Stud of the Week 04/15/13

The only challenge left that’s worth working for this regular season is the top seed in the East, we have no interest in the cursed President’s Trophy. Only two teams remain capable of catching the Penguins: Montreal and Boston. Montreal played last night and for the rest of the season they will have the same amount of games left as the Pens, and they play each other Wednesday. The Canadians have 6 games left and the Penguins have seven points in hand. That leaves a magic number of 5 for the Pens to clinch the top seed in the East (Canadians can earn a maximum of 12 points). The same holds for the Bruins, they have 7 games remaining following the postponement of their game yesterday, but there is an 8 point difference between the Pens and Bruins. Thus that magic number is down to 6. By the time the Pens/Bruins game ends on Friday, the Pens could cut it to 4 points.

Oh also, Sidney Crosby, James Neal, and Paul Martin all resumed skating yesterday. Sid rocked the incredibly fashionable full-cage mask, Neal has been symptom free for a while now and will probably be back in the lineup on Wednesday, and Paul-Mart wore a tracksuit.

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And the Penguins were 3-0 last week on a jaunty drive through the American Southeast. In the absence of so many key players the new acquisitions really raised the bar, as such we are going to dedicate this Stud of the Week to those who weren’t here last year.

Beau Bennett: this guy really does have the gift of skill. He took his temporary demotion with stride and came back even better. An epic play in the Carolina game led to the game tying goal, which at this time looks like it really turned around any chance of the Penguins going into full on slump mode. He followed that effort up with a good game in Tampa and his first career multi-point game in Sunrise. Everybody says it, but Beau’s greatest asset is that he just knows where to go to find the puck, that’s something that can’t be taught and he’s got it. Also, he’s far tougher in the corners than anyone dreamt he could be.

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Jarome Iginla: you can tell he’s still feeling his way around the Penguins system, and hopefully with another 4 days of practice (which is so much time at this point in the season…) he will really start to come into his own. The SCUD missile he launched on Chris Kunitz’s PP goal against Tampa still gives me chills. He’s contributed three assists in the last three games and he’s starting to command respect from the opposing team’s top defenders. Further, its impossible to get past the thought that Iggy wanted, wants, and hopes to be a Penguin for the foreseeable future.

Douglas Murray: his worst game in a Penguins uniform came against Tampa, on their first and third power play goals Murray missed his assignment, and that resulted in two goals. An important thing to consider about Crankshaft though is that he’s not going to play quite as many PK minutes as he has been lately. Realistically he could only be the fifth best PK defensemen behind Orpik, Martin, Eaton, Letang. Still to make 2 mistakes in a handful of games is nothing to worry about. Murray is making a habit of defending his teammates, making safe plays, and doing what needs done in his own zone.

Tomas Vokoun: despite some rocky starts in the month of February, Vokoun has unquestionably (so far) been Shero’s best pick up of the year. He’s been exactly what the Penguins needed, a stable presence in net, somebody who can give Fleury a break and continue to give the team a great chance to win. An argument we have had to endure a lot this year is when people point to Vokoun’s lifetime record, which coming into the year was 287-284-35-57, only 3 games above .500. Well he’s now 10 games over for his career and will have the opportunity to pad that total before the end of next year when he will likely (hopefully) be replaced by the Pens’ newest acquisition, Eric Hartzell, who decided to sign with the Pens after playing in Pittsburgh with Quinnipiac during the Frozen Four.

And before anyone criticizes Vokoun’s playoff record (3-8) his .922 S% and 2.47 GAA are considerably better than MAF’s .904, 2.68 GAA. This should settle any question as to whether a team can make a goalie better or if a goalie can make a team better. The fact is that both can and do happen. Our deepest hope is that Voki doesn’t HAVE to play in the playoffs, but aren’t you glad he’s here just in case?

Jussi Jokinen: what can we say? He’s come in, won 60% of his faceoffs and scored more than one point per game. Not bad for a guy that Ray Shero admitted to only being interested in after Sid took a puck to the face. Oh and the Hurricanes are picking up nearly $1 million of his salary next year. Also, scary to note that Jokinen could move down to, at best a wing on the third line or centering the fourth. Talk about a great depth signing.

The Stud of the Week though is the guy who has absolutely taken charge of the team in the last week.

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Brenden Morrow: in the first two games following Sid’s injury a popular refrain was that “One of the captains in the room needs to take charge.” It took a few days but when the Pens kicked off their road trip in Carolina after several days of practice, Brenden Morrow let it be known that it would be him. He set the table early with his physicality and he brought the house down with this highlight goal.

From there it just got better, in the games against Tampa and Florida Morrow’s name was the first that came to mind. He terrorized Tampa goalie Ben Bishop and netted two more goals against Florida. The biggest question everyone asked when the Pens brought him in was “what does he have left?” Answer, lots. For as cliche as it is to say, this dude is all heart. We can’t wait to watch him in the playoffs.

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