Yesterday, I went on a rant about faceoffs and why it's been given too strong a role in the Penguins/Bruins storyline. Regardless of my personal opinion on faceoff numbers, a centerman will always carry his success in faceoffs (or lack thereof) as a brand on his chest. It could be a major incentive for a coach to play one centerman over another.
Especially for a fourth line center.
For Friday morning's practice, the Pens are rolling with Jussi Jokinen to center the fourth line. Shouldn't be a surprise since he did finish off the Senators series, and there's no need to change what has already worked.
At the same time, I wonder if the Pens could make use of Joe Vitale more. According to practice lines, he'll start the series riding the pine pony. I understand why, but I think there's an argument for why Vitale might be better off centering the fourth line.
I feel like everyone's first comment is Jokinen's dominance in faceoffs. Jokinen's numbers are absurd; he's won 63.9% of his faceoffs. Vitale isn't too shabby either, registering a 56.1% win percentage. Both are tops on the Pens.
While the numbers alone are impressive for both, we have to remember that they aren't consistently called upon to take draws. In Jokinen's six playoff games, he's taken 16.3% of the Pens' draws. In Vitale's four games, he's taken 15.8%. Pretty even and very indicative of fourth line numbers. The Pens don't depend on them to take a large volume of faceoffs like they do Sidney Crosby or Brandon Sutter. Does Bylsma intend to change this in the upcoming series? I guess we'll see.
Keeping that in mind, I want look deeper than just faceoffs.
I've made my appreciation for Vitale loud and clear namely because he embodies the type of style the Pens want to emulate every game. Especially against the Bruins, a team that we expect to hit hard and agitate, Vitale might be a great answer to their plan.
Vitale is sandpaper-y guy. Unleash him after a strong offensive shift from the first line and he's sure to keep the tempo high. This makes him very noticeable, which isn't hard when you're knocking bodies around along the boards. I feel like I can always hear Vitale's presence on the ice.
Any player who takes on such an identity is usually a pain in the you-know-what both before and after whistles and that, to me, is Vitale in a nutshell. He doesn't have a problem getting in people's faces and being an all-around pest and after Matt Cooke, he's the best in that regard.
The Bruins have their own pests in Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic, two players who are sure to stir the pot at any moment they can. Against a Pens team that has a few players with short fuses, doing this would be in their best interest. In response, why not use a player like Vitale who will shove that kind of play right back at the Bruins?
I love what Jokinen brings to the team, but is he the best fit to answer the Pens' needs in this series? It's a resonating yes for faceoffs, but then I look to scoring. He has three assists which is fair for only playing in six games, but at the same time, have the Pens had issues in scoring? Not really. When Jokinen's on his game, he's making nifty plays left and right and is a constant threat at any point on the ice. However, I don't think we've seen Jokinen on his game yet.
I do think there's a place for Vitale to be bruising it up along the boards, creating havoc, and answering the Bruins' physical play. There's plenty of room for that, especially since Deryk Engelland, who played in all three season meetings with the Bruins, probably won't be dressed (thankfully) and the Pens could use more physical players in their lineup.
It boils down to what Bylsma wants out of his fourth line. Both Vitale and Jokinen are talents in their own rights but have very different identities as hockey players. Jokinen is a faceoff whiz who can be devastatingly deadly when he's on his game. And then there's Vitale, strong in the faceoff and he provides the grittiness Bylsma preaches every time a microphone is in his face. Which attributes will be more important in the race to four wins?
Who knows. Maybe we will see both at some point in the series.