In not only a 0 games to 2 hole, but getting outscored 9-1 in those two games, the one thing you can bet is change is going to come to the lineup and the lines. The goalie question might burn hot, but the pure fact is if the team in front of Tomas Vokoun or Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t play a LOT better, the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t stand much of a chance. So let’s look at some of the options that could be in play…
First LineSidney Crosby’s a lock to stay on it, and given his production and chemistry, it’s probably a good bet that Pascal Dupuis is around too. The key guy in play is Chris Kunitz, who last year clicked with Malkin/Neal, and this year has helped Crosby/Dupuis to become the league’s highest scoring line. The player to watch to move into this position ought to be Jarome Iginla. He’s mainly had to play left wing on the second line, which hasn’t really worked out, being as Iginla’s played most of his career on the right side. If this was our call we’d move the versatile Dupuis to LW and put Iginla on Crosby’s right, hoping and praying for some magic between Crosby and Iggy.
Moving Iginla to Crosby’s line would make bumping Kunitz down with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal would then be a no-brainer. Malkin has looked good with the puck on his stick in the briefest of stretches and maybe Kunitz can be more effective driving to the net and opening up a little more room for 71 and 18 to operate. But if the Pens keep Kunitz with Crosby, one guy to watch for might be Beau Bennett. He probably wouldn’t play the full even-strength minutes (you could rotate Iginla and Brenden Morrow in at times) but Bennett has shown comfortability playing with Malkin/Neal and has proven to add a little bit of skill with responsible two-way play as well.
Matt Cooke and Brandon Sutter are the core pieces of this line with Morrow, Tyler Kennedy and Jussi Jokinen as the most likely options that the Pens would go to. One could make a case for Kennedy (who has a history of production in the playoffs) but I think Jokinen makes the most sense. He’s a smart, responsible player who can also add some faceoff abilities for the “other” side of the ice (since JJ36 is left-handed and Sutter is right-handed). The Pens need every edge they can get in faceoffs against Boston, so having two guys on this line to always have a faceoff guy on his strong side would be an advantage.
The Penguins don’t hurt for options here. Craig Adams is the only linch-pin, his veteran presence and PK’ing ability have made him indispensable from the lineup. However, in an 0-2 hole and with several other forwards who can PK (Dupuis, Cooke, Sutter, Jokinen even Kunitz & Crosby) one would think the Pens could afford to scratch Adams in an attempt to add more skill. Dustin Jeffrey’s seemingly out of the picture, Tanner Glass has been ineffective, they ought to also be scratches in my eyes. That leaves Joe Vitale to center Morrow and Bennett. Unless you’d favor putting TK in for Bennett. Personally, I’d give Bennett a chance here, maybe with some double-shifting of Malkin/Neal.
On gameday what do you think the lines should be? The biggest moving pieces are going to be Iginla, where to play Kunitz and some wild-cards like Bennett and Kennedy. Coach Dan Bylsma has an almost endless amount of possibilities, and he’s had success earlier in the playoffs making the right decisions to give the Pens a boost, like before Game 5 of the Islanders series. Now, in more dire straits, he’ll have to push the right buttons to set the team up for success. If it was your choice, let us know in the comments what lines you would run.