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Downie might be Pens' most significant addition

 

 

From Jim Ahern’s mouth to Jim Rutherford’s ears or so it appears.

“You ought to put some (expletive) Downy in these jerseys.”

It’s not that the Penguins have committed to channeling their inner “Slap Shot” in their offseason quest to reinvent themselves. But that said a little let-’em-know-you’re-there mentality clearly needed to be introduced into the room.

Steve Downie ought to provide that and more.

And in doing so Downie might prove essential in helping the Penguins solve what has to be the offseason’s No. 1 priority, fixing Sidney Crosby.

Crosby wasn’t what he could have been, what he should have been, what the Penguins needed him to be in the postseason. Part of the problem was he was too often unwilling or unable to fight through the type of physical attention a player of his caliber is bound to attract.

But also at issue was how consistently Crosby found himself forced to deal with such physical attrition. It began in Game 1 against Columbus, when Brandon Dubinsky started dealing with Crosby the way Brooks Orpik used to deal with the Red Wings back in the day.

Those days may not be over entirely, but they should be much less frequent given Downie’s presence and what he intends to do for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“I can guarantee there won’t be any liberties on those players this year,” Downie announced upon joining the Penguins. “Whatever team I’ve played on I like to go out of my way to stick up for my teammates. Every team needs a couple guys like that.”

The downside to Downie being that guy for the Penguins is he has a tendency to go off the rails, which explains in part why he’s bounced from Philadelphia to Tampa Bay to Colorado to Philadelphia again and now to Pittsburgh since 2008.

There are times when what Downie provides just isn’t worth the accompanying out-of-control aggravation.

But the Penguins have an insurance policy in place to prevent that from happening again.

New assistant coach Rick Tocchet was the head coach in Tampa Bay in 2009-10 when Downie had 22 goals and 208 penalty minutes for the Lightning.

That was Downie’s first full season in the NHL and it remains Downie’s best season in the NHL.

He has the game to be such a presence again; Downie is much more than a mere agitator/enforcer.

Tocchet, meanwhile, has the necessary perspective on how to best combine and apply ability and aggression, an understanding that Downey has apparently lacked since his time in Tampa.

Tocchet will also have Downie’s attention in Pittsburgh.

“You better listen to him,” Downie told Mark Madden on 105.9 The X. “He’s very intimidating. You can’t really brush Rick Tocchet off.

“He has a smart hockey mind. He just did wonders for me.”

If Tocchet does so again it’ll do wonders for the Penguins.

Their offseason losses have included Jussi Jokinen, Matt Niskanen and Orpik, all of whom were much more part of the solution than they were part of the problem.

And none of the other new additions _ Blake Comeau, Christian Ehrhoff, Thomas Greiss, Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling _are the potential difference-maker Downie might become given what the Penguins have coming back and what the Penguins had clearly lacked prior to Downie’s arrival.

This Tocchet-Downie reunion is a potential game-changing development.

And if it has a ripple effect beyond what Downie can do and what he can do for Crosby and Malkin, so much the better.

 

 

 

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