|Marian Hossa has enjoyed playing in Pittsburgh on a line with Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby, and the pair have clicked during the playoffs.
Marian Hossa video highlights
Hossa wasn’t purposely staying away from his team, then the Atlanta Thrashers, or the media. Instead, he chose not to attend the team’s morning skate at the Bell Centre because he didn’t have any answers and there was no reason to skate with a team he wouldn’t be part of in a few hours.
“He hung out in his room and was kind of not on the team anymore,” said Pascal Dupuis, who was packaged with Hossa in a deal that saw the pair go to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster deal. “He stayed in his room so he didn’t have to answer any questions.”
That morning seems so long ago because nowadays, with the Penguins leading the New York Rangers 3-1 heading into Sunday’s Game 5 at Mellon Arena, Hossa doesn’t mind fielding every last query from an interested bunch of scribes and television personalities while sitting in his locker stall.
The answers just roll off his tongue – with a European accent. That, though, is yet another bonus to winning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You’re never at a loss for words. At least, you better not be when the cameras are rolling and pens are scribbling.
“When I came here I got comfortable really quick,” said Hossa, an unrestricted free agent after the season who admits he sees a lot of potential in Pittsburgh. “I know I had an injury and didn’t play in the beginning, but I felt comfortable with this team. It’s a young group of guys. It kind of reminds me of my beginning when I was in Ottawa playing with lots of young players.”
Hossa suffered a knee injury almost immediately after pulling a Penguins sweater over his shoulders. Hossa bumped knees with Boston right wing Glen Murray just 13 shifts into his first game and he wound up missing the next six games.
That made it difficult for him to establish chemistry with Sidney Crosby, who was returning to the Penguins lineup about the same time Hossa got hurt. The Penguins acquired Hossa with the vision of him skating to Crosby’s right.
To make matters a little more dicey, right about the time Hossa was about to come back into the lineup, Crosby went out with some lingering effects from his ankle injury. It wasn’t until March 27 that the two finally played a shift together.
“Everything is a little quicker,” Hossa said of playing with Crosby. “This is the fastest center I ever had to play with. He never stops. When he has the puck on his stick I have to make sure I’m moving my feet so we can at least try to go together.”
The Penguins had four games to evaluate their new center-right wing duo, and it worked well. Hossa had a goal and two assists and Crosby had two goals and three assists before No. 87 sat out the last game of the regular season.
When the playoffs began in Ottawa, they were together again, with Dupuis on the left side. Although it took some time to figure it all out, now the trade looks like it’s working out precisely as planned.
Through eight playoff games, Crosby has two goals and 10 assists for 12 points and a plus-1 rating. Hossa has three goals and five assists for eight points and a plus-2 rating. Dupuis has been an essential penalty killer and has provided extra energy, as well as four playoff points.
Hossa previously had only 35 points and a minus-9 rating in 55 playoff games before this season.
“You put a player like that with Sid, they’re creating chances almost every time they step on the ice,” said Ryan Malone, a pretty formidable left wing, who was Crosby’s former linemate, who plays alongside center Evgeni Malkin. “You see what he does out there. He’s a big part of the game.”
When Crosby was asked what he’s learned from playing with Hossa that he didn’t already know, he said it was his new teammates play in the defensive end.
“I guess I always realized he is a complete player, but the biggest thing to me is his defensive play sticks out the most,” the Penguins captain said. “You hear about guys being complete, but he really is a guy that is so strong in both ends and an easy guy to play with, especially when he’s that good at playing defense.”
In somewhat of an ironic twist, when asked the same question about Crosby – what didn’t you know about him that you do now? – Hossa talked about defense, too.
“I knew how good he was offensively, especially with what he could do with the puck and the spin-o-rama thing,” Hossa said. “What I now know after playing with him is he’s also strong down low defensively. Nobody talks about that.”
Toss in Dupuis, a defensive specialist, and the Penguins’ top line is so defensively sound that coach Michel Therrien goes so far as to look to match them against the opposition’s top line.
Since some of the opposition’s top lines aren’t always very defensively oriented, Therrien tries to use that as an advantage by playing Crosby’s line against them. More times than not, they turn their sound defense into offensive chances.
“I really like the combination of Crosby and Hossa,” Therrien said. “I really like it.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.