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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

| Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings all from Consol, where the Penguins -- at least half or so -- are still out on the ice for the rest of this practice here today. Taking entries on all topics, as always, so ...

MarshallAn: Hey Dejan, In regards to the Penguins PP. I agree with what you said in your blog today, about taking Crosby off the point. However, I also believe that a far more radical change would be more effective. Split Crosby and Malkin onto separate PP squads. Make it look like this: 1st PP Kunitz-Malkin-Neal Letang-Sullivan 2nd PP Staal-Crosby-Cooke Martin-Kennedy I believe the 1st PP is what the Penguins had before Crosby returned. There is a reason Neal was the leader in PP goals. Kunitz provides net front presence, Sullivan provides entry. Malkin feeds it to Neal, goal. Letang can get back if necessary. For the 2nd PP, Cooke provides net front presence. Crosby can dump it in, Staal can retrieve it, can pass it to the point. Kennedy can shoot it on goal with his wicked shot, or shoot it so Crosby can redirect. Cooke and Crosby have been dominant together so far. You could also swap Letang for Martin, if you wanted. Best part is that you have 2 PPs to go to, so when one gets tired, stick the other out. Also, Staal, Cooke and Kennedy are the usual players after a PP. They're already on the ice. Letang can jump on, and he and Martin already form their defensive pairing. And we don't have to wait to rest Crosby, Malkin and Neal altogther. I'm all for the two-headed monster, but it doesn't seem to work on the Power Play. Again, I realize it's a little late to concieve a new PP scheme. It seems to make sense to me though.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yikes. Pretty long entry for a chat.

I'll just reply by telling you that Steve Sullivan worked the point here at practice just now, which is a terrific first step toward fixing it. The rest of the players interchanged quite a bit, maybe so as not to give the Flyers much to work with in terms of preparation. But having Sullivan, who's so important in bringing the puck up ice and setting up, will be important.

Harold: My biggest concern in the playoffs is that Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff will be out-coached. They constantly seem to be slow to adjust to the other team's tactics and even with home ice advantage, never seem to get the right line match-ups.

Dejan Kovacevic: Tomorrow will be a great sign of that, particularly as it relates to the Penguins' breakout. The Flyers took away the boards all night, and the Penguins kept skating right into them like Charlie Brown into Lucy's football.

Much more on this in my Friday column.

Alan: Dejan, do you care to backtrack about "just give us the cup already"• As a journalist/reporter, you should be more respectful about the opposition instead of being a cheerleader for the team.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, Alan, the Penguins no longer have any chance to win the Cup now that they've lost one playoff game. I take it all back.

If you read the column beyond the headline, you'll have noticed that I was -- and remain -- eminently respectful of the Flyers, up to and including that I consider them the Penguins' greatest threat in this conference. I just happen to see a Pittsburgh roster that's loaded with talent, depth and toughness.

There's nothing cheerleader-ish about that. Going into last year's playoffs, I picked the Penguins to lose in the first round, and there was nothing anti-cheerleader-ish about that. You just call what you see.

Crosby87: I knew the column you wrote yesterday would be a jinx. You casually dismissed the Flyers as a harmless roadblock to the Cup but they showed their mettle and resilience last night. This is going to be a long draining series.

Dejan Kovacevic: I've heard today from people talking about all forms of goofy intangible explanations for why the Penguins lost last night. Among my favorites was they celebrated their early goals with too much exuberance. Seriously.

The game is the game. The Penguins lost to the team that played better, plain and simple.

Andy: While I am a fan of Neil Walker, has he really done enough to justify a long term contract at this point• He's off to a poor start, and I remember last year, he was able to hit an in-ordinate number 2 strike pitches,and wondered if any ML player could thrive on that. Flukey or worth a big contract?

Dejan Kovacevic: Walker is off to an abysmally slow start at the plate, and that's a little strange considering he looked plenty comfortable at the plate in Bradenton. An .059 average isn't going to get it done at No. 9 in the order, let alone cleanup, so something there will have to change -- for better or worse -- before long.

The two-strike pitches thing has been a Walker strength for years, not limited to last year, so I'm not inclined to dismiss it. But some more selectivity wouldn't hurt him. No question he's reaching outside the zone.

Warned You Thusly: Dejan, best team ERA in the Majors, worst offense in every category: 5 total BB, none of them, no extra base hits, 1 run and a .256 on base coming from the starters in the first to spots in the order and 0 runs, 1 walk from Walker. When might the pitching staff expect all that contact, speed and first pitch swinging to start scoring some runs• Seriously, do you think Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle have the character to admit they were wrong and start making changes right away or will they stick with this mess and ride it right up until they're out of contention... which should come about May 15th at this point?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's been five games against five of the better pitchers in the National League. That's not an excuse. It's fact. And it's entirely possible -- we've seen this countless times before in baseball -- that lost confidence against one great pitcher can snowball.

