Alexei Ponikarovsky Inspiring Penguins: The Pony Has Left The Stable
The magic man Ray Shero amazed us all once again by scouting and acquiring a player the Penguins were in desperate need of: a scoring, top-six forward. This deal came in the form of Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula for Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Pony made his Pens debut on Saturday in an energetic win over the Dallas Stars. The raw stats don't speak to the impact of the power forward. It was truly inspiring watching a new player being welcomed at the Igloo as Pony was.
The fans did not have to wait long for his first goal as it came on a power play in the third period. After his name was announced on the intercom, the people began to chant "Pony" as loud as they typically cheer for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He also received a standing ovation at the end of the game as he was named the third star of the game.
The acquisition of a big, scoring forward will not be measured in goals and points, but also in intangibles. Pony has all ready had an effect on his teammates.
Before the Olympic break, any Penguins fan would have seen Ruslan Fedotenko as being one of the first players scratched due to lack of performance. Fed's point production is still low and his +/- is a career low minus -16, but he is making up for it in other ways—heading to the net and checking. He appears to have a new zest for the game, perhaps realizing that a roster spot is not guaranteed.
Once Pony, Fed, and Geno get acquainted with each other, there is no limit to how well they can play.
Once this familiarity is attained, it spells bad news for every opposing defense. Before the Pony trade, opposing defensemen had to worry about the first line, Geno on the second, and Jordan Staal on the third.
With the acquisition of Pony, defensemen have to decide who to try and stop on the second line. Geno's underrated passing ability makes the second line equal to most first lines in the NHL.
The Pens finally have the personnel to do what other teams have so effectively used against them: have a player sit in the crease and screen the goalie. The fans got a little taste of this last Saturday has Pony scored a PP goal, which is rather impressive as he only made one appearance on the power play late in the game.
The city of Pittsburgh can get behind a player like Pony. He is a blue-collar, physical player who reminds me of Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone. His stat line versus the Stars included four hits, one of which was a beautiful open-ice hit in the neutral zone separated the puck—and almost the helmet—of the Stars' defender. With the departure of Malone, the Pens needed a power forward that could score in those dirty areas.
Ray Shero did what any good GM does: he went out and got what his team needed. He gave up a young player who could become a top six forward, but he got a current top six forward in return. No one knows what will happen with Pony after the season; will he be resigned or test free agency? It could be disheartening, but in the here and now, I know the Penguins will ride Sid, Geno, and Pony deep into the playoffs. Repeat? Anything can happen with studs like that...
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