As we continue prep for Game 1 -- Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik are now confirmed out for tonight -- we exchanged questions with Jim (HooksOrpik at Pensburgh) to get his insight into the team Isles fans will somehow hate even more within a week or two.
The first series of questions on Dan Bylsma, Ray Shero, Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins' deadline moves appeared here. More edited questions and answers are below. Since the Pens are a lightning rod among NHL fanbases, I asked about the bandwagon issue.
LHH: Earlier, we talked about Dan Bylsma's moves, and you mentioned hope that Jarome Iginla would form a great partnership with Sidney Crosby. Are you nervous at all about them tinkering with an Iginla-Crosby combo when they haven't really lined up together, and Crosby seems to prefer Kunitz?
Crosby does seem to prefer Kunitz/Dupuis and even said so in his media scrum Monday, but I don't think there'd be complaints to have Jarome Iginla around. They have a history in the Olympics but really I think good players can just mesh well. The Pens other option has been to put Iginla on the left-wing (where he's never played) on the Malkin-Neal line, and those three didn't really mesh when they had a few games together.
To me, the Pens' best bet is keeping Kunitz-Malkin-Neal (the highest scoring line in the NHL in the 2011-12 season) together and using Iginla and Dupuis with Crosby. It is a risk that Crosby-Iginla haven't had much time together, but I'd bet those guys will be alright on skill alone.
Due to injury in 2008, Crosby didn't have but two games together with Marian Hossa before the playoffs and those two clicked terrifically when the Pens rolled through the Eastern Conference.
LHH: Fair enough. I'm just wondering if Iginla's decline is too much for that role ... though I'm sure Crosby could compensate for it quite well.
Here's a more fun question: Do Evgeni Malkin's parents make it out every year? I obviously don't have many fond associations with the Penguins (other than the Isles beating them in past playoffs), but remember that was a fun sight with them in the stands when Malkin was on fire during his big year.
Malkin's parents do come back usually every spring and I'm happy to report they're in Pittsburgh now. Last week Malkin scored a goal, the crowd did an appropriate cheer and then they showed Malkin's parents on the jumbotron and without exaggerating the place was louder at that moment then when Geno actually scored. They're something of cult status rock stars in Pittsburgh.
LHH: Cool. I have no idea about their background, and I'm ancestrally biased, but I love the sight of hearty-looking Slavs enjoying the good life. "The 900 Days" should keep any xenophobic hockey talking head from talking about "soft Russians" ever again.
Finally, here's a frank question for "When fanbases collide": The rap on the Pens fanbase from opposing fans is always "bandwagon," "lottery luck," and "do you even know who Jan Hrdina was?" or that sort of thing. Since you've seen the dark bankruptcy years and the lottery revival, what is your sense of things? How much bandwagoning is there really? And do you even care?
I suspect this is something we'll be dealing with as the Isles get better, though their history of success spans more generations, so we have more old farts with Bob Nystrom posters.
It's different, but definitely a good different. For instance, the Pirates game was on and went late last week and Root Sports (the station that broadcasts both team's games) cut away from the end of the baseball game to go to the start of the hockey game. This is just unthinkable even a few years ago. Pirates jokes aside, Pittsburgh's been a loyal baseball city but there's no doubt right now that the Penguins are far ahead of them to the sports fan in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins did have a lean period after some glory days, but attendance didn't really indicate the fans abandoning the game. Hockey fans existed, I think people just chose to spend their money differently because they could see the Pens had to get rid of their best/most popular players (Jagr, Straka, Lang, Kovalev, Kasparaitis) for financial reasons and just couldn't compete in the pre-lockout (2004) world. No one really wants to spend time/money on a team that is has no future except a bleak one.
There's no doubt that recent winning (and high profile players) have attracted more and different kind of fans that are new to the game or couldn't explain the icing rule, but I've opened up to it.
I mean, given the choice of seeing Shean Donovan and Rico Fata play from the 3rd row of a dumpy arena for a $15 ticket that you bought day of game (and having so few people around that you could actually talk to them before faceoffs)...Versus having a nice, new, capacity filled arena with ton of people interested and the energy of cheering on a good team...Trust me, you'll take the latter any day of the week. New fans don't annoy me, I'm just happy that more people like and appreciate the same team that I do and have an interest in cheering.
I remember Ian Moran and Kelly Buchberger and all those crappy Penguin teams, so I think I probably can personally gain a little more enjoyment from seeing the team be successful now than someone who has only started caring in the past few years, but I don't think there's any need to be a snob- nobody likes the guy who likes to remark they knew about the new band before you did, so I don't really hold anything personally against anyone.
The Islanders situation is a little different since they're moving further than across the street and have more local competition for fans, and a longer time since the glory years, but it's not so bad having an increasing fan base. Take it from me, it probably means the more casual fans think your team is worth paying attention to again, and that is definitely a good thing.
LHH: Finally, expected lines without Crosby and Orpik?
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I thought the bandwagon question was a worthy topic, especially since we're stoking our own hate as a warmup for this series, and we've prepared our handy dandy bandwagon manual. Thanks to Hooks for taking part. May his team suffer the worst of luck over the next two weeks!