– The hot-button issue of the day regarding the Pittsburgh Penguins
was the revamped lines coach Michel Therrien
put together for Sunday’s practice and will likely keep intact at least for the start of Game 2 Monday night.
However, new lines don’t change the prevailing storyline around these Penguins.
In order for them to beat the Detroit Red Wings
and lift the Stanley Cup, they’ll need their best players to be their best players. That’s the challenge facing Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
now because they weren’t Saturday night and the Red Wings struck the first blow with a 4-0 victory.
“I can sense it. They know they can play better, and that’s what they’re going to have to do,” Penguins GM Ray Shero
told NHL.com. “This is certainly a real good team in Detroit, but our group has gained confidence throughout the year and we’re better than what we showed in Game 1. It’s a seven-game series and Game 1 is over.”
It is, but Crosby still said he wouldn’t change anything despite the fact that he had only three shots on goal and was a minus-1 over 25 shifts totaling 18:10 of ice time.
“We had our chances, and we didn’t put them in,” said Crosby, who had four goals and 17 assists in the first three rounds. “It came down to execution, but it’s pretty tight. It’s playoff hockey and it comes down to whether you put the puck into the net or you don’t. I don’t think they did a whole lot to shut us down completely. It was tight checking, and they got their chances. We got ours. And we’ll continue to try to create things and battle.”
For Crosby a lot of that is true, especially since he played nearly all of his shifts against Selke Trophy finalists Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. He will again Monday night.
However, for Malkin, who had just one shot on goal over 22 shifts totaling 17:46 of ice time, even Penguins coach Michel Therrien commented on how he needs to step his game back up to the level it was at earlier in the playoffs.
Malkin has 15 playoff points, but just one goal and one assist in the five games since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers, when he scored twice and dished out one assist.
“First of all, we still have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a world-class player,” Therrien said. “He needs to stay focused. He needs to stay on top of his game. He needs to skate. He needs to battle. And if he’s doing those things, good things can happen to him. But, we do have a lot of confidence in him. He’s going to bring his game where it’s supposed to be.”
Therrien said the most important thing is for him to remain positive with Malkin, which is why on Sunday he didn’t harp on what went wrong Saturday night. Instead, Therrien told Malkin that he expects him to start playing like the leader he became when Crosby was out with his high ankle sprain from mid January to March.
“We put him in a situation to be a leader and he was a leader at that time,” Therrien said. “He did a fantastic job when we lost Sid. I reminded him this morning that I want him to be a leader at this time. We need him. He’s a big part of our success. I want him to be a leader.”
Crosby, though, is the Penguins’ No. 1 leader, the guy who answers all the questions at his daily press briefing. Since he’s the one in the spotlight, he’s the one that has to shine brightest for the Penguins to win.
Nobody knows that better than No. 87.
Perhaps, though, Therrien took a step toward helping his captain Sunday by taking speedy winger Pascal Dupuis off of Crosby’s line in exchange for the hulking Ryan Malone, who brings a physical presence.
With Malone, who likes to stand in front of the net a lot, the Penguins top line, including right winger Marian Hossa, looks a little more like the Red Wings top trio of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom, the king of net-front play.
“He’s going to bring physical presence and obviously his experience, too,” Crosby said. “But he’s a guy that can go out there and really give you momentum with a big hit or creating that energy that you need sometimes. So I think when he’s out there, every guy on the ice knows it. He’s someone that's going to bring a lot of energy for us.”
As for Malkin, Petr Sykora will stay on his right wing, but Therrien decided to move diminutive but tough and speedy forward Maxime Talbot up to be his left wing. Talbot had been centering the Penguins fourth line.
Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis made up the third line.
“With Talbot, I like his grit. I like his speed,” Therrien said. “He’s a guy that likes to pursue the puck, to create turnovers. So I believe it could be a good fit.”
Therrien, though, said he wasn’t changing lines just to be different. There was a method to his line-changing madness.
“One thing that’s important for us, with the adjustments we made, there’s combination with the players and we want to keep those combinations,” Therrien said. “Like, we’re talking about Crosby, Hossa and Malkin, Sykora. And we like Staal and Kennedy together. So, when you evaluate the other team, this is where you have to make some adjustment, we believe.”
In evaluating the Penguins, though, the indisputable truth is that Crosby and Malkin have to be at their best for this team to win Game 2. Detroit coach Mike Babcock certainly expects that to be the case Monday night.
“Those are good players,” Babcock said. “The one thing about good players is they’re real competitive, and if they don’t like their game, their last game, they usually have a better game the next one.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com