After slow start, Tangradi demoted to 4th line
Eric Tangradi could be angry at the Penguins' coaching staff for removing him from Evgeni Malkin's line after only 25 minutes, 23 seconds of ice time in three games.
He also could be angry with a portion of the Penguins' fan base that pointedly denounces him daily on various social media outlets.
Instead, Tangradi has retained his ever-present smile and blames only himself for a slow start. He has been demoted to the fourth line for Friday's game in Winnipeg, as playing alongside Malkin clearly is something a player must earn.
“I'm not mad at anyone,” Tangradi said. “I'm not frustrated, really. If I get back to playing my game and playing the right way, (playing with Malkin) might be an opportunity that arises in the future. I need to be better. I know that.”
For now, winger Tyler Kennedy will play on the second line with Malkin and James Neal.
Tangradi worked on the fourth line during Thursday's practice with Joe Vitale and Craig Adams.
Quiet during the first two games of the season, Tangradi committed two errors against Toronto that led to his reduced role.
He committed a turnover in the second period that led to Clarke MacArthur's goal. Earlier, Tangradi found himself on a 2-on-1 with Malkin. The problem was, Tangradi didn't immediately recognize the odd-man rush, and by the time he did, a scoring opportunity was wasted.
His inability to create chemistry with Malkin and Neal has been evident.
“I obviously didn't play my game against Toronto,” said Tangradi, who saw six shifts in just 4:27 of ice time. “I had some untimely turnovers, and I know I just can't do that. I wasn't physical enough, either. Not a real strong game for me.”
While public perception of Tangradi's work may not be positive, his teammates remain confident in the 23-year-old.
Neal believes Tangradi is on the verge of becoming a good NHL player.
“It's not always easy being a young guy and coming into the league,” Neal said. “You might see hesitation in certain things that he does, and sometimes nerves can affect you. But I think he looks more comfortable than he did.”
In addition to his struggles, Tangradi has trouble finding ice time because he doesn't play special teams. The Penguins were short-handed eight times against Toronto.
“The thing about him is that he can help us in different roles,” Neal said. “He'll give the third and fourth lines some energy.”
Kennedy saw work on the Malkin line in the final two periods against the Maple Leafs. Coach Dan Bylsma said Kennedy gave the line “more jump than Eric was providing.”
Kennedy, known for his tendency to shoot when the opportunity presents itself, might see plenty of scoring chances playing with Malkin and Neal, two of hockey's most feared forwards.
“I hope I can make the most of it,” Kennedy said.
Tangradi knows the feeling.
“I've learned to be ready to hop over the boards whenever I get the opportunity,” he said. “I'm just going to keep working.”