- Al Morganti
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With owner and super star Mario Lemieux at one end of the bench, and arguably the NHL's premier rookie in goalie equipment -- Marc-Andre Fleury -- at the other, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk is facing a delicate balancing act.
And he loves it.
This week presented a particular challenge with their first visit to Montreal. Although Olczyk was leaning toward using Fleury in the game, he huddled with Lemieux and general manager Craig Patrick and decided on Monday to play their other French-Canadian netminder, Sebastien Caron, against the Canadiens and start Fleury in a home game against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. While the move keeps Fleury out of the media spotlight in Montreal, it's not necessarily a decision meant to protect him from pressure. After all, the Penguins are giving away a four-card set of Fleury on Saturday, and playing Detroit -- at home or on the road -- isn't a skate on the pond, no matter how many years a goalie has played in the NHL.
The decision will be a focal point of media attention in Montreal.
"It's going to be a little stressful," said Olczyk on Saturday about the Thursday night game.
With Lemieux as their centerpiece for almost 20 seasons, the Penguins are familiar in the art of dealing with media attention, especially the French language media in Quebec.
Patrick was not thrilled with the three-year deal he was forced to give Fleury, which could add up to about to $15 million over the term, but the Penguins needed some sort of hope for the future, and a draw for the present, besides Lemieux.
"I think the happiest person is Mario," said Olczyk. "Now, Mario isn't the big story everywhere we go."
For Olczyk, it will be just another day of dealing with all sorts of issues that would test any coach, let alone a first-year guy -- trying to win with a young team strapped by salary limitations and dependent on worn veterans, and desperately trying to keep the spirit of the team and game alive until thrown a life raft in the form of a new CBA and a new arena.
"It has been interesting," said Olczyk, who saw Fleury stop 46 of the 48 shots he faced in the season opener against Los Angeles. "I know there are a lot of questions about Mario (Lemieux) on the bench. But I don't think it's any different that having Steve Yzerman in Detroit, or Peter Forsberg or Joe Sakic in Colorado.
"I'm sure those guys are asked for their opinions. Mario told me from the start, it's my decision on what happens on the ice, on the bench. But I'd be crazy not to get advice; all coaches do that."
As for the use of Fleury, Olczyk has no problems using a kid in the NHL so early.
"He faced 48 shots the first night, we were short-handed for a long time, and people made a big deal of it. I talked to him after, and he's used to facing 50 shots a night in the league he came from. All right, not NHL shots, but he'll never complain about the work," Olczyk said.
"He just loves to play. Practice, whatever. Shot after shot after shot. I don't know what will (unfold), but I have no problem with using a young goalie, or any player."
Why would he?
Before beginning his career with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1984-85, Olczyk was a 17-year-old playing for Team USA at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo as part of the Diaper Line with 18-year-olds Pat Lafontaine and David Jensen. And talk about pressure -- the U.S. was coming off the Miracle on Ice in 1980. The '84 team finished seventh.
It is likely to be a very long season for the Penguins. But if you wanted to baptize a coach and goalie, you couldn't come up with a better spot than Pittsburgh.
The Ottawa Senators earned a win on Saturday when they signed Martin Havlat to a one-year deal. They might not have deep pockets, but the Senators are deep enough on the ice that they could play hard ball with Havlat (who will make about $1.35 million) until he came to his senses and took what could be his last big paycheck.
On the other side of the coin -- literally -- the Minnesota Wild have yet to come to terms with Marian Gaborik and the Edmonton Oilers are getting closer every day to being forced to deal away Mike Comrie. And when you look at the awful start for the New York Rangers, you've got to think coach/GM Glen Sather will call that familiar Alberta phone number to inquire about the young center's services.
The way the Rangers played, they could have used Don Zimmer, who would have been as effective and undisciplined as any Ranger on the ice in Columbus. After a preseason full of working on discipline and defense, the Rangers gave up three goals on 11 power-play chances in a 5-0 loss to the Blue Jackets. Throw in a 5-3 loss at Minnesota and the Rangers' home opener against Atlanta becomes critical. When things unravel in New York, it happens quickly.
It's good news for the Avalanche that GM Pierre Lacroix signed a multiyear extension. It should end rumors that Lacroix will leave after this season to manage the career of singer Celine Dion. From a financial point of view, not a bad idea to get an extension with the work stoppage looming. Players won't be paid during a work stoppage, but you can bet the management teams will draw the usual check.
Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN.
A rookie goalie at one end of the bench and his boss at the other is no problem for Eddie Olczyk.