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Penguins add more depth to make a run at a repeat

by Dan Rosen
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero figures his latest acquisitions, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jordan Leopold, will fit in perfectly because the Penguins are designed to win in the spring. Neither Ponikarovsky nor Leopold have done much of that lately, but that didn't deter Shero from going after them before the trade deadline passed.

"What we have here is the environment to be successful," Shero said Wednesday. "We have a really good group of players and when guys come in they get pushed. The environment brings out the best in players."

Shero knows from experience because these kinds of moves have worked for him before.

He acquired Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis and Hal Gill at the deadline in 2008, and all three were fixtures in the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup Final. Shero picked up Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams (via waivers) around the deadline last season, and the Penguins went on to win the Cup.

Guerin and Kunitz played on a line with Sidney Crosby.

This week, Shero plucked Leopold out of Florida for a 2010 second-round draft pick, and Ponikarovsky from Toronto for minor-league forward Luca Caputi and spare-part defenseman Martin Skoula.

He's obviously hoping the formula works again.

"In Anaheim in '03 they brought in Rob Niedermayer and Steve Thomas, and I thought it was a clear statement of, 'Hey, we're bringing in pieces to our team that we think are going to help us win,' and I think that's a great message to send," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who played on that Ducks team that went all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. "That's what we're doing. We're adding pieces to the puzzle. We're adding a top-four defenseman and we're adding a top-six forward.

"What we have here is the environment to be successful, We have a really good group of players and when guys come in they get pushed. The environment brings out the best in players."
-- Ray Shero

"We're trying to put the best team on the ice so we can win. We won a Cup last year, but I think this is a message that says we're not content. That's a great message to send."

Shero said he wasn't necessarily trying to send a message to his team or match what conference rivals, in particular New Jersey and Washington, were doing at the deadline. But he didn't want to lag behind, either.

"Every team is looking for that depth," Shero said. "Teams need that depth and want the security of having veteran guys or having more players at their disposal."

Bylsma, who discussed the acquisitions with the Pittsburgh media after practice Wednesday, said Ponikarovsky is particularly intriguing for many reasons.

Pittsburgh obviously likes his size (6-4, 230 pounds) and the fact that he's one goal shy of his fourth 20-goal season in the NHL. His 41 points this season in Toronto would make him the Penguins' third-leading scorer behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"The thing I liked in watching him play the past week or so is the way he plays on the defensive side as well," Bylsma said. "He plays well away from the puck, good down low on grinding shifts and he has the ability to make a play to his linemates. That's what we think we're getting with Alex coming in."

They're also getting a guy that Bylsma called, "a motivated player."

Ponikarovsky has spent his entire nine-season NHL career in Toronto, so he's played in just 23 playoff games and none since the work stoppage. He's never played past the second round either. 

In Pittsburgh, he'll have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

"In our discussions about the situation, our pro scouts have watched him a lot and they're calling him a motivated player right now the way he's playing," Bylsma said. "The effort he gives on a night in and night out basis in this situation in Toronto, the word 'motivated player' has been used on more than one occasion in talking about this guy. We're adding a top-six forward at this point in time to our team who plays the way we want to play."

The knock on Ponikarovsky in Toronto was that he never used his size to play a physical-enough game, but Shero said that's misguided. Ponikarovsky is not a truck on the ice, but he is a strong piece of machinery that can wear down defenders.

"A big body and he's strong down low and strong on the puck," Shero said. "Is he the guy that is going to run over people? That's not his game. It's more of a strength game down low, being strong on the puck. Those are the valuable assets he's going to bring."

Crosby talked about his hands in an interview with TSN on Wednesday.

"He's got good hands around the net and he can play basically in any type of situation," Crosby said. "He's a good depth guy, but he has some size. As the games get tighter you are going to need that size.

"We are pretty happy with where are, but those two guys will add depth to our team."

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