NBC commentator Pierre McGuire spoke with Mut & Merloni Friday about where the Bruins stand among the top teams in the East, what problems Dougie Hamilton could be facing, and what might happen with Jarome Iginla before the trade deadline.
“I would say Boston, Pittsburgh and Montreal are the three best teams in the Eastern Conference,” McGuire said, noting that the Penguins ‘ fourth-line forwards contribute on offense and that the Bruins have a similar degree of depth.
“You go watch Danny Paille play — he’s having a great year for Boston. He’s a fourth-line player. His skill level is pretty excessive too, for a depth player. Gregory Campbell ‘s skill level’s not so bad. Rich Peverley ‘s skill level’s not so bad. So the Bruins can match [the Penguins ] in terms of depth skill, and that’s one of the things you’re going to have to have if you’re going to win in the East.”
“Early on we were seeing the physical teams be physical,” McGuire said. “I would say right now, we’re starting to see some guys let up a little bit. I was talking to Mario Lemieux  about this the other day in Pittsburgh, and he said one of the hard parts about the 48-game schedule is that as you get to the halfway point, it’s more than that, because you haven’t had training camp and you are fatigued and you are breaking down.
“There’s a little less physical play, there’s more speed play, there’s a lot more open ice. ‘¦ I’m not saying that’s the problem with Milan, but I do think fatigue is becoming a very real issue for a lot of players around the league.”
Peverley’s benching has been seen by some as Claude Julien ‘s attempt to send a message, but McGuire said he doesn’t think that’s the case.
“Sometimes the games go a lot slower when you’re upstairs and you get a chance to see, maybe you do have more time to make a play, maybe you do have a different outlet and a different decision you can make,” McGuire said. “It’s not really so much about message-sending, I think it’s more getting the player refocused and re-energized.
“They know now, because of the injury to Chris Kelly  — [David] Krejci‘s gutting it out but he’s still not 100 percent — they’re going to need Peverley long term. He’s going to have to fit in really well as a centerman and it’s just a chance to get him re-energized.”
On Hamilton’s play of late: “I think the biggest thing is fatigue. Especially players after a World Junior that’s in a different time zone, and Dougie was obviously over in Ufa [in Russia] playing for Canada — when they come back, it usually is three or four weeks where they ride the emotional wave and then they just crash and burn. That’s usually what happens, it’s a normal thing, and again, it’s not an easy thing to overcome. Your body clock is so messed up.
“I know it doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it is a lot. And the other thing to compound it is, usually first-year players hit the wall around January in an 82-game schedule. So in a 48-game schedule, this would be about January in an 82-game schedule.”
On the Penguins’ goalies improving during their winning streak: “Gilles Meloche is the goalie coach in Pittsburgh and he’s done a fantastic job working with Marc-Andre Fleury  on his 5-hole control, because that’s where a lot of goals have beaten Fleury, but they’ve really worked hard on getting him square and getting positioning for him. In terms of what they’ve done with [Tomas] Vokoun, it’s nothing complicated: get him in shape. He was really out of shape when he came over. He would cramp up a lot, he would cheat on plays because he just wasn’t quick enough or in shape. They’ve got them in shape and the goaltending situation has straightened out.
“But one of the things that’s helped the goaltending there? Total team commitment to defense. They’re getting their forwards helping out, they’re winning a lot of in-zone faceoffs, and they’re doing a real good job blocking shots, something they weren’t doing earlier this year.”
On Alex Ovechkin’s role in the Capitals’ struggles: “Alex hasn’t been great, but the last three games he’s been very solid. If you look at Washington, they’re 2-1 in those games, and they had a chance to win in Pittsburgh, they played relatively well. It’s part on him, it’s part on the conditioning level of the players that showed up — they were not in good shape at all. They could not play a 60-minute game coming out of the lockout. And they lost a huge component in Brooks Laich. He’s really the unseen hand behind the scenes, he’s such a revered player in the dressing room, and he didn’t play his first game through 29 games, it was the other night in Pittsburgh. So that was a big loss. You can combine those three things and then add in no training camp, really, for Adam Oates and the new system.”
On where Iginla will land: “He doesn’t have a contract for next year, so you’re talking about a pure rental. It’s a little bit like Marian Hossa. Pittsburgh paid [four] tangible assets to get Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. [Four] very important assets. Now, they went to the Stanley Cup  final that year. They didn’t win, lost Hossa, and it took them a long time. You look at the next year, they won the Cup without Hossa, they were lucky. They won a Game 7 on the road. But then they haven’t won a playoff series in a while. They lost a lot of their internal depth. It’s taken them that long to build it back. To get Jarome Iginla, it’s probably going to cost you two very good prospects, one very good established player, or one prospect and a pick, to get Jarome Iginla as a rental. There’s no guarantee he’s coming back to you.”
On coaches’ challenges: “I think there’s an appetite for a coaches’ challenge. Now they have to formulate the criteria for what can be challenged and can’t be challenged. That’s something that’s going to require work, it’s going to require study, it’s going to require negotiation with the league and the players’ association. I don’t know whether it’s going to be in the next year or two, but at some point we are going to have a coaches’ challenge. The game’s just too quick. It’s virtually impossible for an official right now to catch everything. It just happens so fast. I do think the biggest question mark on coaches’ challenge will be the criteria.
“My theory is this: I think there should be one coaches’ challenge. If you challenge and you get it wrong, you lose your timeout. That simple. If they allow two coaches’ challenges and you challenge twice and you’re wrong, you get a minor penalty and lose your timeout. I don’t think it would slow the game down at all. It’s like one time-out per game. It’s not going to slow anything down very much.”