Bruins finding that Satan’s good on the rush
Last March, when Pittsburgh assigned Miroslav Satan to the minors, Penguins management did its best to explain the situation.
The veteran winger, on the books for $3.5 million, was being sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for cap purposes, primarily to clear space for ex-Bruin Bill Guerin, acquired at the trade deadline from the Islanders. There was a chance, Satan was told, that he could be brought back to the NHL for the playoffs, when the salary cap becomes irrelevant.
Satan questioned whether he’d ever be back. And as expected of a player with 354 goals and 1,012 NHL games to his name, Satan didn’t think much of the assignment.
“Not forever,’’ Satan said when asked if he considered declining the assignment and going home. “But for the season? Yeah. I thought about it for a long time.’’
As much as he doubted a playoff promotion might take place, Satan was almost equally as certain of one thing: The Penguins, with their star power down the middle (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal), stoutness on defense (Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill), and game-changing presence in goal (Marc-Andre Fleury), had enough talent to win the Stanley Cup.
With that in mind, Satan accepted the assignment, scoring three goals and six assists for the AHL team. At the end of the regular season, general manager Ray Shero kept his word. Pittsburgh recalled Satan April 10. He appeared in 17 postseason games, with one goal and five assists. When the Penguins beat Detroit at Joe Louis Arena in Game 7, Satan was on the fourth line with Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams, and something came to his mind as he hoisted the Cup.
“The first thing I thought about was that [if] I quit just there,’’ recalled Satan, “then this wouldn’t [have happened] for me.’’
As Satan has shown once again this year after signing with the Bruins, quitting isn’t in his nature just yet. He had other offers, including some from Europe, to start 2009-10 in uniform. With no situations to his liking, Satan settled into life at home on Long Island last fall with his wife and two children. While players were arriving at rinks in the morning, Satan would be having breakfast with his family. When they were on the ice for morning skates, Satan would be skating on his own at the Islanders’ practice facility in Syosset, N.Y. When they were settling into pregame naps, Satan would be back at home for more family time.
“Really enjoyed it,’’ Satan said.
While he considered retiring over the summer, Satan decided by October that he wanted to play this season. He most likely would be getting the call from Slovakia for the Olympics. Then when the offense-starved Bruins inquired about his services in late December, Satan made his decision final. With Boston, Satan would be given the opportunity to be a scoring wing instead of a spare part. He could become a teammate of fellow Slovakian Zdeno Chara; they’d become friendly in 2000 while playing for the national team. There most likely would not be another AHL assignment.
Most important, Satan thought he could have another crack at the Cup.
“It was a team that had a lot of success last year and could be a serious contender in the playoffs,’’ Satan said.
After a week of negotiations, Satan agreed to a one-year, $700,000 contract Jan. 3. The plan was for Satan to practice for at least one week before playing. But just two days after signing, the right wing was wearing a white road jersey with his usual No. 81 on the back and playing against Ottawa (he skated with Blake Wheeler and David Krejci) because Patrice Bergeron had broken his thumb the previous night.
In a 4-1 win over the Senators, coach Claude Julien gave Satan 14:06 of ice time and praised the veteran for playing well ahead of schedule.
“I got thrown in there after two days, and I didn’t know what was going to happen and how I was going to feel,’’ Satan said. “But I was pleasantly surprised. It felt normal. Physically, I felt fine. I was able to adjust pretty quickly.’’
As rushed as Satan’s introduction was, he’s undergone an even greater acceleration because of the Bruins’ injuries. In his second game, Satan replaced Marc Savard as the right-side half-wall quarterback after the playmaker suffered a partially torn right MCL. That same game, Satan scored his first goal as a Bruin.
Then during last week’s three-game road trip, Satan was given a new center in Mark Recchi. Their duty: create offensive chances, but also play responsibly against other skilled lines. Against Anaheim, Satan recorded his first assist for Boston when he went in hard on the forecheck and forced Ryan Whitney to turn the puck over to Recchi. In turn, Recchi floated a pass toward the slot, where Marco Sturm tipped the puck past Jonas Hiller.
“Great read pouncing on Whitney,’’ Recchi said. “He’s got a great stick. He steals a lot of pucks. He got it from him and we got the cycle going. He’s very patient with the puck. He can control it, which gives you a little extra time to get open, and he’ll find you. He makes a big difference. He’s a very intelligent player.’’
The next night, Julien deployed Satan, Recchi, and Sturm against the NHL’s most explosive threesome of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Dany Heatley. They held their own against the power line, and the Bruins scored a 2-1 shootout win.
In the final game of the road trip, Satan scored the Bruins’ first goal. He entered the offensive zone with speed, took a pass from Milan Lucic, and fired a sneaky wrister between Jonathan Quick’s legs for his 356th career goal. Through six games, Satan has two goals and one assist while averaging 17:43 of ice time.
“I have to say that these first 10 days that I’ve been here, everything has exceeded my expectations,’’ Satan said. “It’s unfortunate that guys are going down and getting hurt. But so far, it’s been a very interesting first 10 days of the season for me.’’
The former stay-at-home dad (his family will join him in Boston after the Olympic break) is back in the rhythm of the NHL. Bus rides. Flights. Pregame meetings. Morning skates. Games.
“It doesn’t feel new,’’ Satan said. “It just feels normal. I don’t feel any different. It just feels normal.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.