Thing is, the Giants, Diamondbacks and Cardinals can pitch, too, and they're next. Those who aren't hitting need to be sitting.

Frank in Ohio: Dejan- Your thoughts on the Steelers picking up the best Nose Tackle available in the first round that fits the Steeler mold as a Zero technique. I understand the OL is a needed improvement area, however the Nose taackle is the most important position in our defense. With Casey Hampton, and Steve McClendon being the only Nose Guards on our team, my thought is the most impactful Nose Tackle that is condusive to the way we play is our #1 Choice...your thoughts?...

Dejan Kovacevic: If I ever wanted to draft by a position of need, I wouldn't a) do it in the first round, unless it were a quarterback or b) take a nose tackle.

I don't mean to undermine the importance of the run-stuffing role in the 3-4 defense, but those players can be had for lesser investments than your top pick. They're generally not expensive even as free agents.

And is this really the year to do that, anyway?

Very clearly, the Steelers are going with Hampton. And even if Hampton isn't ready, they trust McLendon and he knows the system.

JaMain Stephens: As you said in the blog , there is no way that Mike Wallace can win this situation with the Steelers barring a team making an offer before April 24th. With that said, what do you think his (or his agents') motivation is with leaking the details of this to the press• It seems to me the LAST organization you'd want to get into a game of brinkmanship with would be the Steelers.

Dejan Kovacevic: Bus Cook's been around a long time, so he knows the NFL, knows the people who cover it and knows the Steelers' negotiators. I'd have to think he's doing a lot of this, including the Larry Fitzgerald insanity, to raise the broader view of his client. That makes sense, to an extent. Wallace generally is underappreciated, and maybe even just having a discussion about Wallace and Fitzgerald can make someone think a little more of him.

But holding out on the Steelers?

Tends not to work.

Zach: I thought the 4th line had a heck of a game in terms of creating sustained zone time for the Pens, but late in the game the line was cannibalized in order to get more chances for Sid, Staal, and Geno. I realize you want your stars on as much as possible, but in with a lead going into the 3rd period of a playoff game, aren't the grinding abilities of Asham, Vitale, and Adams just as valuable as a gamebreaker like Sid or Geno?

Dejan Kovacevic: The fourth line had one terrific shift to start, but suffice it to say there's a reason you didn't see Arron Asham in the third period. He was among the guiltiest of the nonsensical lateral passes, including that mind-bender on the two-on-one with Craig Adams.

Also, it was Joe Vitale's mishandling of the puck in the center circle that led to Daniel Briere's (offside) goal.

Trent: Dejan...first I love your column. It is so nice to see the new age media as opposed to dinosaurs like Smizik.

Dejan Kovacevic: I appreciate the kind words, Trent, and I hope you'll appreciate that no one in this town has more respect for my friend, former colleague and mentor Bob Smizik than I do. The shot against him is definitely NOT appreciated.

I grew up as a local paper boy carrying the old Pittsburgh Press, and I'd read Bob and others hoping to have a chance someday to do what they do.

Go Pens: Martin played 24 mins last night and Englland played 11 mins if there not gonna bench martin shouldnt they atleast cut down his minutes?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins' coaching staff sees something in Martin and Zbynek Michalek that I don't. I can't say what that is because it's very difficult to see.

But I'll stress again: This team's best defense is going on the attack. The fact that they stopped, wittingly or not, was the biggest blow.

D.P.: Do you think Letang is being overworked• I just looked at his ice time and he played all but 26 seconds of the 3 powerplays, and he was almost up to 30 minutes for the game. There is no way they can keep that up. He seemed tired out there in the overtime.

Dejan Kovacevic: Because he couldn't handle a bouncing puck on bad ice?

If Letang's weariness caused that, how then to explain Jordan Staal completely losing track of Jakub Voracek, his man the moment the Flyers gained the zone?

PirateApologist: I missed the majority of the game last night. How was the crowd• Was it as loud as you've heard at Consol• Was it close at all to the intensity the Arena used to have?

Dejan Kovacevic: It was for a period and change. But again, I'm hearing from all kinds of readers about the crowd and this and that, as if people are desperate to come up with any kind of excuse that absolves the Penguins of playing as poorly as they did.

The team that played better won the game.

P.U. Pens: Do the Pirates have a major leage hitting coach or any in the organization• You would never know if they do!

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, setting aside the small sample size of five games, I'll repeat that neither Clint Hurdle nor Gregg Ritchie had any appreciable impact on ANY player in 2011. That's not an opinion. It's demonstrable fact.

Put it another way: How many pitchers performed above and beyond?

That tends to be the best way to gauge a coach's impact, and you can cite a bunch of them, not least of which was the reconstructed Charlie Morton.

