After another big win today without four world class players, the Pens have clinched the conference. With all of that being decided and taken care of, the attention of most Pens fans will now be directed to the question of what the lineup will be when we get healthy. As has been noted, this is a wonderful problem to have, but it is still a problem all the same. Not only will HCDB have to decide who dresses, he'll also have to decide where they fit in. With the quantity and quality to choose from, it'll be interesting to see what happens.
In the meantime, we can all speculate as has already been happening in some of the comments. I thought it would be interesting to throw up a post, and hopefully get people to offer their lineups, reasoning for it, and perhaps even try to think what Dan will do knowing his affinity for some players...I'm looking at you Tyler Kennedy.
For what it's worth, here's my thoughts. I gave it one go ealier and realized I had somehow omitted Morrow. Difficult task indeed.
Kunitz - Crosby - iginla
Malkin - Jokinen - Neal
Morrow - Sutter - Dupuis
Glass - Adams - Cooke
Reserves: Bennett, Kennedy, Vitale, Jeffery
Martin - Orpik
Eaton - Letang
Niskanen - Murray
Reserves: Despres, Engelland, Bortuzzo
(Note: If Martin misses time in the playoffs, then Letang/Orpik and Despres/Eaton)
Again this isn't what I think the lineup will be, this is just what I think makes for the strongest team. Let me explain why.
Line 1: I Like the idea of Iginla getting a chance to play with Sid. With the shot that he has, as well as the hockey sense and ability, I see no reason to have these two separate. He will also get back to his favored right wing. I was initially against breaking up the Dupuis/Sid/Kunitz combination, but after seeing Duper flourish in everyone's absence, I'm far less concerned about a drop off in his game. Like Sid, I think he has an ability to make his linemates better, thus his value on lower lines is immense. Many also feel that Kunitz should get moved back to Malkin's line if any changes are made, but Malkin isn't quite the same player this year. I don't see any reason to try to get that chemistry back when he already has it with Sid.
Line 2: I'm going to assume that this is where people will take most issue with my lineup, with the obvious factor being Malkin on the wing. Understandable criticism, but let me just offer my reasoning for it. Malkin is a massive defensive liability as we are all aware of. He's also abysmal at faceoffs which in the playoffs will be an issue. Because of these obvious deficiencies, he's rarely deployed in the D zone and rightly so. Jokinen on the other hand, has tremendous faceoff numbers, and is extremely effective both defensively and offensively. He's a skilled big body player who can create space for Geno/Neal, and help shore up Malkin's defensive liability. Malkin will still be free to roam and control the offensive zone as he should, without as much worry about him getting back to help the D. Neal fits in well with two capable playmakers, and a big body that can crash the net in front of his shots.
Line 3: I'm a big fan of this line. With Duper joining Sutter defensively, this line's ability to matchup with the top line of any opponent increases exponentially. Not only that, but this line now features explosive offensive talent as well. Sutter is capable of producing, and as we've seen lately Duper is nothing short of spectacular. Combine those two with the net front presence and physical play of Morrow and you have a very dynamic two way line.
Line 4: A very capable, prototypical grinder line. Solid defensively, lots of physical play (especially with Adams' physical play picking up as of late), and some offensive ability with Cooke on the ice. Probably won't be counted on for much offense, but that's no problem. Cooke has certainly proven himself capable of playing a top 9 role, but with the amount of players we have this seems like the best fit. He can play aggressively and physical, and do his best to get under the opponents skin. Also, while I would much rather dress Bennett than Glass, I don't see him as a good fit on a playoff fourth line. Glass can play defensively, he can hit, and he can fight. I think players like that are valuable playoff assets.
Reserves: As I briefly alluded to, Bennett was the last man dropped from the lineup. His play has been great for his age and inexperience, and if anyone were to get injured or play poorly enough to be dropped I think he would make sense as the first substitution. This isn't a knock on TK because he's always been a good energy guy in the playoffs, but I like how Bennett has been playing. That said, I'm sure TK will likely play over BB, and probably will be in the lineup anyhow. I don't see Vitale or Jeffrey in the lineup unless there are significant injuries.
I'm less focused on the pairings because that can be fairly fluid on a game by game basis, but I think given a healthy and solid top 5 (Letang, Martin, Orpik, Niskanen, Murray) the 6th spot goes to Eaton. I was critical of him when we first got him earlier in the year, but he's proven a reliable defensive force both at even strength and on the penalty kill. His experience in the playoffs is also a factor not to be overlooked. My first sub in would be Despres, who has proven capable of playing in the NHL. Though he is shaky at times, his skating and offensive ability is useful, and he's shown ability to play a solid physical game. Engo gets the nod over Borts because of experience. I'm sure we'll see a mix of all 9 due to injuries and the like.
Fleury is the man entering the postseason. He's had another solid regular season, and is well rested for the playoff push. I've always been a big fan of his and I think there's a good chance he bounces back from last year's debacle. That being said, with Vokoun as the backup Fleury's on a much shorter leash than last year. If he is shaky and rattled early in the first round, I see no reason not to pull him. If Vokoun comes in and plays well, you ride that as far as it goes. Either way we have a much more solid foundation than last year.
However Bylsma decides to set his lineup, it's undoubtedly going to change throughout the playoffs. Regardless, this team is stacked and trying to find a lineup was like making a fantasy team in NHL 13. Here's to hoping our stars come back healthy, and they stay healthy throughout.
Like I said, I'd really like to see what you all think the ideal lineup is for the team. Also, though I know there isn't a statistical formula you can plug a roster in to spit out a lineup, I'd be really interested to see what the statistical community thinks would be the Pens best lineup, and how that compares with this one. Thanks for the read, Let's go Pens.