Saturday, April 5, 2008

Playoff Lineup coming into focus

Here were the forward combinations from Friday's practice:


Is Max Talbot skilled enough to convert on all the chances Crosby and Hossa will generate? Maybe, maybe not. But Talbot is a balls-to-the-wall, high energy player that will drive to the net and tends to make good things happen when he gets the puck on his stick.

The second line is perfect. Those three have a great chemistry, and one has to believe the opponents will be forced to match their best checking line and defensive unit against Crosby+Hossa; opening up all the more ice for Geno, Bugsy and Sykora to take advantage of....But if a team does try to pick their poison of shutting down this line, they're going to leave the league's reigning MVP with a 100 point scorer blasting up the ice together.

Jarkko Ruutu is playing some good hockey, Pascal Dupuis has been a dependable all-around forward and Jordan Staal still has his immense potential to live up to. Still, you have to think that once THE Gary Roberts gets in game shape he will be up on this line with Staal and either Ruutu or Dupuis (depending on who's making things happen).

The 4th line is what it's all about. Adam Hall will quietly be a very important player; winning the majority of his faceoffs, killing penalties and playing non-descript "nothing against" hockey. He can cycle, which is one thing Georges Laraque can do too. If the opening series is against a chippy team like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh will require the presence ultimate deterrent in BGL to keep the opposition honest.

Like we mentioned, Gary Roberts is here to wreak havoc and work himself back into game shape. It wouldn't shock us; if and when Roberts proves his is ankle good to go for him to be taking shifts with Crosby and Hossa and terrorizing the opposition. Future aside, this could very well be Gary Roberts' last hurrah....No one who's passionate enough about hockey to read this blog wouldn't believe that he's going to leave every ounce of effort, desire and tenacity in his soul to make the difference in a series.

So what does the practice mean for Tyler "Mr." Kennedy? Probably that he will be assigned to Wilkes-Barre for the AHL playoffs (where they are in desperate need of scoring forwards). Hopefully TK doesn't take this as a slight, but rather an opportunity to make a difference at a level where he'd be a first liner. Kennedy is still in Pittsburgh's long-term future, but with guys like Hall and Roberts returning from injury, his niche is better filled by more experienced players.

The Penguins also have Jeff "Laffy" Taffe and, ugh, Kris Beech as forward depth in case of injury of performance. Taffe has proven to be a legit NHL player, one that can be counted on to play any position in a lower level role. And Beech, well we think it's safe to say we all know what he brings to the table....Or doesn't.

Either way, the playoff lineup is starting to come into focus....We can see what opportunities are on the table (specifically for Talbot and Ruutu); soon we'll see if they make the most of it.

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