A little before the season started, we checked in with Hooks Orpik over at Pensburgh, SB Nation's Pittsburgh Penguins site, on how they thought things were looking for the Penguins coming into this season. With the Flyers and their biggest rivals set to square off for the first of four times this year tonight, Pensburgh's Mike Darnay and I decided to get re-acquainted again. You can find my answers to his questions over at Pensburgh, and his answers to my questions are below.
Kurt R.: How much longer do you think it'll be until Mike Johnston's juniors-style system is exposed as a gimmick in the pros? (Serious question: give me your thoughts on Mike Johnston's performance as Penguins coach so far. And Jim Rutherford's as GM, if you fancy it.)
Mike Darnay: So far through 4 games, I am both pleased and impressed. His demeanor is great. You can almost just tell that he is ecstatic to have a job coaching a professional NHL team, let alone a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has done a lot of things that Dan Bylsma never seemed to be interested in doing. Opening night against the Ducks, he double shifted the Crosby line, simply to see how Bruce Boudreau would react and give Johnston an idea of how to react and gameplan moving forward. He's been implementing the 4th line in VERY sheltered offensive roles, and they've been winning faceoffs and generating some offensive zone time. It's like he is ... paying attention! I'm excited to see what the future holds. I love the work that the Jim Rutherford regime have done. They replaced terrible hockey players with good, versatile, depth in Steve Downie and Blake Comeau, and I was blown away and in love with the Christian Ehrhoff signing. He is a gem. Rutherford was given a dumpster fire and made a good thing out of it in a short time, and is grooming a few assistant GMs for a future job. It's exciting.
KR: You requested a Steve Downie question, so I'll give you one: has Pittsburgh decided yet whether or not Steve Downie is, in fact, an actual hockey player? I know things were a little unclear on that front around this time last year.
MD: I like to think that Steve Downie IS an actual hockey player! In fact, I wrote about Steve Downie after the Pens-Islanders game when he put Travis Hamonic in his place (and got him to draw a game misconduct). (You can read that piece here.)
KR: Marc-Andre Fleury has a perfectly respectable if unspectacular .915 save percentage through four games so far. Does his regular-season performance even a little bit to the fanbase at large, or are they all just waiting for things to start in mid-April to see where he's at? And if you had to guess right now, with Fleury being an unrestricted free agent this summer, do the Penguins give him a new contract this upcoming offseason?
MD: It's really hard to say ... for me personally, it's all about the playoffs. But even if he has a good playoffs, it's hard to imagine the Penguins being able to afford him or willing to pay him what he wants, unless he would leave money on the table. These GM's LOVE the fact that players have Cup rings and would probably pay premium for it if he were to hit the open market on July 1st. We haven't seen Jesus Greiss Superstar [backup goalie Thomas Greiss] yet, but from what I have seen, he is capable and good, and I'm curious to see if the Pens try and extend him for more than just this season.
KR: The Penguins right now are the odds-on favorite in the Metropolitan (god, I still can't believe that's what it's called) Division. Who did you see as the biggest threat to them within the division coming into the season, and has that changed at all based on what you've seen so far?
MD: It's hard to see any specific, clear-cut threat to them not winning the Metro, at least with how the Penguins have looked through 4 games. the Blue Jackets have their injury woes and the Rangers gave Tanner Glass a 3-year contract. The New York Islanders could be a threat, but i think that the way the Pens played them last week helped set a tone that the Penguins are taking them seriously.
KR: So is this a Cup-or-bust year for the Penguins? Seems like a silly thing to ask a team with a first-year coach and GM, but I think it's been a question asked just about every year in Pittsburgh for a while now, and Crosby/Malkin ain't getting any younger.
MD: For the fanbase as a whole, it seems as if it's unacceptable that the Penguins haven't won the Cup yet. For me personally, it's not a Cup-or-bust year. The Penguins are not in a rebuild, but this could be a transition season. 40% roster turnover, new GM, new coach, new pairings, etc. Ffor me, it feels like ... even if the Penguins have a 2nd round playoff exit, it just feels different. It feels fun again. I'm enjoying the regular season without Cup expectations in October, and it feels good.
BONUS QUESTION: if you could have any person in the world (IN THE WORLD) be your butler for a day, who would it be?
MD: My instinctive answer is to say Claude Giroux. I can host a big ass party (get it?), and make him the servant and let him grab everyone's butts. Except mine.
Thanks again to Mike and Pensburgh for answering our questions and sending us questions of their own. We'll have our standard preview up for tonight's game later today.