How many hitters did that?


znc1: With Morton slated to pitch on Saturday, who do you think goes back to AAA taking his spot• Hague, Navarro or Harrison?

Dejan Kovacevic: Boy, you'd like to think it would be a pitcher, but that's not great roster management. Might be a spur of the moment thing depending on how someone does even in the next couple of days.

Imagine having a preset notion, then, say, Hague goes deep twice?

Mike: Dejan...One of my concerns from last night was the way Geno and his line appeared. I thought Kunitz was the strongest player on the line for his physical work but Neal and Malkin appeared to have very little going on.... Not ready to shake up lines but Friday will be a very interesting game to guage where this team is, as realated to making adjustments.

Dejan Kovacevic: Neal had a couple of very good scoring chances but didn't look like himself. Though, as I noted on the blog, he seemed to get hit as hard as anyone on the Penguins' roster.

As for Malkin, ask yourself this: How many clean entries did he gain into the Philadelphia zone?

More on this in tomorrow's column.

Beer Baron: why are people so worried about the Steelers this year, they are always in need of a OL, CB, etc. and the coaches and management always deliver with wins!!

Dejan Kovacevic: People worry about the Steelers because it's what they do. Nothing wrong with that. I think there might be a little less angst this offseason than most, actually, if you consider that very, very few -- at least from what I can gauge -- seem all that concerned about a running game that will be headlined by Isaac Redman.

Really expected that one would cause some fretting.

MorrisseyvsRichardButler: If there is a big city reporter/columnist more accessible to the readers through the various multimedia outlets, I can not think of one. Do you ever regret making yourself so accessible to your readers?

Dejan Kovacevic: I can't answer the first part of that, but I appreciate the kind words.


Yeah, I guess, on occasion. But I enjoy it way, way more than it ever bugs me. As people who stay up late at night can attest, I'll actually go seeking them out for totally random conversation. One of the best parts of the job.

Beer Baron: who will be the Steelers No. 3 wideout, Sanders or Cochery?

Dejan Kovacevic: Depends on if Emmanuel Sanders can show Mike Tomlin he can stay healthy, from what I can tell. That's obviously no given.

ImpnArn: Dejan: Jimmy Pol or the Jaggerz?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll take Pol, just because he's from the town with the great football team.

James_Pittsburgh: How can the Pirates send down Hague• He might not turn out to be an every day starter but is one of the best bats they have coming off the bench.

Dejan Kovacevic: I wouldn't think they will, seeing as how he's started against both lefties so far. The positional considerations usually will send a corner infielder down before a middle guy, but the Pirates have made clear their bench this season was aimed at being built on offense first.

When in doubt, always look for options and other 40-man roster considerations.

Dejan Kovacevic: By the way, I just want to take a moment here to let everyone know that the reader who posted the above entry about Smizik expressed sincere regret at his wording. I genuinely believe it didn't come out as he intended.

That's pretty big.

Dave in Ross: Arrival time for Starling Marte if he tears up triple a & bucs offense continues to struggle• Moved up• Who goes when he's ready• Tabata seems like a singles hitting backup o me.

Dejan Kovacevic: We've been over the Marte thing. When he's best ready as a prospect and for his development, he'll be here. You can't move someone like that up because of a major-league need unless you're in some kind of pennant race late in the season. (Think David Price and the Rays.)

Tabata, in addition to being 3 for 18 so far, really hasn't driven the ball all spring. He has gone the other way at times, which is good, but hasn't shown much authority. If he's not getting on base regularly, that shortcoming is all the more glaring.

Ryan: Dejan, Is it possible that the Bylsma "system" can't win the cup• considering that he arrived to find a good defensive unit in place from MT in Feb 2009• It seems they play badly against the elite teams...which would explain their regular season and playoff woes in the last 3 seasons...

Dejan Kovacevic: I can't accept that you can win 50 regular-season games with a system, but that system will kill you in the playoffs. The Penguins need to attack, and they need to attack relentlessly. They were on their heels last night, just about all of them.

FreeTankCarter: The Flyers are now 6-1 in Consol. Is home ice meaningless in this series?

Dejan Kovacevic: Here's a thought: Maybe both teams are better suited for road games when facing each other because both keep it simple and move forward rather than getting cute laterally.

Did I mention that Asham-to-Adams pass?

Mike A.: I'm surprised that so few people are commenting on the fact that only 4 players stayed to talk to the media last night. That's more troubling to me than anything. Don't want to appear too panicked, but that sounds like a beaten team already...

Dejan Kovacevic: It shouldn't be anywhere near as troubling as what happened on the ice, Mike, but neither did it reflect particularly well. This was Game 1, for crying out loud. If Marc-Andre Fleury could come out and talk minutes after giving up the overtime goal, but most of his teammates couldn't, they hung him out to dry in more ways than one.

