fakes out the goalie and in it goes. Perfect & beautiful. Fun to watch. We’re loving Jordan Staal.

Staal was on a 40 game “try him out in the big leagues period”. As the 40th game neared many people were speculating if he was going back to Peterborough. To all of them I replied (and money issues aside here) – “are you kidding? This kid has the most short handed goals in the NHL right now. He’s producing and learning so why on earth would we send him back to the Petes?”

There’s nothing I like more than a good hat trick and Staal had his first last night with the third goal coming in overtime against the Leafs. A week or so prior Jordan reached another milestone – he became on of a handful of players on the Pens to have more goals than their age. Excitement in the stats, surprises on the ice – we’re loving Jordan!

The Russian

While Evgeni Malkin has been phenomenal lately, he was really pissing me off for a long time this season. I think it started when he discovered that he left part of his heart back in Russia and just wasn’t fully showing up for games. I realize it was taking him some time to get used to things over here and that he had a shoulder injury right off the bat. But many a game he would hide out under the shadow of Crosby – performing but not living up to his true potential. Even Coach Therrien brought him in for a little chat and said “Malk – you’re a great player, just like all the greats before you, so pick it up a bit.”

Well Malk puttered along scoring an occasional goal, helping out on his line, falling over a lot, learning English - until a pivotal moment this season – Crosby was out for three games with a groin injury and suddenly a new light started to shine in Malkin. He showed up in full, leading rushes, making plays, scoring goals, finding the emotion that playing hockey requires. He realized there was no Wizard of Cros to hide behind all of sudden and he was out leading the pack.

For a while there the solution to our offensive troubles was to put Crosby and Malkin on the same line. While this did produce some offense for us, watching Malk play wing was driving me nuts. He couldn’t figure it out – it’s not his natural – you can tell he was built, designed and conditioned for center. This was screaming out to me and I kept screaming at the TV to give Malk his own line. Finally the coaches listen and what do you know – Malkin is showing up, in full, elevating not only his own game, but Jordan Staal’s and Michel Ouelett’s game as well. This line is becoming my new favorite.

Two good rookies helping the Pens move up the rankings. Who would have thought it at the beginning of this season? Certainly not me (I learned my lesson last year...). While most of the talk is leaning towards Malkin getting the Calder this year, as of late I’m keeping my eye on both of them : )

As always – “It’s a great day for hockey!” (especially here in Pittsburgh!)



Paige said...

I think the Penguins will be a major threat, come playoffs. They're not expected to be dangerous, but look how the Sabres did last year. They are filled with young, fast, skilled players that are all turning into stars. Because of that I'm becoming a fan, they're a lot like the Sabres! Really cool to learn more about them.

walkinvisible said...

this amuses me. i recently responded to the HLOG "questionnaire" (my "application" to be the 2nd flames "rep", after hockeygirl, of course):

12. Crosby, Ovechkin or Phaneuf (hey he tried!)? ....Why don’t you ask if
our boy staalzy will beat malkin in the calder run this year ? cause THAT’s not an
overdone topic…

for a mini-story on jordan, visit my blog at

Elly said...

I know I've heard people talk about that lately, especially since Jordan wasn't even in the running to start with. To have two such great rookies on the Pens is beautiful, especially when they both show up. I like the chemistry that they're showing on the line, too. It's wonderful to see all the lines come together and work as a team. Great post.

Heather B. said...

I have a soft spot for Pittsburgh - I was born there, have a ton of family there, and as a kid I was in love with Ron Francis. For all that, I'm glad to see the team doing so well. I don't know if they have enough to go all the way (yet!) but I wouldn't be shocked to see them surprise a team or two come the playoffs. Right now I think I'd give Staal a slight edge over Malkin. I'm super impressed by all those short-handed goals.

Jordi said...

I hate all Staals. Personal reasons. But damn Malkin makes my jaw drop everytime he plays awesome. It makes me nuts and he's so FUGE.

Ellie said...

walkinvisble - i agree - how rich would we both be if we had a dollar for every crosby, ovechkin, gretsky, etc. comparison? can't someone just be themselves? that's cool you got to meet jordan!

i'm crossing my fingers with the pens right now - i haven't been this excited for playoff hockey in a long time!