All was quiet on the Pittsburgh front as the lazy summer days of August faded away into another miserable month without hockey.
Ever since the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the stunning defeat against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 Stanley Cup semifinals, fans waited anxiously for the NHL Entry Draft, the start of free agency, and the eventual countdown to the start of training camp, the reassurance that the start of the season is just around the corner.
It would be a time to begin anew, with not only a fresh team, but a fresh sheet of ice surrounded by a state-of-the-art arena, ready to be initiated as the newest home for the Pittsburgh family.
At this point in August, the free agency had dwindled into depth signings for AHL rosters, a sign for many NHL teams that their 2010-11 roster was set and ready for training camp.
With the big signings of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek on the first day of free agency, many fans naturally assumed that the gaps on forward would be filled by AHL'ers because of what little remained of the salary cap.
Not the case, we would quickly see.
On Aug. 20, Penguins fans did a double-take upon the announcement that GM Ray Shero signed former Philadelphia Flyers winger Arron Asham to a one-year, $700,000 deal. Two weeks later, he threw us for another loop by signing former Edmonton Oilers center Mike Comrie to a one-year, $500,000 deal.
After the initial shock of the signings wore off, the possibilities and potential success behind the signings were quite clear.
Asham is the player who makes a statement on the ice in the most subtle ways. His reputation for fighting adds him to the long list of gritty players on the team, but he also balances the toughness with smart plays in the offensive zone and soft hands.
Comrie, a proven 30-goal scorer, also claims a gritty streak and a skill set that is certainly worth more than half a million dollars. He can play on any line with a fearless attitude that sees him crashing the net whenever he can.
The Pens have played two preseason games, Asham dressed in the second game and Comrie dressed for both. In both games, their contributions were undeniable.
Only 1:21 into the preseason opener against the Detroit Red Wings, Comrie silenced the questions concerning his placement on the team with the first-ever goal at the Consol Energy Center. Comrie centered a line that was flanked by Evgeni Malkin and Eric Tangradi, a line that has the potential to be high-energy, hard-hitting, and exploding with chemistry.
Although I was unable to watch the game, I fully trust Mike Lange, Penguins Radio Network play-by-play announcer and Phil Bourque, color analyst and former winger for the Pens, who could not stop raving about Comrie's speed and willingness to get dirty in the corners and in front of the net.
What impressed me the most was the seven shots he put on net, leading the team in that department. A close second would be the fact that his faceoff numbers were above 50 percent.
Yesterday's game saw both Asham and Comrie dress and the performance was just as impressive. Like Comrie, Asham felt the need to make a quick statement and score 34 seconds into the game.
Every time Asham took the ice, I noticed him. To emphasize a previous statement, this guy simply knows what he's doing when he takes the ice.
Comrie continued what he started Wednesday night.
His faceoff average was once again above 50 percent and his shot totals were amazing yet again with eight, blowing the rest of the team out of the water. One of those shots would become the eventual game-winning goal of the night.
On his goal, Comrie crashed the net with his stick on the ground for an easy redirect. Similar to Asham, Comrie has this air about him that demonstrates he knows what he's doing.
After two games, Asham and Comrie have three goals, a +/- of +2, three hits, and two blocked shots.
Shero looks nothing less that a pure genius right now. And we have them both for just over a million dollars.
Based on the two games, I also feel the need to retract any negative thoughts about Comrie's signing. He's making a serious play for a spot on the first line, a position that might be his if he keeps it up, especially when Jordan Staal returns from injury.
Asham is slated to dress for this evening's game, the final game of a home-at-home against the Columbus Blue Jackets where I expect him to continue his impressive play.
Overall, these two signings, for as late and cheap as they were, truly changed the dynamic of the Pittsburgh Penguins in a way that can only help the team.
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