Kovacevic: Why did Pens even get Iginla?
OTTAWA — When the Penguins’ line of Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal broached the boards for the first time Sunday night, that actually was the left-to-right configuration: Iginla, a future Hall of Famer for his work at right wing, manned the left.
When the Penguins went on the power play four times in regulation, Iginla alternated with James Neal on the first unit and was out of position. Rather than being on the left point, where he’d feasted on goaltenders for a decade-plus in Calgary, he stood idly at the left lip of the crease waiting for passes that never came.
When the Penguins went on the power play in the second overtime with a chance to bury the Senators in this Stanley Cup playoff series, Iginla sat on the bench.
Now, tell me again: Why did Ray Shero get this guy?
No, really, why acquire a franchise-type asset only to fail to figure out how to use him?
Whatever you do, don’t fault Iginla. He’s done his part.
He’s put up two goals and eight assists, those 10 points ranking 10th among NHL playoff scorers and third on the Penguins behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Sure, he could have roofed a chance or two or five in this series, but one of hockey’s most timeless adages applies: You’re playing well if you’re getting chances.
Iginla also has been, true to character, the best of soldiers.
When he was shifted from Crosby’s line to Malkin’s for Game 1, his smile was broad as ever the next day when he told reporters: “I’m so fortunate to have a chance to play with both of them. You’ll always have lines being shaken up, but those are two great players.”
That’s very Iginla. It’s real, too. He’s enjoyed being with the Penguins so much that it’s easy to wonder if he isn’t actually holding back on how much, for fear of offending fans of the Flames.
Shero is anything but the type to critique a player’s usage — that’s left to Dan Bylsma and staff — so I asked the GM on this free Monday for the team to simply evaluate how well Iginla has assimilated.
“He’s fitting in very well,” Shero replied. “He’s very comfortable with his role, whatever it is and whomever he plays with. He consistently plays with a high compete level and a strong work ethic.”
I’ll repeat: Iginla’s done his part.
Now it’s time for Bylsma and staff to do theirs:
Move Iginla to right wing.
Sounds silly to even say it.
Neal is more comfortable at right wing, and he makes no secret of that. And it’s imperative that the Penguins get more from him, as well, as he’s got one goal and two assists in the playoffs.
But Neal’s had much more of a history at left wing than Iginla and, though Neal prefers the right, he’s willing to switch. He’s even offered to do so at times on the ice when seeing Iginla look uncomfortable.
At least Neal gets it: Iginla is mostly lost at left wing, and it’s inexcusable and borderline insane of the Penguins to keep playing him there. Almost as nuts as Iginla’s role on the power play.
Was this coaching staff not watching the impact he had from the left point down the regular-season stretch?
He was the Penguins’ first truly potent right-handed shot on the power play since the second coming of Mario Lemieux, and the mere threat of his shot tilted so much attention to his side of the rink that the rest of the forwards had mostly free rein.
This wasn’t a fluke.
It was outright frightening at times.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Here’s what Bylsma had to say while that was going on: “What Jarome offers there, we don’t have that in anybody else, that one-time shot. His shooting the puck like that certainly makes for something you’d like to see. I mean, it’s a blast from there.”
Beginning with Game 4 on Wednesday, Bylsma should not only return Iginla to the left point but also Paul Martin to the right. Martin isn’t just better defensively than Kris Letang, but he’s quietly better than any of the Penguins’ defensemen on the power play. He’s smooth, smart and — unlike Letang — capable of getting his shots and passes through traffic.
Look, this coach doesn’t have an easy job. It’s no picnic managing a star-laden team. Like it or not, egos must be managed, if not outright massaged.
But all coaching jobs are ultimately weighed by winning or losing, and Bylsma would do well to set other stuff aside and get the most out of a 530-goal scorer who won’t complain no matter what.