Get Crosby On Against Chara
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—Zdeno Chara is a behemoth defenseman capable of completely dominating opposing forwards with his size and reach. How well he can neutralize the Penguin offense will be key.
Who will he match up against? While it seems pretty clear that the Bergeron line will matchup against Crosby, there have been conflicting media reports of what defense pairing the Bruins will deploy against the Crosby and Malkin lines. If I were Claude Julien, I would send Chara against Malkin. Dan Bylsma doesn’t spend much time worrying about line matchups, but the Pens should try to get Crosby out against Chara as often as possible. Usually you try to get your best players away from their best defenseman, but here’s why I think Pens should embrace the matchup:
1) With Bergeron shadowing Crosby, putting your best defenseman out against Malkin seems logical. Crosby’s speed and low leverage have caused problems for Chara in the past. From a physical standpoint, it seems like Chara would fit better for the Bruins going against Malkin. Malkin’s line plays a more east/west game, likes to carry the puck through the neutral zone and cycle down low, and Malkin looks to set up his sniping wingers for one-timers. That style of game plays into Chara’s strengths: using his reach to disrupt puck carriers and to close down passing lanes in the slot, and using his size to stand forwards up at the blueline. If both Bergeron and Chara are on against Crosby, which is what I expect at least to start, the Malkin line will have free reign.
2) Part of the Penguins game plan will be to dump the puck in on Chara and forecheck him hard. To hit him at every opportunity. To make him skate the full sheet all series long. From a physical and forechecking standpoint, the combination of Dupuis and Kunitz doles out a lot more punishment than Iginla and Neal. That is more a compliment to Dupuis and Kunitz than a knock on Iginla and Neal. Crosby’s line also plays a lot more north/south style. The Pens will be able to wear Chara down a lot more effectively with Crosby’s line.
3) The Bruins like to take advantage of Chara’s booming slap shot on the powerplay. The first shift after a powerplay, when Chara will likely be on the bench, look for Byslma to deploy Malkin and Crosby together with either Neal or Kunitz.
No matter what the Bruins do, the Pens will be able to get shifts, particularly at home with the last change, for the star centers with Chara off the ice. The Pens are simply just a matchup nightmare.
—I am not really much of an old-school hockey guy, but I do enjoy the occasional fight. Especially the kind you tend to see in the playoffs. Where the anger, frustration, and desire of playing the same team day after day boils over between two guys and they just go at it. If Douglas Murray, Brendan Morrow, or Deryk Engelland can goad Milan Lucic into a fight this series, I think it bodes well for the Pens. Lucic is going to try to hit everything that moves and plant himself in front of Vokoun. Without taking unnecessary penalties, the Pens need to hit him back and battle him for every inch in front of the cage. They need to channel their inner Ulf. If that means a fight breaks out at some point, all the better for the Pens. Shows they have made him work for it.
—For all the talk about the Pens high-flying offense, the NHL playoff leading scorer plays for Boston. David Krejci has 17 points and is playing between the rejuvenated Lucic and Nathan Horton. Krejci is a shifty, smart little playmaker and his hulking wingers use their size to get him time and space. Shutting down the Bruins top line will take a five man effort every time out, but the Bruins do not have a ton of offensive depth after them. Bergeron has an elite hockey IQ and skills to match and Tyler Seguin is a former 2nd overall pick capable of being the Bruins best player for stretches, but still lacks consistency. Rich Peverley adds some playmaking ability and Brad Marchard is always fishing around the tough areas on the ice. Line for line, man for man, the Bruins cannot match the Pens skill and scoring ability.
—Vokoun’s numbers have been absolutely stellar since he replaced Fleury and he deserves full marks for righting the ship against the speedy Islanders. One area of his game that has been lacking is rebound control. He has not been absorbing shots like a goalie with his save percentage (.941) usually does. Sometimes, it appears he does not have a good sense of where he rebounds are going. I wonder how sustainable that is. Just like a baseball player who goes through a stretch where everything he hits seems to find a hole, goalies can go through periods where the rebounds they give up seem to be just out of an opposing forward’s reach. The Bruins, with their size, are a team that will camp in the tough areas waiting for second chance opportunities much more than the Islanders and Senators did. Vokoun will have to dampen and control shots better and the defensemen will have to tie up sticks in front. The battle in front of the Pens net, particularly on the PK, will be huge.