Unsung Six : There Is More To The Penguins Forwards Then The Superstars
When the Pittsburgh Penguins are being discussed in articles, on TV or any other media outlet the first forwards mentioned are inevitably Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal (usually in that order). There is very good reason for this to be the case.
Sidney Crosby is the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise, as well as the NHL. He is arguably the best all-around player in the game today and deserves all of the recognition and accolades that are constantly showered upon him.
Evgeni Malkin is the reigning NHL scoring champ and the Penguins playoff MVP from their 2009 Stanley Cup Championship run. He is a supreme talent who even overshadows his all-world teammate Crosby on many nights.
Jordan Staal, the youngest of the trio, is a tremendous two-way forward who has the potential to skate away with his fair share of Selke Trophies in the years to come. Whether five-on-five or short handed, Staal is always a threat at both ends of the ice.
With all this attention heaped upon the Penguin’s dynamic triumvirate, it is easy to forget about the rest of the forwards who help make the franchise a legitimate threat to defend its Stanley Cup Championship.
There is the veteran presence of Billy Guerin (or Grandpa Bill as I like to call him) and the aggressive, straight-line game of Chris Kunitz who both flank Crosby on the Pens top line.
Penguins GM Ray Shero brought in some more firepower at this year’s trade deadline by adding ex-Maple Leaf left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to form an all-Russian speaking second unit with Malkin and clutch playoff performer (I’m not really sure where “Mr. Clutch” goes during the regular season) Ruslan Fedotenko.
Finally, who could forget the Stanley Cup Playoff heroics of Mad Max Talbot? The man with the calming locker room presence, quick wit, and team-first attitude.
Even the aforementioned five forwards receive more attention and notoriety then the players I would like to recognize in this article.
I’m here to talk about the grinders, the shot blockers, the penalty killers, the scrapers and the energy bringers (Yes, I know Talbot falls into this category, but he is “The Grinder” when it comes to the Penguins and is usually the first player in that category discussed, so for the purpose of this article Max gets enough face time).
Those “other” Penguin forwards who deserve to receive more attention then they often garner.
These six skaters are the unsung heroes of the Pittsburgh Penguins forward group and if only for one time, in one article they are the players being put in the limelight…besides, Crosby, Malkin, and Staal could use a break.
Plucked off the waiver wire near the trade deadline of 2009, Adams became an integral part of the Penguins run to the Stanley Cup. So much so, that in the offseason Shero signed Adams to a two year, $1.1 million extension.
The 6’0” 197 pound utility forward can be slotted on the wing or at center. He is usually found on the Pens fourth line bringing intense physical play to the ice.
He plays hard in all three zones and is a skilled shot blocker who can often be an asset to the team’s strong penalty killing unit.
The versatile Adams is also a quality faceoff man and although he has not scored a regular season goal in 93 straight games, his character, toughness and leadership is often displayed by his willingness to stand up for his teammates on the ice.
With two Stanley Cups already on his resume (2006 with Carolina is the other), the 32-year-old veteran continues to bring maximum effort to the rink every day.
Known more around the league for his mouth than his game, Matt Cooke was brought in by the Penguins, in the summer of 2008 to take the place of departed agitator and fan favorite Jarrko Ruutu.
Fortunately for the Penguins and their fans the feisty left winger brings much more to the table than just an utterly annoying on-ice persona.
Cooke has potted 12 goals and 24 points for the Penguins playing on their third line (arguably the top checking line in the league) along with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.
The Belleville, Ontario, native is usually among the league leaders in hits and plays a bruising game that can often turn up the intensity level on the ice.
He sees valuable time on the penalty kill and is sometimes called upon to battle in front of the opposition’s net on the power play.
“The Cookie Monster” always finds a way to burrow under the skin of many of his opponents and can often draw their attention away from playing their game.
Although Cooke will take some uncalled for and untimely penalties now and again (okay, a little more than now and again), the positives that he brings to the franchise far out weigh any negativity surrounding his play.
