We know there will be no Sidney Crosby and no Conor Sheary tonight for Game 4, and the Penguins have moved to bring up Josh Archibald and Oskar Sundqvist up early from the AHL (with more black aces on the way later this week). General manager Jim Rutherford doesn't see Daniel Sprong as an NHL option this spring so what might the lines best look like tonight? Here's our ideas, but who knows what Mike Sullivan will actually elect to do or shuffle out there.
Here's the thoughts behind it-
Last spring's 3rd line sensation is back this year and pressed into a different role. Once Crosby was injured early in Game 3, Nick Bonino was the center that Sullivan used the most to match the Backstrom-Ovechkin line. So that's why we're calling HBK the defacto "first line" since it will be Bonino's job to try and neutralize the Capitals top forwards. And, hey, 0 even strength points for Backstrom and Ovi last game.
Gene, Gene, playoff machine
It seems a little weird for the narrative to be "Malkin has to step up without Crosby" when Malkin already has multi-point performances in six of the eight playoff games so far this spring. That said, all eyes will be on Malkin to be the engine to power the Pens. This line figures to be the best chance to do that; Chris Kunitz played some inspired hockey after Crosby was injured (and even scored a goal by driving to the net, though it was eventually over-turned for goalie interference).
Malkin and Guentzel didn't play much together in the regular season, but the results were eye-popping. In just a 127 minute sample together, Guentzel scored 5 goals and added 3 assists when he played with Malkin. Geno had 3g+6a while on the ice with Guentzel. That's not a ton of chemistry to build on, but these two talented players meshed well together.
Matt Cullen has the special magic going and this is sort of a hodge-podge of styles so we'll see how it would go. Hornqvist seems dinged up but keeps on ticking. Rust can use his speed to pair with Cullen and hopefully generate some scoring chances. This line could be trusted for defensive draws and has enough speed to backup the Caps defense.
You have to feel for Scott Wilson - he makes a great bump pass into space for Bonino to score the game-winner in Game 1, then the Pens get healthy and he's relegated to being a healthy scratch. Kuhnhackl will be in the lineup, the rest could be anyone. I have Carter Rowney as a healthy scratch, he could easily be playing. This line hopefully can just give their 8-10 minutes, get in and out without any damage against.
Ok animals, put your lines in the comments. Sullivan will have a lot of options to choose from as he looks to somehow patch together a playoff win tonight without some key pieces.