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Penguins Report: Trading Spaces

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
On February 27, 2008, Penguins executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade with the Atlanta Thrashers. Pittsburgh shipped Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, first-round pick Angelo Esposito and a 2008 first-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for superstar Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis.


With Hossa’s acquisition garnering all the attention, the little discussed Dupuis went about his business. Soon, Dupuis found himself skating alongside Hossa and Sidney Crosby on Pittsburgh’s top line and playing in the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought I was going to bring Hossa’s sticks and bags around along for the ride,” Dupuis chuckled. “I ended up playing a little bit so it was fun.”

Dupuis will face his former crew when the Penguins battle the Thrashers at Philips Arena on Thursday at 7 p.m.  Although Dupuis is glad to join a championship contender, he was a little disheartened to leave his teammates in Atlanta.

“It’s a great bunch of guys,” he said. “I was kind of sad at first when I found out I was traded but as soon as I got here I was pretty happy.”

Despite having played a season with Atlanta, there has been so much upheaval since he left – they hired new head coach John Anderson and had a roster makeover – that Dupuis doesn't have much inside information.

“They changed their coach and have a new system,” Dupuis said. “It’s probably offensive-minded the way they play. I can’t really tell you too much about their system.”

It’s been a reunion week for Dupuis, who will play two former teams in three days. On Tuesday he went against Minnesota (2000-07) and on Thursday he will face Atlanta (2007-08).

“It’s been one of those weeks where I put money on the board I guess,” Dupuis joked.


> Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury missed his fourth straight practice on Thursday. He suffered an undisclosed injury last Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. Fleury is listed as day-to-day and didn't accompany the team on its trip to Atlanta.


> The Penguins will see a totally different game with the Thrashers on Thursday than they did on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. While Minnesota plays a tight, trapping system, the Thrashers play a wide-open style that should produce some entertaining hockey.

“It’s going to be a different game than what we saw (Tuesday),” head coach Michel Therrien said. “(Atlanta) can score a lot of goals. There’s no doubt about that. They have guys that shoot the puck really well and make plays. For us, I don’t like to repeat myself, but we have to be cautious with who’s on the ice. But it’s more about us and the way we play.”

     
 

 
     
One of those players that Pittsburgh should be cautious of is Thrashers All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russian sniper netted 52 goals last season – as well as posting five 38-plus-goal seasons – and has 260 in his career.

“He’s exciting,” said Dupuis, who was Kovalchuk’s teammate for a season in Atlanta. “He can beat you with (his) shot, with speed and with the way he moves the puck. If he’s on, he’s on.”

Kovalchuk is well known for his powerful shot. When he has space to windup, the puck usually travels at the speed of light.

“His shot, everyone knows about,” Sidney Crosby said. “He’s a great stick handler. He’s great at beating guys one-on-one. You know that he can beat you from a lot of different areas on the ice. He’s a tough guy to control out there. A guy like that, you just have to limit his chances and have someone close to him.”

Penguins goaltender Dany Sabourin will have to be especially aware of Kovalchuk. Sabourin, who will make his fifth start of the season and second since Fleury’s recent setback, logged 16 minutes of mop up duty against the Thrashers in his career.

“You have to be aware of when (Kovalchuk’s) on the ice because he’s shooting all the time,” Sabourin said. “You have to be ready. At the same time, you’re supposed to be ready at any time.”

Kovalchuk has been a Penguin killer during his career, totaling 30 points – with 17 goals – in 23 career games against Pittsburgh. He never passes up an opportunity to shoot the puck and can score from anywhere on the ice.

“Sometimes you know when a player is more of a passer, so in the back of your mind you kind of know he’s going to pass,” Sabourin said. “With him, he’s more of a shooter. You have to be ready and challenge him as much as you can. There’s no bad shot for him. He can rip the puck pretty good.”


> The Penguins defense should be ready for the challenge that Kovalchuk and the Thrashers offense present. Pittsburgh is more recognized for its offense, while the defense doesn’t get the respect it may deserve.

You don’t get to the Stanley Cup Final without playing good without the puck. - Michel Therrien
“Because we have (Evgeni) Malkin and Crosby, I’m sure the focus will be (on the offense),” Therrien said. “We want to be good defensively too. You don’t get to the Stanley Cup Final without playing good without the puck. I believe people are starting to realize that more and more.”

Pittsburgh is a team that can compete in almost any situation. They can play a strong, defensive game (see Tuesday) or an open, offensive game (see Saturday). No matter the circumstances, the team’s system allows them to flourish.

“We don’t really change our game based on who we play,” Crosby said. “It will probably be a little bit more open (against Atlanta). If there’s open ice then we have to take it and skate. If there is not, we know what to do. I think it’s just a matter of making sure we play the right way.”


> Pittsburgh has played in nine overtimes in 18 games this season, half of the team’s games. The Penguins have played in one-goal games in five of the last six contests. Therrien believes that the close games will benefit the Penguins down the road.

“I’d rather the young group play tight games,” he said. “This is how you get better. This is how you focus. It’s a good teaching tool to play those types of games. I thought (against Minnesota) we passed the test because defensively – our puck management was pretty good too – but defensively we were in pretty good position. This is how you prepare for the playoffs because the playoffs are tight games.”

Pittsburgh has proven through the first 18 games that it’s a team that will never quit, plays well from behind and can play sporadically – though very entertaining – at times. Thursday night’s game will be the Penguins 19th this season and by now, Therrien should be getting an idea of the current group's identity.

“I think when you get to the 20th game you’ll get that feel about your team, your players,” he said. “You get a feel for the league as well and where you fit in. As a coach, you get a good feel for your team.”

He's got to be feeling pretty good so far.


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