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The Steve Downie Effect

After the 2013 playoff debacle, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to change the way they were doing things. It all started with looking for a new coach and a new general manager. At that time, Mario Lemieux, the Penguins owner, explained to the Pittsburgh media he was now looking for a team with “Grit and Character”. It resulted, on July 2, 2014, in the signing of free agent Steve Downie to a one-year, $1 million contract.

Steve Downie’s Background

Before joining the Penguins organization, Steve Downie had 34 career fights and 766 Penalty Minutes in six NHL seasons, making him a good candidate to bring those two elements to the team. He also had some good seasons in terms of scoring (46 points in 79 games in 2009-2010 and 32 points in 57 the next season – both seasons played under Rick Tocchet, who was also coming in as a new Penguins assistant coach). Unfortunately, after that he had spent most of his time off the ice, dealing with long term injuries.

Steve Downie has been known for being a reckless player. After being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers, during his first professional pre-season game (against the Senators in 2007), he was involved in an incident with Dean McAmmond which led to a 20-game suspension.  Since then, Downie has had a reputation for unnecessarily aggressive behavior, and when Penguins fans heard that Jim Rutherford, the new GM, had signed him, many were skeptical. He also came from the rival Flyers organization, which did not help.

The New, “Gritty” Player…

During his first interview as a Penguin, Steve Downie instantly showed a lot of enthusiasm, and seemed very happy to have joined the City of Champions’ organization. He explained his style and said that he’ll always protect the team’s star players: “Whatever team I’ve played on, I like to go out of my way to stick up for my teammates” he said to a reporter. Those were great words, but fans were looking forward to seeing if it would turn out to be true. Thankfully, it did. Whenever a player is down or being harassed, he will jump in and defend them.

Downie is still very aggressive – what the Penguins wanted – but he rarely crosses the line. His first fight with his new organization was on October 18th, against the Islanders, after he cleanly hit an Islanders player and Travis Hamonic, in response to the hit, came after him. As of January 1st, 2015, he leads the team with five fights, no suspension, and is leading the NHL in penalty minutes (135, more than fifty above the second ranked Derek Dorsett, with 82). He recorded five games with more than 10 PIM (13, 22, 17, 29 and 17). He plays a very physical game that Pens fans did not see in the previous years. He gives everything he has every shift and never gives up.  So far this year, Steve Downie been an example of commitment.

…Who Can Score

On the offensive side, in 2014 with the Pens, Downie has 17 points in 32 games, and he’s on pace to have his 2nd best season of his career (41 points). In December, he has played more than 20 minutes every game (except in Columbus because of penalties). In the absence of Sidney Crosby, among other Penguins top six players, he has stepped up his game. The right-winger had three games with two points or more this month. In the original plan, he was supposed to be next to Brandon Sutter on the 3rd line, but he played for some time with Sidney Crosby, due to Pascal Dupuis’ injury. Lately, he has been playing with Marcel Goc on the 3rd line. He also plays frequently on the second power play unit. His balanced two-way skill-set helps him to go up and down the lineup, depending on the team’s needs.

Steve Downie has had a great start with his new team, and it looks like he is not slowing down. He’s embraced the team’s new philosophy, and shown a great connection with all the players he’s shared the rink with. Pens fans all around the globe thank Jim Rutherford for bringing in a man who definitively increases the odds of winning a new Stanley Cup.

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