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Penguins Notebook: Let the comparisons start ...
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Star players frequently are compared to greats of the past, and it has happened in the Eastern Conference final between the Penguins and Carolina.

Especially for Penguins centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who ranked 1-2 in the playoff scoring race going into Game 4 at the RBC Center last night.

Malkin reminds Carolina coach Paul Maurice of former Penguins winger Jaromir Jagr.

"Jagr was a player who wanted you right on his hip. He wanted you right in tight on him. And, then if you want to be physical, I'll spin off," Maurice said. "You see a little bit of that in Malkin's range. He can keep the puck. You can have the body, but he may have the puck 4 1/2 feet away from you and he can still be able to handle it."

Crosby and Malkin have been portrayed as the latest version of Jagr and Mario Lemieux of the 1990s Penguins or Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier of Edmonton's dynasty in the 1980s.

"It's tough to compare because we're living the moment," Penguins forward Max Talbot said. "You don't stop and look at them and think that maybe they're like Gretzky and Messier or Lemieux and Jagr, but I'm sure 10 years from now, when we're watching the highlights, we're going to think, 'Wow, they were really good together.' "

Crosby has been likened to superstars, especially Gretzky, since he was in his early teens.

"I've dealt with that for a long time, comparisons and things like that," he said. "It's a compliment, but we don't want to read a whole lot into it."

Although Carolina's stars had struggled going into the game last night, Maurice offered one comparison of veteran winger Ray Whitney.

"Ray is kind of Ron Francis-like," Maurice said.

Francis, the Hall of Fame center and former Penguin, is Maurice's associate coach who, Maurice said, has an encyclopedic memory of games. The same, Maurice said, is true of Whitney.

"If you want to go talk to a hockey player in your locker room about what happened during the game, he's the guy that you go and talk to," he said.

Cowher's cranking

Bill Cowher, the Crafton native and former Steelers coach who now lives in the Raleigh area, cranked the RBC Center's hurricane-waning siren before Game 4.

Cowher, who also did that before Game 3 in each of Carolina's two previous series, has been criticized in some quarters for shifting his loyalty from the Penguins.

"It's not disappointing," Talbot said, "but you want to kind of prove him wrong -- that he should be cheering for us instead of them."

Francis, who met Cowher while playing for the Penguins, introduced him to Maurice.

"It's interesting," Maurice said. "Coaching is coaching. I had a chance to sit and talk to him a little bit about their training camps and how they do things. Their approach and the things they say reach across sports.

"He's a really interesting guy. Lots of energy. Lots of enthusiasm. It's nice to get a chance to meet those guys."

Dark days' rewards

Right winger Bill Guerin is one of the newest Penguins, having been acquired from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline.

But even though he has been around for only a few months, Guerin has put the presence of Crosby and Malkin on the franchise's payroll into historical perspective as well as anyone.

"This organization went through some dark years to be able to get those guys," he said. "Let's not forget that."

Hold your head up

While most of the Hurricanes held their heads up after falling behind, 3-0, in this series, defenseman Joe Corvo apparently had a hard time doing so.

That was a topic when Maurice had a talk with Corvo at practice Monday.

"It was a private conversation summed up just by saying, 'Don't be so hard on yourself,' " Corvo said.

Apparently, it didn't sink in because after the morning skate yesterday Corvo was still down, saying the Hurricanes had reverted to playing the way they did when they struggled early in the regular season.

"You kind of feel like you're alone out there -- if you make one mistake, it's going to be in the net," he said. "It's just not the same game that we've been playing.

"We've been playing [the earlier style] for a while. I just think it's getting on each other too much, not paying attention to what's gotten us this far, instead just trying to make plays by ourselves and match goal for goal with them."

Shero quick to promote

Penguins general manager Ray Shero wasted no time promoting Jason Botterill to fill the void created when assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher was named Friday as general manager of the Minnesota Wild.

He was able to act so quickly because Minnesota's courtship of Fletcher went on for a while, giving Shero an opportunity to prepare for his departure.

"Once it seemed to be getting a little more serious, I spent time with Chuck to say, 'If this does happen, what are your opinions of Jason?' " Shero said. "He couldn't have given him a stronger vote of confidence."

Asked why, if that were the case, Fletcher didn't try to lure Botterill, who has been the Penguins' director of hockey administration since 2007, to the Wild with him, Shero laughed and said, "That's kind of an unwritten rule."

It has not been determined how much the assistant general manager's job description will be modified. It is possible, for example, that Botterill won't carry the title of general manager of the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre, as Fletcher did.

"We're going to talk about that," Shero said. "It will be tweaked a little bit. I do want it to be kind of the same setup that I had in Nashville and that we created for Chuck here."



Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721. Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com.
First published on May 27, 2009 at 12:00 am