Penguins get edgy; Bruins get desperate; more notes

Friday September 5th, 2014

New Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford hasn't had the best summer. He bungled the dismissal of former coach Dan Bylsma, made several miscalculations on the way to hiring new coach Mike Johnston and he's taken heat for trading 40-goal scorer James Neal to the Predators.

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But inviting provocative winger Dan Carcillo to a training camp tryout? Rutherford got that decision right.

Rutherford's heard the criticisms. He knows the Penguins were too soft last season, too easy to push around. This was a team that couldn't muster a response when its superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were regularly abused.

Deryk Engelland wasn't the answer. He was the wrong weapon. But there's still room for players like Carcillo in the NHL.

What Carcillo brings that Engelland couldn't is an encompassing blanket of menace. He's not limited to seeking vengeance against opposing heavyweights. He can exact justice in bite-sized chunks from anyone at any time ... including opposing superstars if the situation calls for it.

Is he a cheap shot artist? At times, sure. Despite his commitment to a more disciplined style of play during the past few seasons, you still never know what you're going to get from Carcillo ... and that's what makes him so effective. He's a wild card and the knowledge that he's capable of crossing the line at any given moment forces opponents to keep their heads on a swivel and maybe think twice about taking liberties of their own.

Of course he has to make the team first. All Carcillo has now is a chance to prove that he can make a contribution, but he looks like an upgrade over last season's fourth line wingers and, given a chance to work with assistant coach Rick Tocchet, he could become the arrow that was missing from Pittsburgh's quiver.

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That thought won't please everyone, especially those who rail against violence in hockey. The game is changing as their opinions gain currency, but it's not changing overnight. The Pens can't have opponents like Marc Staal or Sean Couturier chopping down Crosby and Malkin with impunity. And with Carcillo and Steve Downie on board, they won't. That pair ranks in my top five agitators who can really back it up:

1. Antoine Roussel (Stars): Showboat, chirper, always willing to drop the gloves ... and a pretty decent set of mitts, to boot.

2. Chris Neil (Senators): Veteran winger ranks as one of the hardest to play against in the league. Edgy and tough as nails.

3. Steve Ott (Blues): He works in chirps the way other artists might work in oils or clay. A master. 

4. Daniel Carcillo: Excels at the cheap shot—the whack to the ankles, the butt end to the ribs. An all-around miserable guy to play against. 

5. Steve Downie: Has legit NHL skill, but is capable of descending into sheer lunacy at any moment.

The Kid 2.0

We may never see another sophomore capture the MVP trophy the way Sidney Crosby did back in 2007, but is anyone comfortable completely ruling out Nathan MacKinnon's chances this season? The 2014 Calder Trophy winner defied logic by getting stronger as the season wore on, and was magnificent in his first taste of playoff action with the Avalanche. Now comes word that the 6-foot, 181-pound forward has gotten taller and added some serious beef during a summer spent working out with Crosby, John Tavares and other elite forwards. Sportsnet's Gare Joyce tweeted that MacKinnon looks “significantly bigger, stronger,” adding that his first step on the ice is “even more explosive.” A jump into the 90-point range isn't out of the question. Add in a few viral video moments and another strong season for the Avs and the Hart isn't out of the realm of possibility.  
 

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