Check the blog for more on this.

Dan: Can you tell us what the mood was today at Pens practice?

Dejan Kovacevic: Business as usual. Really seemed no different than a November at Southpointe. Not sure what to make of that. They did conduct a lot of business out there, though, and I'm guessing more attention was paid than usual.

It's time for the Lightning round ...

Or maybe since the Lightning aren't in the playoffs, it can be the Jonathan Quick round in light of the No. 8 Kings whacking the No. 1 Canucks last night ...

dan: The team is rebelling against Crosby they were playing great before he came now look there not responding to there captain when he puts up points

Dejan Kovacevic: Yikes. Next?

Jared G in MT: Clint Barmes has looked pretty awful so far. He definitely doesn't look like one of the best defensive shortstops in the league. He should have been able to get to that single up the middle last night and it cost them the game. Any chance he's just gotten too old and his range is very limited now. Why can't NH find a shortstop that can at least be good defensively?

Dejan Kovacevic: I saw not one pitch of the Pirates' game last night and haven't had a chance yet to watch the DVR, so I can't speak to that. I can say that I really liked what I saw of Barmes defensively in the spring. Offensively, not so much. He is what he is.

wvkeeper: Meek has to be done right• No movement on his pitches and nothing on his fastball...

Dejan Kovacevic: Meek only has movement on his pitches if he hits an upper velocity. He's still working toward that. I believe he'll get there, based on our conversations and some progress he's expressed.

David: Shea Weber fined but not suspended for slamming Zetterberg's head. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't get that. Looked pretty vicious to me. Weber didn't just get him once. He got him twice, pro-wrestling style sans turnbuckle.

Too much emphasis on whether or not a guy gets hurt. Shouldn't matter. It's the act that counts.

Beer Baron: Do you think the Steelers will draft an RB in the first three rounds of the draft?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's wholly possible, though Art Rooney II still sounds very much determined to keep Rashard Mendenhall as the feature back for the foreseeable future upon his return. Never know with a knee in football.

Mike: Even though the first Briere goal was blatantly offsides, he was still the first guy into our zone, when we had a 3 goal lead.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, the action was heading toward Philadelphia's end when Vitale lost the puck in his skates in the center circle. If the D made any mistake there -- Orpik and Martin -- it was that they were really far apart from each other.

RichThePersistent: Any chance at all Karstens goes back to the pen when Burnett and Morton return• I sure hope they leave him in the rotation.

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely none. Karstens is a starter.

Greg: What is the issue with the Console ice• Been 2 years now and it really is not good.. I am sure they are trying different things,but with the way our team is constructed, this is a huge disadvantage. Are they working on this issue?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've written this on the blog before, but some of the Penguins blame it on the Pittsburgh Power indoor football team. They say the ice is mostly fine right up until that season starts.

No question it was lousy last night.

James_Pittsburgh: Who goes back to the bullpen Correia or McDonald?

Dejan Kovacevic: It was going to be Correia before A.J. Burnett was hurt. We'll see.

still4writin: Boy, do we need an RB!

Dejan Kovacevic: There's that angst!

Mike: It's one loss and a dreadful one at that but to me the scary thing is Giroux didn't have much to do with the win then again nor did our top line. Don't they just have no choice but to put Letang and Orpik back together• Also can Niskanen be back this round do you think?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, I can come right back and say that the Flyers should be equally concerned that the Malkin line didn't do much.

And no, Niskanen didn't practice again today, though he did skate earlier on his own. Doesn't sound like he'll be back for Game 2.

rev: No worries, the Power will be gone in a few years....

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll bet you a basket of Olive Garden breadsticks it'll be sooner. Only 4,000 and change showed up last Friday.

Guest: When does Bylsma "get it" and move away from the losing "prevent defense" strategy when the Pens take a large lead?

Dejan Kovacevic: That was never part of the strategy. No one appeared more upset about what the Penguins were doing than the head coach.

One more today, as the Flyers have just hit the ice, which means it's close to 1 p.m. ...

LEn@AE: Looks to me that the Pens are the reincarnation of the San Diego Chargers of the 80's...

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, people. It was one game. They have to win 16 to lift the Cup. They still have, in theory, 27 chances to win those 16 games.

Look, I know it was lousy. I was here, saw it, heard it, felt it. But it was one game, as Sidney Crosby put it nicely, "It wouldn't have mattered if we lost in overtime or we lost, 10-0. We lost."

They did. Once.

The columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday, though you're going to see a few extras off the Penguins' games here and in Philly (and beyond). The blog is like Jaromir Jagr's sense of humor, always there and only as annoying as you'll allow it to be.

Thanks for the participation.

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