After being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday in exchange for Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula, Alexei Ponikarovsky is expected to make his debut today in a Pittsburgh uniform. It could be said that “Poni” was the biggest name traded in the last week, in a Trade deadline that saw just how little interest most NHL teams have in taking on the big contracts of guys like Sheldon Souray mid-season. It seems that draft-picks really are at the highest premium with those teams who want to rebuild not being able to unload completely the list of players they put up for offer. Looking at teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, drafting and doing it the right way is really the only way to go for a successful rebuild, and with the highest picks being so important to the future core of the team, it makes the trade for Phil Kessel look worse every day.
With the blockbuster trades of Dion Phaneuf and Ilya Kovalchuk taking place way before the deadline, the deadline itself wasn’t going to bring the excitement of those past. Though hopefully that can only mean a frantic free-agency on July 1st, and I think that will be the case.
Though he only played only 9 games over two seasons as a Penguin, Luca Caputi did leave an impression. Certainly his OHL numbers show that he can score goals and he just didn’t get enough of a chance on a deep Penguins team to show that. It seems the Pens have only turned to their farm system when severely depleted, and it calls into question the future in the organisation of a top prospect like Eric Tangradi, when Caputi scored and played hard both times he was called up, but it didn’t lead to more time with the team. I wish Luca does well with Toronto, and just hope that he isn’t expected to be a big producer straight away, and that people realise he has still played only 9 games at NHL level.
As for Ponikarovsky coming over to the Pens, I love the move. He has been a 20-goal scorer three times with the Leafs and through playing with Crosby and Malkin that rate could easily increase. I also think it really addresses Pittsburgh’s physical presence, or lack of it, on the second line. A big problem with that line has been the weakness of the wingers on either side of Malkin, and it has led to him trying to carry the puck in alone alot of the time. Pascal Dupuis and Ruslan Fedotenko sometimes bring that energy and physicality to the ice, but not to the same level that Chris Kunitz or Matt Cooke consistently can. Despite this the second line right now still works well together, and they created lots of scoring chances against the Rangers with Dupuis getting 10 shots on goal and Malkin 9. Though the 6″4 Ponikarovsky will be alot tougher to knock off the puck, and I can’t wait to see the chemisty between him and Malkin on the “Ukraine line” with Fedotenko. Wherever he does play though, he will make a difference to this team.
Jordan Leopold also seems to be a good fit with Alex Goligoski, and an upgrade over Jay McKee who had been struggling. Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t the greatest against the Rangers on Thursday, giving up 4 goals, but Marc-Andre Fleury will take the blame for only making 8 saves before being replaced by Brent Johnson. The usual pairings weren’t present with Mark Eaton missing due to an undisclosed injury. His stability was missed and he will likely be returning today but there is no offficial word, and Bill Guerin will be a game-time decision.
The Pens are hoping to take advantage of the Dallas Stars today, who are struggling for scoring and coming off a disappointing 6-1 loss to St.Louis. Kari Lehtonen replaced Marty Turco in that game, but today will be his first start for the team after coming over from the Thrashers. It will still only be his second game of the season and Pittsburgh will want to take advantage of that inactivity by jumping on him early the way they did with the Rangers, eventually getting 55 shots on Henrik Lundqvist, who played incredibly. That 5-4 OT win was huge as it showed the Pens ability to overcome any goalie, even if they are putting on their best performance of the season, by trying to shoot the puck constantly.
The second of the back-to-back will be at home to the Bruins tomorrow, who have one point less than the Stars, but sit in a playoff spot in 7th, whereas Dallas is currently 11th. It shows just how much deeper the Western Conference is this year. Many were surprised that the Bruins didn’t pick up some offence at the deadline, and after only just getting past Toronto 3-2 after a shootout, it would seem strange that they would be content with the offense that they have to reach the playoffs this year. Is the East really weak enough to allow that to happen?
Anyway, I am excited to see what Alexei Ponikarovsky can add to a Penguins team that now has the Atlantic division lead after trailing the Devils by a significant margin for most the year. He might not have the immediate impact of the previous moves for Marian Hossa or Guerin & Kunitz, but it just might be the perfect fit. I guess until the playoffs we’ll not know for sure where this move of Shero’s ranks amongst those of seasons past.
Fantasy watch: Sidney Crosby has a point in two straight games coming back from the Olympics… Evgeni Malkin has a 15-game points streak going back to Jan.16… Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz both had 3-point games against NYR… Ruslan Fedotenko has 3pts in the last 2 including a GWG… Sergei Gonchar had 2 assists against NYR and has a 5-game points streak… Alex Goligoski has 2pts in his last 2 including a goal…