Small Changes Now or Big Changes Later; Penguins Playoff Adjustments Will Decide The Teams Future
Too many questions and not enough answers.
It is becoming an all too familiar storyline in the Steel City. Once thought to have a dynasty in the making, led by two of the leagues brightest and most dominant young stars, the Penguins are now perrinial playoff disappointments.
Wednesday night was no different. The Pittsburgh Penguins came out of the gate and absolutely dominated. They scored three goals in five minutes. The asserted their will and looked poised to take home a three to one advantage in the series.
Instead, the Penguins once again proved that disappointment is truly their greatest talent.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have yet to score a single goal in this series. They are Cup champions, MVP winning athletes, the type of hockey player that when blood is in the water you do not want to defend. Well, that just isn’t the case anymore. Crosby and Malkin combined for three shots in game four, which is an unacceptable number. This, along with their zero goals and point per game average, will not revive their reputation as the playoffs top performers.
This team is too talented, too young, and too good to continue to fall apart like this. Changes will be coming this offseason, there is no doubt, but there are a few changes the Penguins can make no to try and salvage the rest of this series.
One way to kick start the stars and show them the pressure truly is on is to remove them from their comfort zone. Taking away what feels right forces players to do what is necessary. Doing what is necessary is typically what wins games.
I start with the top line, which currently has Kunitz-Crosby-Stempniak and I remove Kunitz. Kunitz is struggling to score, but has had his legs going well and is working the puck. Stempniak will stay unless Brian Gibbons is ready to return. If Gibbons is ready to return, my first line becomes Gibbons-Crosby-Neal.
Bringing up James Neal from the Malkin line gives Crosby a go to shooter and forces James Neal to play a faster, up and down game. With Gibbons’ speed and fore-checking ability, Crosby’s puck control, and James Neals shot, the first line becomes balanced while supporting the theory of removing the comfort zone.
The second line of Jokinen – Malkin – Neal then becomes Kunitz-Malkin-Bennett. Malkin has been given the more favorable match ups this series and has not taken advantage. With a skilled puck carrier and passer in Bennett, a gritty fore-checker in Kunitz, and the main shooter in Malkin, the Penguins second line again becomes a balanced attacking line.
Malkin has shown chemistry with Kunitz before and this move allows Beau Bennett to play his natural right wing again. Beau was not a good fit with Crosby given his demeanor of a playmaker, but should help Malkin find his shot once again. All Kunitz has to do is play his simple up and down game and open up space.
The third line would then pick up the top six remaining scraps, so to speak. The line would then consist of Jokinen – Sutter – Stempniak. All three players possess decent puck handling ability, a good shot, and average skating ability. The third line should be tough to play against and opportunistic, this one has the most potential of the remaining options.
The fourth line would then become, again if the center is healthy, Vitale – Goc – Adams. Goc has been practicing for the Penguins and is now considered day to day. The hope is that he returns to the lineup for Saturday and if he does he will be an upgrade to the Penguins third line. These three possess strong checking ability, good penalty killing, and very good face off ability. Their defensive play mixed with a blend of speed and responsibility would help keep the opposition in check instead of just a line that rests the other three.
Kris Letang, who has been an epic dissapointment again when pressured, has been moved to the third pairing. His power play time has been limited to second fiddle and his partner, Rob Scuderi, isn't helping him out at all. The Penguins need to spark their defensive core and swapping one of these players out for the younger Robert Bortuzzo could help the team.
The problem is, this won’t happen. Dan Bylsma will not make such a major shake up to his team. Instead, in the Penguins will continue to define insanity by doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.
Either makes some small changes now or be forced to make major ones over the summer. Ray Shero's job could even be on the line if his creation cannot succeed.