The Hockey Gods Must Be Crazy

Like gambling junkies sitting at the one-armed bandits in Vegas, the Hockey Gods simply had to go just one more time. They were unable to let the arguably frenetic series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals end in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
If Game 5 had been weird enough as Tom Poti watched helplessly, his defensive effort going wrong, netting the OT game-winner in favor of the Penguins, it got weirder still in Game 6 as Maxime Talbot’s stick had an untimely breakdown, and he watched helplessly as David Steckel’s shot in overtime netted the game-winner for the Capitals.

In my short blogging career, I’ve refrained from writing in 1st person, but on Game 7 Eve, I find myself feeling the pull of the fan side of me just as much as the analyst side. Driving in my car after work today, I knew hell had frozen over and pigs were flying because, for once, I was in complete agreement with both local sports commentators, Mark Madden and Rob Rossi, as they talked over the impending Game 7 on Madden’s radio show.

Here’s what made sense:

  • Rossi–The key to the game is TRUST. The Penguins have to trust in themselves, trust in the system, and trust in the coaches. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will be a monster in this game. While he has been criticized for the occasional soft goal, when going over his body of work, especially in big do-or-die situations, he rises to the occasion and gets it done just about every time. This will be such an occasion. He also has the ability to bounce back big after less-than-stellar performances.
  • Madden–Chris Kunitz is not making the impact that he needs to and that he was brought onto the team for as one of Sidney Crosby’s wingers. While the hits have been spectacular, he often puts himself out of position–such a situation led to a Caps goal in Game 6. Jordan Staal is a big body that could more than adequately fill a Ryan Malone role; he needs to believe that and start utilizing his size and strength in front of Caps goalie Varlamov–a lot.
  • Madden’s Line-up

Fedotenko–Crosby–Malkin

Kunitz–Staal–Guerin

Kennedy–Talbot–Cooke

Adams–Satan

The Malkin-Crosby pairing makes sense in that Ovechkin would eventually be overwhelmed trying to go head-to-head in a line against them. Malkin and Fedotenko can both handle Sid’s passes, which can be key in front of the net on tip-ins and weird bounces. Vice-versa, Sid’s no slouch in front of the net either as he’s proven in this series. Fedotenko has the hot hand right now, and this threesome could make for a pretty formidable line.

Staal centering Guerin and Kunitz is also a good choice. When Kunitz first arrived, Sid was out hurt, so he was put on a second line centered by Staal while Malkin centered the first line. Instantly, the chemistry was there and both Kunitz and Staal were very productive. That reunion could be the spark that gets Kunitz on the board–he’s due. Bill Guerin is another guy who knows how to play in front of the net and has shown some success doing that in the playoffs.

Talk about an energy line–Talbot centering, flanked by Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke is literally high-octane as all three are very similar in tenacity and style of play. Talbot has had a great series, and his efforts helped to spark Malkin. He has given 110% to the best of his ability. While Kennedy and Cooke have struggled, it is not out of the realm of possibility that one or both of these guys could figure in scoring in this game.

One change I would make, however, is to come back to four full lines of forwards rather than double-shifting one of the three centers with Adams and Satan. This would require reactivating Pascal Depuis, another hardworking energy guy, and having to go back to six defensemen. Craig Adams has had a solid series, playing a physical role and working hard on the boards. Miroslav Satan had his best two games of the entire season in 5 & 6, adding a rarely seen physical element to his repertoire.

It involves making a choice between the veteran Philippe Boucher with his explosive slapshot and the young Alex Goligoski’s offensively-minded defensive playing style. In agreement with Madden, running seven defensemen throws off the forwards’ rotation cycles and was the cause of a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, something the Penguins rarely did all year. That’s a penalty that can be ill-afforded in a series like this where one mistake can literally cost a team the game, and in this game’s case–the series.

Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Coach Dan Bylsma’s decision to use seven defensemen was a necessity. The team was in a back-to-back game situation, and the fact that Sergei Gonchar was lost so early in the previous night’s contest, caused Bylsma to have to roll his remaining five defensemen for a ton of minutes. They needed the burden of the next night to be shared in order to regain their own legs, particularly in the event of a Game 7 situation. It would not hurt to resume the make-up of 12 forwards and 6 defense.

Rob Rossi believes this team will win Game 7, that they have another level in them, and it is true. They need to stick to their plan and play for 60 minutes. The 2nd period has been make-or-break for them, and they are well aware of it. If they keep their shifts to 40-45 seconds instead of 1:05 or more, they will be able to sustain their energy and their tempo because when they play at that level, they dominate.

No time like the present.

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