The big guns need some help
June 7, 2017, 12:26 PM ET [44 Comments]
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As far as non-elimination playoff games go it doesn't get much better than Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final with both teams tied at two games apiece. For most of the series it has been Nashville's imposing forecheck eating up the Penguins defense. That has resulted in the ice being tilted in the Predators favor. In Game 4 PIttsburgh was able to fight back and take more ownership over the flow of play. If not for Pekka Rinne's brilliance in Game 4 the Stanley Cup would be in the building tonight.
After looking over some of the offensive stats for the Penguins I noticed the big guns for the Penguins could use a little bit of help. The offense from Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Jake Guentzel has been impressive in this postseason. All four players have been consistently good throughout the entire postseason. With three games in the season, at the most, the Penguins top scorers will more than likely need some help if they are going to repeat as champions.
These players include Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, and Conor Sheary.
The two Swedish wingers are nowhere close to playing at the levels that they did during the 2016 postseason run. Injuries are definitely a factor, but if they are going to get a jersey they need to find a way. Nashville doesn't care if they are dinged up or not.
Carl Hagelin has played in 13 games this postseason and only has one point to show for it. That's been a big drain on the Penguins four scoring line approach. The injury to his foot is a legit variable, but his regular season stats weren't great. He only scored six goals and had a 1.47 5v5 points per 60 when it was 2.04 last year.
Patric Hornqvist broke his hand and that is a tough injury to overcome. The good news is that puck handling has never been his thing. If he is going to be in the lineup he needs to play with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Right now he is a sub 40% possession player with his bottom six minutes and his offense is not making up for it. He had four 5v5 points against Washington in that seven game series, but has nothing in the five games he has played since. He only has one power play point the entire postseason in 17 games played.
Conor Sheary has been a complete non-factor for most of the playoffs, but he has been more effective recently. Three of his six points have come since Game 7 against Ottawa. His larger sample this year spoke to a player who was very capable. I would bet on him overcoming whatever confidence issues he was having and reunite him with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
Since putting up a goal and an assist against Ottawa in a 7-0 blowout Bryan Rust only has a single assist in the next six games while spending a good chunk of time with Sidney Crosby. He needs scrape together some offense when put in those kinds of roles for an extended period of time.
Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Jake Guentzel are the four top scorers in the playoffs. They could certainly get hot enough to carry the team. However, wouldn't you rather see them get some help from the depth guys at some point?
It is tough to know what Mike Sullivan's plans are for tomorrow considering that both Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bonino did not take part in practice today, but here is what the coach went with
I really like the first line and then after that it is pretty meh. However, it is tough to properly evaluate this without knowing where Hornqvist slots in and if Bonino can go.
I would keep Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel on separate lines to start the game and then bump Phil up later in the game if the team is chasing a goal or two. I think having those three players on separate lines is a great way to expose the Nashville bottom pair.
As far as the defense combos goal it is Groundhog Day
Pittsburgh will continue to try and win with Ron Hainsey getting top pairing minutes while Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley keep sabotaging one another.
Only one more day until Game 5
Thanks for reading!