by Jan Snyder
I love listening to hockey people talk hockey, so I tune in whenever I can for insight that as a fan, I don’t have. This week, Ray Ferraro, a former player, current broadcaster, husband of Hall of Fame player Cammi Granato, and owner of the best nickname ever – Big Ball of Hate – held forth on NHL Live. He was asked about the Penguins and their problems with winning at home in their luxurious new stadium with all the bells and whistles. We, as emotional fans, are seeing all the downside. Fleury’s struggles, defensive lapses, the team trying too hard to entertain the home fans are all reasons that have been thrown out there.
But listen to someone who is unbiased give his opinion and it might put a new perspective on yours.
Consol Energy Center
Ray says the Pens are about as “at home” in their new digs as their opponents. They haven’t played many games there yet and, haven’t gotten accustomed to the bounces off the boards. The ice has been a problem at times, and of course, that affects both teams, but the Pens have to deal with it in practice too.
When we add in the loss of Jordan Staal for the whole season so far, we can see that the other players have had to move around and adjust. Toss into the mix two new defensemen, the departure of Sergei Gonchar and that big loss on the power play, and there are more reasons to expect problems. Not excuses, just problems, problems that need to be solved.
But now the Pens seem on the verge of overcoming at least some of the difficulties at home. The team has now won three of its last four at Consol Energy Center. The overwhelming support poured onto the ice by the fans in his first game at home after not playing for a while spoke volumes about the fans and how we really can influence the game. With Fleury’s lack of confidence, not to mention, lack of play, the first game back could have been iffy. But the fans weren’t about to let that happen. Before the puck even dropped, loud chants of “Fleury, Fleury, Fleury” cascaded down from the rafters and into the ears of the Stanley Cup winning goalie. After the game, he thanked the fans in the arena and told them how important that support was to him.
Crosby is playing like the Crosby we all know and love now. Malkin is improving every game and Kris Letang is doing it all. The new defensemen are fitting it and I’m sure the players are still getting used to new teammates. Before much longer, barring anything else crazy, Staal will be back making a huge impact with his play. Now about that power play – still a problem, but it’s got to get better, right? Maybe the guys will want to pick it up as HBO comes to town to film every aspect of everything hockey. At the least, maybe we’ll get to see the strategy behind the power play.
Heinz Field, home of the 2010 Winter Classic
I can’t wait for 24/7 on HBO. How cool will it be to hear what’s said in practice and to see what the guys do away from the rink? I’m even curious to see the differences between what the Pens do as opposed to the Caps. Four weeks of the show just won’t be enough! But then the show will culminate in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field. I can’t wait for that either! After traveling to Edmonton for the Heritage Classic between the Oilers and Habs, I thought I would never spend that much time outdoors in freezing temperatures again. But how could I pass up the Pens and Caps at Heinz Field? I’ll dress in layers and hope to find Bailey’s to add to my hot chocolate!
So thanks, Ray, for making me think less like a fan and more like an analyst. You’ve made me feel just a little better about the “home” team.