scorer and beloved captain, right winger Jaromir Jagr, would be placed on injured reserved
with a hamstring injury. The original estimate for games missed was 3 weeks. Considering the
Penguins current struggles, inconsistency both on and off the ice, the last thing this team needed was to lose their leader. At the same time 3 weeks without Jagr would be a good test for the unity of the team, and a chance for individuals such as Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka, German Titov, and Aleksey Morozov to focus on their talents and break out of scoring slumps. It would also give some of the Jr. Pens, hard working players such as Robert Dome and Martin Sonnenberg a chance to revisit NHL ice.
This brings me to my next question. What next? Will the Pittsburgh Penguins find a way to stick together and feed off their strengths, or will they follow the fate of their farm affiliates in Wilkes-Barre and Wheeling, who have already lost their last hope of entering post season play? The reality is Pittsburgh has too many talented individuals on the roster to fall apart in the hands of adversity. With or without the presence of Jagr they have the ability to dominate the ice, which surfaces when they really want it to, but not consistently thus far.
This team is close knit. Whether the fans see it or not, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a real family. Like any other family they have struggled from time to time, and have been most recently noted for having heated discussions in the locker-room, but generally speaking this team is very close. Despite being labeled the “Euro-Penguins” Pittsburgh’s players have a deep respect for one another regardless of where they come from.
Matthew Barnaby is not afraid to speak his mind. Most recently he had a small confrontation with Alexei Kovalev, but he is also one to give praise where praise is due. A little over a month ago there was much criticism surrounding right winger Aleksey Morozov. Some said he had the tools, but lacked the heart to be an elite player. When asked his opinion of Morozov’s performance, Matt simply stated he wished the fans and the media could see Morozov’s skill for what it really is and how amazing he can be in practice. The point being, he admired Aleksey as a teammate and gave him more credit than the media and fans were giving him at the time.
All of this said, the future is still in question. The season might as well be over for the Jr. Pens, but that is not to say Pittsburgh cannot benefit from some of its younger players. Left Winger Martin Sonnenberg is a fine example. Much like Jean-Sebastien Aubin, he has spent more than his fair share of time riding the yo-yo string, bouncing back and forth between Pittsburgh and its AHL affiliate. Regardless, he’s kept his wits about him and has taken advantage of every opportunity. Last Saturday (March 4th) Martin logged close to 13 minutes of ice time and turned in a rather impressive performance, doing whatever it took to win the battles along the boards and obtain the puck. A real trench digger with heart full of determination, Martin has earned his time in the NHL and is likely to see a whole lot more.
It’s easy to get excited about the Penguins future when you look at some of its young players coming up through the system. Milan Kraft is an incredible athlete who is tearing up the ice in terms of scoring, and is making his opponents pay for simplest of mistakes, but what about the local talent, the more experienced players who are being groomed in Wilkes-Barre? What about the immediate future and what should we expect over the next month or so? With Jagr out of commission the Penguins will need to make a few important decisions.
Depending on what occurs before the trading deadline, there’s a good chance we’ll see more of Ference, Dome, and Butenschon in Pittsburgh. Aubin will stand his ground as the number one goaltender, and Aleksey Morozov will be expected to continue his versatility playing right and left wing, depending on game by game situations and what roles need to be filled. If Andrew Ference does get called up, don’t be surprised if Michal Rozsival’s playing time decreases, much like it did against Edmonton. Who knows, he could also end up being demoted to the American Hockey League, an unlikely scenario, but not an impossible one.
The Penguins must forget about their mistakes and forget about the odds. It’s time to buckle down, take control and play 60 minutes of solid hockey, using 100% of themselves night in and night out. Lord Stanley’s battlefield is not a forgiving one. Hungry opponents will happily feast on mistakes. Being bonded like a family will help the Penguins, but it won’t carry them the distance. They must focus and play like a team, play like they are one.
(Stats as of 3/6/00)
Pittsburgh Penguins Top 15:
GP G A PTS +/- Pim
Jaromir Jagr 54 37 48 85 20 44
Robert Lang 63 20 32 52 9- 12
Alexei Kovalev 65 20 31 51 4- 74
Martin Straka 55 15 31 46 19 22
German Titov 59 16 25 41 0 34
Jan Hrdina 53 13 24 37 8 16
Jiri Slegr 57 7 19 26 15 70
Aleksey Morozov55 10 13 23 8 10
Pat Falloon 13 3 2 5 4- 4
Edm 33 5 13 18 6 4
Total 46 8 15 23 2 8
Rob Brown 38 7 12 19 10- 10
Michal Rozsival 64 4 14 18 10 42
Matthew Barnaby 47 8 9 17 0 149
Darius Kasparaitis 56 3 10 13 7- 136
Tyler Wright 35 8 4 12 3 30
Brad Werenka 57 3 8 11 14 65
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Top 15:
GP G A PTS Pim Pp SH
John Slaney 36 21 25 46 19 9 1
Tom Kostopoulos 59 20 26 46 83 4 1
Martin Sonnenberg 49 17 23 40 99 3 2
Greg Crozier 54 17 20 37 29 8 0
Valentin Morozov 54 13 24 37 2 6 0
Sven Butenschon 58 14 18 32 86 2 1
Robert Dome 38 11 20 31 66 2 1
Boris Protsenko 52 14 15 29 37 3 0
Alexei Kolkunov 58 9 21 30 23 1 0
Pavel Skrbek 48 7 15 22 50 5 0
Dennis Bonvie 29 2 20 22 210 0 0
Andrew Ference 275 15 20 46 2 0
Tyler Wright25 5 15 20 86 2 0
Mark Murphy 21 8 8 16 16 0 0
Josef Melichar 63 3 8 11 101 1 0
Last game (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton):
3/4/00 Portland at Wilkes-Barre. The WBS Penguins lost to Portland by a score of 4-3. Mike Peluso scored the final goal, his 4th game winner, with a mere 98 seconds remaining to break the 3-3 tie. Sebastian Charpentier also turned in an impressive performance with 41 saves, leading the Portland Pirates to a well-deserved victory.
3/5/00 Wilkes-Barre at Hamilton. The Jr. Pens fell once again to the Hamilton Bulldogs by a score of 5-2. Penguins’ goaltender Ryan Bach struggled, allowing four goals on 20 shots before being replaced in the second period.
Top 5 - Wheeling Nailers
GP G A PTS +/- Pim
Curtis Wilgosh55 18 19 37 -4 64
Derek Smith53 14 19 33 -14 102
Rob Millar42 9 22 31 -13 16
(Totals) 509 24 33 -19 20
Shannon Basaraba 42 8 16 24 -8 11
(Totals) 48 8 18 26 -8 11
Vladimir Gratchev38 10 15 252 12
Last game (Wheeling Nailers):
3/3/00 Trenton at Wheeling. Trenton claimed a 4-3 victory over the Nailers.
3/5/00 Huntington at Wheeling. Wheeling claimed a 4-3 victory in overtime.
Penguins News –
3/5/00 – The Pittsburgh Penguins finally end their winless streak with a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Aleksey Morozov, one of the forwards who has been struggling with his game, opened the scoring at 5:25 of the first period by sending a shot in off of goaltender Tommy Salo from behind the goal line. Coach Brooks claims it was a mixture of determination, concentration, and simply boring the opponent to death.
3/2/00 – The Wheeling Nailers added defenseman Doug Schmidt and right wing Joe Ciccarello to the roster.
2/22/00 – The Pittsburgh Penguins placed Jaromir Jagr on injured reserve with a hamstring injury; and recalled center Robert Dome from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.