Veteran Kobasew provides more offense in Pens' win over Sabres
By Rob Rossi
Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:51 p.m.
Chuck Kobasew wasn't even supposed to be here.
He arrived in Pittsburgh a day before training camp opened and worked on a professional tryout contract until Wednesday, when he signed for the veteran minimum.
The Penguins have received maximum value from that deal at the start of the NHL season.
Kobasew scored again Saturday night, giving him two goals in as many games, and the Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 4-1, at Consol Energy Center.
Kobasew has gone to the net to tie forward Craig Adams and captain Sidney Crosby for the Penguins' goal lead.
“That's where you have to go to score in this league,” Kobasew said. “Some goals are scored off the rush, but most are not.”
Most opportunities did not interest Kobasew, three times a former 20-goal scorer, before the Penguins invited him to camp in mid-September.
General manager Ray Shero liked Kobasew's blend of skill, speed and grit — and the scouting report provided by Crosby, who worked out with Kobasew during the lockout and this past summer.
“Ray asked me about him,” Crosby said. “He's a good player. And obviously he had a really good camp.”
Kobasew has had an even better start to the season with two goals and consistent work on a third line.
Crosby, left winger Chris Kunitz (penalty shot) and Adams also scored Saturday for the Penguins (2-0-0, 4 points), who next face Carolina at home on Tuesday night.
Crosby won 24 of 41 faceoffs, and the Penguins and Sabres combined for 75 draws — a number Crosby attributed to “all the whistles,” a reference, in part, to the hybrid-icing rule adopted for this season.
The Penguins have not adopted a new attention to defense, even though they are credited for 39 blocked shots through two games.
“Probably not as much last year,” Crosby said of talk among players about tightening up in their own end.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who waived a jolly roger flag to support the Pirates' playoff run when announced as the No. 2 star after the game, described as the play in front of him as “great.”
He stopped 20 shots, coming within a goal by Buffalo winger Thomas Vanek of his 25th shutout.
Fleury has never posted back-to-back shutouts in the NHL.
Kobasew said he never sets an objective for the number of goals he would need to score to have a successful season.
He has not hit double-digits in goals since 2008-09, his second of consecutive campaigns with 20-plus markers.
The Penguins are not counting on him to lead their offensive charge, though they could use some help because of injuries to right winger James Neal (upper body) and defenseman Kris Letang (lower body).
Neal is the set marksman for center Evgeni Malkin, who attempted eight shots — four found their way on net — after not taking one in the opening win over New Jersey.
Letang, the only point-per-game defenseman in the NHL last season, is the catalyst from the backend.
With Letang out, defenseman Matt Niskanen has assumed a top-four role on defense, paired with free-agent returnee Rob Scuderi. Niskanen has produced three assists and a plus-4 rating.
There was a time in August when the consensus among those outside the Penguins organization was that Niskanen would be traded for salary-cap relief.
There was a time in August when Kobasew was not sure whether he would land work in a league dealing with a salary-cap decrease for the first time.
He always had his eye on the Penguins.
“I watched this team a lot the last couple of seasons because of all their games on national TV,” Kobasew said. “I had a pretty good idea of what they do and what I could do for them.
“I picked them for a reason. I didn't know how it would work out, but so far it's been really good.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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