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Five Questions: Pierre McGuire talks playoff push

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features NBC analyst Pierre McGuire:

Pierre McGuire used to be a coach in the NHL, but now he laughs when he says he just plays one on TV.

McGuire does it for NBC, offering his analysis from between the benches on nationally televised games. His is a unique vantage point for not only watching the game and talking about it, but hearing what goes on during the game.

He has seen all the top teams in the League up close and never hesitates to weigh in with his opinion. That's why he is the subject of the Q&A this week, the final week of the 2014-15 NHL regular season.

Below are McGuire's opinions on the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins, who are just 3-8-1 in their past 12 games, the team the New York Rangers should not want to face in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team McGuire loves to watch, the Los Angeles Kings and the Central Division.

Here are Five Questions with … Pierre McGuire:

Obviously we know the injury situation with Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff out, and how difficult it is to win without those guys, but beyond that, why do you think the Penguins are slumping and how concerned are you about them right now?

"I'm pretty concerned about them only because they're an important team for the National Hockey League. They're a tremendously important team because of the star power on that team. They're a very visible organization. So, yeah, you worry about it only because of how important they are to the League.

"I think the biggest thing is for many years the Pittsburgh Penguins were known as a quick-strike offensive team that could light you up and beat you in a 6-5 game just as easy as they could beat you 7-2. They were always known to outscore you. Well they're not doing that anymore, so it begs the questions: Why? What has happened?

"I think there are few things. James Neal was a consistent 35-40 goal scorer, and he's been traded away. Patric Hornqvist has come in and done a nice job, but he still doesn't have 40 goals. Nick Spaling is a depth player in an organization. In terms of the trade, yeah it worked out well with Hornqvist, but you don't have that same kind of offensive power. The injury situation with [Evgeni] Malkin hasn't helped them. The injury situation with Pascal Dupuis hasn't helped them. The loss of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik hasn't helped them. The loss of Olli Maatta hasn't helped them. There are so many things that go into this, but I think the biggest thing is they've lost their identity as a high, revved up, offensive machine.

"They've gotta find a way to re-establish some form of identity before the end of the season hits here. They've been a responsible defensive team and I think they deserve a lot of credit for that. And the other thing is I think Marc-Andre Fleury has had a great year. There is no need to save him now. He didn't play [Sunday]. There's no need to save him now. You've gotta get him out there and play him."

If you're the New York Rangers, who could finish first in the Eastern Conference, which of the teams that you could see in the first round is the team you do not want to see in the first round?

"I wouldn't want to play the Detroit Red Wings. I wouldn't want to play Detroit because of Mike Babcock. I wouldn't want to play Detroit because of [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Niklas] Kronwall. They have huge leadership resources. They've got somebody that I think is the best coach in the National Hockey League, who can really prepare in a seven-game series. That's the team. It would not be fun playing Detroit. I would not want to play them."

Is there a team in the League that has really caught your attention and created that story that you really latched onto, a team that you can't just help but want to watch their games?

"The Calgary Flames, because I look at their team and I see the coaching job that Bob Hartley has done and I respect that so much. I see the development of their young players. Sean Monahan obviously is a tremendous story. There were huge expectations on Monahan when he came out of the Ottawa 67's organization, and he's really delivered. He's been fantastic. But I think the biggest thing is to see the undersized players that they have and how well they've played. I'm talking about Jiri Hudler, Kris Russell, Johnny Gaudreau, and Paul Byron. These are not very large men, most of them are 5-10 or under, but they play huge minutes, they play really well, they play big and they're tons of fun to watch. They're electrifying off the rush, this team. And their work habits are usually impeccable as a group. They're a great story. Seeing what they've been able to do since Mark Giordano has gone down has been phenomenal. I have so much respect for Dennis Wideman and the way he's played. He's really stepped up the pace of his play since Giordano has gone down. Russell is the same way, he's been outstanding. I just like the energy that the Calgary Flames play with."

Do you think that if the Los Angeles Kings get into the playoffs they can win the Stanley Cup again?

"I worry a bit about Los Angeles because I've seen the really good Kings' team, when they came through the tri-state area and did a tap dance on the Rangers, the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders, and then I've seen the other L.A. Kings team that has a hard time playing in pace games. That's not something they can have right now. They've gotta be able to play in pace games. They did a great job the other night against Colorado holding them to 10 shots and there are so many good players on that team, but you just wonder about the amount of games they've played in a short period of time. You've even got to add the Olympics into that too for a lot of their top players like Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick. A lot of those guys have played a lot of big minutes in a lot of big games over the last four or five years. So you worry about them being able to do it again. I think there are only so many times you can go to the well, and maybe this is one of those times when they can't just because there are so many games that they've played."

Who do you think the best team is in the Central Division right now?

"That is such a good question because I respect all of them. I would say right now it's a battle between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. That was a fantastic game to watch [Sunday] night. Obviously Jake Allen did a real good job in goal for St. Louis and he deserves a lot of credit, but I look at Chicago and I see the way that Jonathan Toews has elevated his game. He's always been great, we all know that, but man, Jonathan Toews has been fantastic since Patrick Kane went down. You see the extra pace that Marian Hossa is playing with right now and it's really been fun to watch. Then you look at what St. Louis has been able to do, especially without [Vladimir] Tarasenko and [Alex] Steen, that's huge. You see a young kid like Ty Rattie gets a chance to play [Sunday] night and he's an important player in the game for them, getting an assist on the winning goal. So again, I think those are the two best teams. I think the Nashville Predators have had a phenomenal season and they're a really, really good story. Good on Peter Laviolette and David Poile, because those are two good hockey guys, and Nashville is a really tough place to play because of the type of product they have there. But I would still say the top two teams are St. Louis and Chicago."

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