Cooke will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1 and I for one hope the Penguins bring him back. I’m sure his teammates do as well because I’m sure they have no desire to play against him.
The oft-forgotten addition in the 2008 trade deadline blockbuster that brought superstar winger Marian Hossa over to the Penguins, Dupuis has been a solid performer throughout his short career with the Penguins.
Lightning quick with a blistering slapshot streaking down the wing, the efficient forward can play up and down the Penguins lineup.
This season he has found himself manning the wing on Crosby or Malkin’s right side as often as he has been battling in the corners on the team’s fourth unit. You can also find Dupuis lending a hand on the club’s penalty killing unit.
Chipping in 15 goals and 27 points has been a tremendous boost to Pittsburgh’s secondary scoring. This welcomed and a bit surprising offensive production has made the veteran's $1.4 million dollar cap hit (this year and next) look like a bargain.
Whatever Pascal’s role is, be it scoring line winger or checking line grinder, you can be assured that the former “throw in” from the Hossa trade will bring his “A” game on every shift.
The hulking right winger, Eric Godard, is a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins for one reason and one reason only – to protect the team’s superstars.
The 6’4” 214 pound pugilist is one of the toughest customers in the NHL today. He is around to make sure that all members of the opposition know that if they try to take liberties with Crosby, Malkin and company that they will answer to him.
Given his size and brute strength, Godard often has trouble finding a dance partner, but when he does, more often than not, he comes out on the winning end of the scuffle.
The veteran fourth liner is never on the ice for his hockey talents, but he is not completely devoid of playing ability. He is never going to be mistaken for Mario Lemieux, but at least he can take a regular shift if needed.
Godard’s role, as one-dimensional as it may be, is still an extremely important one to his club’s success.
If one of the franchise’s top players is hurt due to an unsolicited run-in with another team’s player, then the whole organization's chances drop a few notches.
The big winger has been slowed by a groin injury for several weeks this season and the Penguins have continued their winning ways without him, but when he is ready to return I’m sure he will be welcomed back…just not by any members of the opposition.
The scrappy little winger from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario will be the first person to tell you that his current season has not been his finest.
He was hampered by a groin injury earlier in the season and has amassed only nine goals and 20 points in 49 games played. However, “Mr. Kennedy’s” contributions go well beyond stats.
TK is a key cog on, arguably, the best third line in the NHL. His speed and tenacious style of play keeps opposing defenders back on their heels. He is not afraid to fire the puck from anywhere on the ice and when he is playing with confidence he can be a quality finisher for his squad.
Kennedy shows an equal amount of grit and hustle in all three zones and will battle with much bigger opponents in the corners and come away with the puck. He will also drop the gloves from time to time and can hold his own with the other middle weights of the league.
The 23-year-old is still growing as a pro and although he was a major piece of the Penguin’s 2009 Championship puzzle he has yet to reach his full potential as an NHL player (which is great news for the organization, since the Pens still have him on their payroll for next season at the low price of $725,000).
If TK can re-capture his scoring touch in the latter part of the regular season campaign and carry it into the playoffs, it will be yet another weapon for opposing teams to worry about from the Pens' already potent offense.
Mike Rupp knows what it feels like to be a Champion. He scored the Cup clinching goal for the New Jersey Devils in game seven of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals.
So, when Ray Shero came calling in the 2009 offseason it is no surprise that Rupp was ready to jump at the chance to join the Penguins and take another shot at a Championship.
Shero is now the one who should be jumping…for joy. Rupper was signed to a two-year deal for $1.65 million to add to the club’s overall team toughness. He has done that and much more.
Rupp has already doubled his career high with twelve goals on the season and has been a physical presence in the corners, along the boards and in front of the opposing team’s net.
With the aforementioned Eric Godard being out for an extended period of time the 6’5” 230 pound Rupp has taken it upon himself to assume the role as team enforcer, as well.
With his prior post season success Rupp will be able to add to the already battle-tested Pens lineup when they try to go on another deep run this spring.
Who knows? Maybe Rupp will notch another Cup clincher, but this time in black and gold.