While much of the attention on this series will be on how the stars are able to match-up head-to-head, the biggest quandary that could face either head coach in this series is what line match-up Peter DeBoer is going to put his third pairing of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak against the highly skilled Penguins.
Most often, DeBoer puts Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun against the top line of their opposition, which one would assume is going to be the Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist line.
This would leave Paul Martin and Brent Burns to get the next man up assignment but DeBoer could go mobility (Martin-Burns) against the HBK line because he fears what they could do against Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak because of their lack of speed or maybe he thinks the Dillon-Polak pairing will play a heavy agitating style against Evgeni Malkin's line in order to get the big Russian off his game.
In the final game against St. Louis, DeBoer deployed these match-ups at 5on5. (HockeyViz.com matchup info)
Vlasic-Braun + Marleau-Couture-Donskoi vs Fabbri-Lehtera-Tarasenko
Martin-Burns + Hertl-Thornton-Pavelski vs Steen-Stastny-Brower
Dillon-Polak + Karlsson-Tierney-Ward vs Berglund-Backes-Schwartz
If lines match similar to SJ’s last game, we’re in for a treat with the HBK line scoring big points.
Vlasic-Braun + Marleau-Couture-Donskoi vs Sheary-Crosby-Hornqvist
Martin-Burns + Hertl-Thornton-Pavelski vs Kunitz-Malkin-Rust
Dillon-Polak + Karlsson-Tierney-Ward vs Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel
I don’t think DeBoer is going to want to expose his slowest 5-man unit against the HBK line, so he might be forced to change his 5-man units in order to give his third defense pairing the best chance to limit the scoring chances.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Dillon-Polak get matched with Hertl-Thornton-Pavelski line to offset the slower, less skilled defense pairing against the HBK line. DeBoer likely sees an advantage of forcing his best forward line to neutralize HBK line and hoping his top two defense pairings can manage the game better.
If DeBoer places more emphasis on protecting his defense pairings, this could be the series that Evgeni Malkin's offensive talents shine bright as Burns' style of aggressively playing tight in zone entries could give him t he exact style match-up to take the series over.