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Sutter has Penner 'engaged'

Big winger impressing with productive post-season

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Stay strong, hockey fans. Don't lose focus, keep up that steady pace and remember, please, to stay hydrated.

Yes, we are almost halfway through the gruelling marathon that is the Stanley Cup playoffs as the final four contenders will be made official in the next few days.

And so -- in the spirit of long, exhausting exercises -- we thought we'd give a shout out today to Pheidippides, the Greek messenger who ran 26.1 miles to announce a victory in the Battle of Marathon way back in 490 BC which, if memory serves, was also Martin Brodeur's rookie year.

Now, the fact that Pheidippides apparently collapsed and died after delivering the news will be conveniently ignored by all us hockey-lovin' couch potatoes transfixed by all the action of the last week.

Soldier on, we must, until these playoffs are complete and a new champ is crowned.

Consider this, then, another collection of random thoughts, half-baked ideas and other goodies dutifully compiled following another week studying the Stanley Cup derby...

-- Not sure what Los Angeles Kings' head coach Darryl Sutter said to Dustin Penner to get the big Winkler product going, but there are coaches all over the pro sporting map looking for a copy of the speech to motivate their own underachieving charges.

Penner, for the record, has two goals (including a game-winner) and five assists in the Kings' push to the Western Conference final and is a solid plus-7 working on a line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. This from a guy who had seven goals and 17 points all season.

But it's his commitment -- the trendy term by hockey types now is he is "engaged" emotionally and physically -- that doesn't always just show up on the stats sheet.

An example: there was Penner putting St. Louis captain David Backes into a headlock during a Game 2 scrum in which a teammate was outnumbered, a move which some referred to as a "DDT" (Death Drop Technique) wrestling move.

All of which brought this response from Penner: "It wasn't a DDT, it was a rear naked chokehold, that's what they call it in the UFC. It's terminology I'm not familiar with, but that's what I've been told it was."

Those who know the man will say that Penner has an unappreciated sense of humour that is lost on many. He tweeted this after being crushed with a check by T.J. Oshie of the Blues: 'Anybody catch the license plate of that truck? #ithinkitstartswitha7.' And in January, in the midst of a slump that was drawing the wrath of Kings' fans, he missed a game because he suffered back spasms while sitting down for a pancake breakfast.

"I've taken a lot worse in my career," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I had a little fun with it."

Did he ever. Penner referred to the injury as "Sudden Onset Back Spasms," or SOBS, and joked "I'm a little hurt, to tell you the truth, that the plight of my people isn't being taken seriously" before planning a raffle in which the prize would be a chance to join him for a pancake breakfast, with the proceeds going to charity.

How has Sutter squeezed the most out of Penner? It seems he's simply letting him be, but pushing him to use his size -- not necessarily just to score goals -- to his advantage. Said the Kings' boss earlier this winter:

"It's like I tell the coaches: We need him from 7:30 to 10 o'clock every other day -- 7:30 to 10. Think about it, eh? Every other day for 180 days. That's how I've got to look at it and approach him. Because you know what? We need more."

Sutter asked for more and, so far, Penner has delivered.

-- If you're wondering about the odds behind the New York Rangers' improbable win over the Washington Capitals in Game 5 Monday night -- tying the game with 6.6 seconds left and then winning in OT -- well, we have some numbers for you. According to the website whowins.com, from 1939 through 2011, home teams which trailed by a goal with as little as eight seconds left in regulation had a game record of only 2-348 (.0057).

The only teams to win after trailing later in a game were the Carolina Hurricanes (tying New Jersey with three seconds left in the 2006 quarter-finals) and the Vancouver Canucks in a 2003 quarterfinal series with Minnesota in which they scored with two ticks left in regulation.

-- No doubt those in the Nashville Predators' organization are asking some serious questions today as part of their season post-mortem. Here are three we'd be mulling over: 1. How much did the additions of Alex Radulov, Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn near the trade deadline affect chemistry? 2. What kind of negative impact did the Radulov-Kostitsyn carousing prior to Game 2 in Scottsdale actually have in the room and, 3. While the Predators should be credited for sticking by their team-first stance on the Radulov-Kotitsyn, did the there's-never-a-bad-time-to-do-the-right-thing stance affect the club's focus?

There are no clear-cut or easy answers here and the Preds have a lot longer to mull them over this summer.

-- Further to the Preds, this from CBC's Elliotte Friedman: "Nashville's done some wonderful things with Jordin Tootoo and Brian McGrattan, both of whom battled addiction issues. To have two players spend the night before the game at a bar flies in the face of everything the organization believes in."

Well said.

-- Two things to ponder while so many fixate on Dale Hunter's decision to be stingy with Alex Ovechkin's ice time in certain situations: 1. Ovechkin earned $109,756 per game during the regular season; 2. There's a fine line between genius and insanity.

-- Something tells me Vegas bookies aren't enjoying what has unfolded in the Stanley Cup playoffs nearly as much as Joe and Jill Fan.

The post-season began with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers as favourites. And now, with long shots like the Coyotes and Kings still standing, some big payouts are on the horizon. Here are the latest odds (prior to Tuesday's action), courtesy Bodog.ca, with the numbers at the opening of the playoffs in brackets:

Los Angeles: 11-5 (20-1)

Rangers: 10-3 (11-2)

Coyotes: 10-3 (40-1)

Devils: 7-2 (25-1)

Flyers; 16-1 (14-1)

Capitals: 16-1 (30-1)

-- Nobody asked me, but...

Watching all the Rangers and Capitals collapsing around the net to block shots isn't my idea of entertaining hockey. It may be effective, but it can also be excruciatingly dull.

For the record, the Caps have blocked 150 shots in 12 playoff games, an average of 12.5; the Rangers are averaging just under 10 per game (9.67).

-- And, finally, two thumbs up for former Winnipeg Jet Norm Maciver -- the man who scored the last Jet goal before the franchise bolted for Phoenix -- who has landed the Chicago Blackhawks' assistant GM gig once held by Kevin Cheveldayoff and, most recently, Marc Bergevin, now the Montreal Canadiens GM.

If history holds, Maciver is now on the NHL GM fast track.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2012 C3

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