Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lines and Defense pairings

One of the things we wonder most about is the lines and defense pairings that Michel Therrien will employ.

For the forwards his top two lines are pretty set and don't require much tinkering:

Pascal Dupuis-Sidney Crosby-Marian Hossa

**Dupuis has had the speed and intelligence to keep up with Crosby and Hossa. It's not easy to play with two great players, but Dupper has done the little things (getting back on D, hustling into the corners, winning loose pucks, going to the net) to be very effective. Crosby and Hossa have come into their own, developing a great chemistry that is starting to be evident. These two need to feast on the powerplay but they also have to score at even-strength. Crosby and Hossa combined for 4 goals and 5 assists at ES during the Philadelphia series.

Ryan Malone-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora

**The line that did the heavy lifting when Crosby went down...Recently Sykora's been on a down streak production wise (just 1 goal and 1 assist in the past seven games) but Malone has picked up his slack with 7 points (3g, 4a) in the past six games. The constant has been the brilliance of Evgeni Malkin. In every regard but the faceoff circle we think he's been the best, most consistent sensational player so far in the playoffs. Slapshots? Got 'em. Uncanny passing on the PP? Here. Hustling back to play D? No prob. Fighting through physical play? Yawn. Taking control of the puck and galloping all over the ice at will? Yep.

Maxime Talbot-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy

**When we get to the 3rd line is where the questions begin. It's usually been Ruutu/Staal/Kennedy...But through a little experimentation, plugging Talbot up and dropping Ruutu down has seemed to ignite the offense and get a little more production out of Staal. By all means, we say roll with it. Talbot offers a little bit of a better skating and more energy than even Ruutu. It is worrisome to think of the age and experience of this line (especially since it often matches opponents top line) but if that's the way it has to be, we're comfortable with it. Jordan Staal may be 19 years old, but he doesn't play like a 19 year old.

Now we have four players (Ruutu, Hall, Roberts, Laraque) vying for three spots....If it were up to us (and it's not):

Gary Roberts-Adam Hall-Jarkko Ruutu
**It's hard to leave BGL off the roster. But it's just one game. Laraque can do good work on the forecheck and cycle the puck. But Ruutu and Hall can kill penalties in a pinch, Hall is decent at faceoffs. And Gary Roberts has 92 points in 125 career NHL playoff games, experience and results that can't be denied. BGL is the ultimate deterrant for all the funny business that might arise, and while Detroit boasts several gritty guys (think Draper, McCarty, Holmstrom, etc) that's nothing that the Pens can't answer with Orpik, Gill, Ruutu, Malone and Roberts.


The defense is a little different. While most of the forward lines (aside from where to place Talbot and which of the 4th liners to sit) are pretty much set. Defensively you've got:

Brooks Orpik-Sergei Gonchar

Kuklaskorner thinks that Orpik and Gonchar will be "fetal" by the end of the second period of Game 1. We laugh. No denying the skill and talent that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have, but ask Daniel Briere (1 goal and 1 assist in five games against Pittsburgh after tallying 8 goals 14 points in 12 games in the first two rounds) or Dany Heatley (41 goals, 41 assists in the regular season, 0 goals 1 assist in the playoffs) how it was to meet Gonchar and Orpik. Kuklaskorner says with glee that Gonchar will be exposed? Unfortunately for them, they haven't been following the Pens close enough to know what that's going to mean.

But Therrien's ideas for the other two defense pairs have been Rob Scuderi/Hal Gill and Ryan Whitney/Kris Letang. Two primarly shot-blocking defensive guys that aren't really puck movers on one pairing and then two great skating, excellent passing (but not effectively physical) players on the other.

We would like to see a split. Towards the end of the regular season Gill/Letang and Scuderi/Whitney seemed to work well and be more balanced. But we're not coaches and no one asks our opinion. Therrien's pairings have flowed well and obviously been effective. But we think that Detroit's grit and puck possession could expose a flaw in the lack of speed in his Scuderi/Gill unit and at the same time open the door for the lack of physicality (or a rookie mistake) in the Whitney/Letang duo.

But what do we know. Too much time to think, if only it was time to drop the puck already!

1 comment:


1) Gonchar's 'defense' has been one of the bigger surprises in the playoffs for many wo haven't seen him play lately. He's definitly not the one dimentional player that he may have been a few years ago.