Almost immediately after Tyler Seguin scored to put the Bruins up 2-0 with 6:30 remaining in the first period, the Penguins started cobbling together one of their finer efforts of the season, even though they spent the next 33 minutes getting shutout by a goalie whose name was either a Mexican restaurant (Qdoba) or the Supreme Leader of Iran (Khomeni). If the Pens had gone on to get shut out, we would not have been overly discouraged. The Pens were playing a disciplined game, were limiting the Bruins' chances, and were without Malkin. The Bruins are a different animal than the rest of the Eastern Conference -- they are supremely talented AND very well coached and difficult to play against. It can take a while to figure out how to beat them. Consider the Pens record against the Bruins in the last 3 seasons: In 2009-10, the Pens lost the first game then won the next three. In 2010-11, the Pens lost the first two then won the next two. In 2011-12 the Pens lost the first game and then won the next three. The Bruins take some getting used to. They're also beatable.
We've written at length in the past that the Penguins are a nightmare matchup for Zdeno Chara, because aside from having to chase Crosby around the rink, he needs to endure an onslaught from Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Here's a sampling:
December 5, 2011: "James Neal ain't afraid of no man. There is not one ounce of back-down in Neal, and if there is one thing Zdeno Chara was thinking about when he found himself startled and awake at 3:30 am Tuesday, it's this: 'I have to play 30 minutes a night. It's exhausting enough. Please don't make me do it against that guy.'"
February 4, 2012: "Come on, when Kunitz chopped down Zdeno Chara like he was a piece of wood Saturday during the Pens' 2-1 win in Boston, we were all thinking the same thing: You cut him! He's not a machine. He's a man! Chara is Drago - bigger, stronger, faster, and the worst nightmare imaginable for a team relying heavily on one line for offense. But here's the thing. Chara doesn't like to be hit. And that makes Kunitz and the equally fearless James Neal his worst nightmare."
|Coming to get you...|
Well, Tuesday night we found a new lumberjack. Pascal Dupuis absolutely pummeled the Bruins in the third, and they wilted.
Dupuis, Kunitz, and Neal are not bruisers; they're fast, relentless, and very strong on the boards. They hit defensemen when it's necessary to hit them; they go for the puck when it's not necessary to hit them. They will only get more effective when Malkin is back and not just because of how talented Geno is, but because of how much better James Neal will be with Malkin. Neal was the Pens best player against Boston last season, and that was with Chara matched up against him. Put Neal and Malkin against the Bruins' other defensemen, and it's a nightmare for Boston.
One caution, though, before we plan the parade. The Bruins clearly have another gear. They were running on fumes after their shootout win over Ottawa on Monday. 16 shots on goal. That's like two shifts for the Giroux-Hartnell-Simmonds line against the Pens. We also don't recall Lucic's name being mentioned once even though he played 16 minutes. They were trying to escape with a 2-1 road victory, or at least steal a point, while expending as little energy as possible. That's a terrible strategy against the Penguins. The Pens will score if you give them enough chances. They will also give up a ton of goals if you keep trying to score. The Bruins will know this going forward, and will do it when they have their legs.
Much more after the jump...
- The biggest complaint we have with Sutter is that he goes long stretches without being noticeable. The usual sign of a good third line is that it's in the offensive zone and is a matchup problem for the other team. The third line, and particularly Sutter, has been too quiet for long stretches. But it's impossible to have beef with his actual production.
He has 8 goals this year (2 more than Jordan Staal) and they've almost all been of the Huge variety. He has three game-winners, including the OT winner in Montreal and the winner last night. He also had the tying goal last night, and maybe the best goal of the season when he tied the second game against Philly at 5 with 2 minutes left (at least for the 32 seconds before Vokoun Fleury-farted the game losing goal into his own net). Someone will try to tell you that Brandon Sutter sucks because he is 650th in the league in Corsi. That person should ask the Supreme Leader whether Brandon Sutter sucks.
|"I don't know what it is. He just seems like he's got that clutch gene."|
Ultimately, the fourth line needs to do more than kill time; they need to occasionally tip the ice. That's why an upgrade to the 3rd line is so important. Get Sutter and Cooke another linemate, then move TK to the 4th line (for all his flaws, he still has some offensive upside) and send Tanner Glass to the AHL, the OHL, or even the D-League. It really doesn't matter. Or maybe even say "Eff the fourth line, it's a short season, we're riding the three horsemen down the middle to the Cup," and dress seven defensemen in the playoffs. There is something to be said for dressing your 18 best players, even if only 11 of them are forwards.
- Prime trade chip Matt Niskanen looked terrific last night.
- Beau Bennett's numbers are good, but they're about to get a lot better. He's got an ability to anticipate the play that makes him not just a good fit with Sid or Geno, but potentially a great one. Just wait.
- The Pens have a 9 point cushion in the division, but have to keep the foot on the gas. The difference between a #1 or #2 seed and the #4 seed could be the difference between playing Ottawa or Boston in the first round.