I don’t know if Penguins Coach Dan Byslma is a fan of my show.
But last night, at long last, Bylsma finally became a fan of the obvious and logical.
After starting Game 5 against the New York Islanders dispensing the same old chaos – two right wings on one line, two left wings on another line – Bylsma united the combinations that should have been implemented the minute Jarome Iginla arrived from Calgary: Sidney Crosby between Iginla and Pascal Dupuis, with Evgeni Malkin between James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
Just like I said it should be a month ago.
Only Dupuis has to switch wings, and he’s been doing that his whole career. Iginla and Neal play right wing, where each is most comfortable and effective. Malkin gets the linemates with whom he’s performed best. Crosby doesn’t, but Crosby plays well no matter who he’s out there with. He should have a bit of vestigial chemistry with Iginla from playing together in the 2010 Olympics.
Those lines did not light up the scoresheet. Crosby scored, but that was off a magnificent individual effort.
But after Bylsma put those trios together, the tide turned. The Islanders outplayed the Penguins until the moment Tyler Kennedy made it 1-0.
Both lines were on edge once they were united. Besides his frequent power-play excellence, it was the best Iginla has looked in a Penguins jersey. Neal was at ease with his touches, and Malkin had jump. Bodes well for Game 6.
There’s no goalie controversy. Maybe at the start of the second round, if the Penguins get there. But Tomas Vokoun plays the rest of this series.
Behold, Crosby’s reenactment of the Lemieux statue:
The switch has been made. Tomas Vokoun starts Game 5 vs. the New York Islanders. How permanent is that change?
Barring injury, it would be shocking to see Fleury play again this series. Vokoun matches up well against the Islanders. His superior puckhandling will negate the Islanders’ dumping. Vokoun enters the fray with confidence born of a 3-0 record and a 0.90 goals-against average vs. the Islanders this season.
Vokoun is not great going post-to-post, and the Islanders will try to exploit that. But the pros far outweigh the cons. It was a necessary move. Fleury had imploded.
Vokoun will likely play well. The abject chaos of Games 2-4 duly noted, the Penguins still figure to win this series and move on.
It would not be shocking to see Fleury between the pipes to start the second round.
It’s what most teams would do: Put the No. 1 goaltender back in after giving him time to regroup. Adding credibility to that idea: Fleury is the Penguins’ glue, the most popular player in the locker room, and Coach Dan Bylsma would likely be loathe to write Fleury off for good without giving him another chance.
Contradicting that notion is the commonly-held belief that Bylsma has never had unwavering faith in Fleury, and would like to replace him.
Vokoun’s skill with the puck will minimize the Islanders’ forecheck, deflate their possession time and save the Penguins’ defensemen many steps. If the Islanders adjust, Vokoun will have forced them away from what’s brought them success. I bet Vokoun eliminates the Islanders.
But I also bet we haven’t see the last of Fleury in these playoffs.
Photo courtesy of GettyImages.
He scored a great goal. Dished a great assist.
But he also committed a backbreaking turnover, took two lazy penalties and morphed into a poor loser via his involvement in a free-for-all at game’s end.
Will the real Evgeni Malkin please stand up?
You’re not a superstar some of the time. You’re not elite some of the time. It’s all of the time, or none of the time. Consistency = true greatness.
Geno Nation never sees him as he really is. They burnish his accomplishments, then deflect blame elsewhere when Malkin’s low points are discussed.
The goal? The assist? An $8.7-million player is supposed to do that.
The mistakes? The stupidity? The petulance? INEXCUSABLE.
Sidney Crosby isn’t perfect. BUT HE DOESN’T BLOW GAMES. He plays and leads with a level of maturity that is totally foreign to Malkin.
Malkin’s idiocy undid all his excellence last night. Made it meaningless.
Malkin needs to get his head out of his borscht. If he doesn’t, and the Penguins lose this series, it’s time to start wondering if trading Malkin would be the best thing for all parties. Because this isn’t working.
NBC hockey analysts Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick enjoy dumping on Sidney Crosby. After Sunday's 5-4 overtime win vs. the New York Islanders, they accused Crosby of going down too easy when Brian Strait committed a holding penalty in OT.
Milbury and Roenick didn't use the word DIVE. But they might as well have.
I've defended Milbury and Roenick. If you talk about them, they've done their job.
But I'm going to backtrack on that.
IT DOESN'T MATTER if anyone talks about Milbury and Roenick when the concurrent result is that X amount of viewers think the NHL's best, most visible player is a FLOPPER and a CHEAT. The biggest gain to be made by the NHL and its broadcast partners is for viewers to think Crosby is God's gift to the game.
The latter sells. The word-drool spewed by Milbury and Roenick does not.
Milbury and Roenick aren't a pimple on hockey's ass compared to Crosby and what he does for the game.
So somebody in the NHL office, or NBC's office, should tell Milbury and Roenick to put a better spin on what Crosby does, or they're fired.
If they need a blueprint, consult how the NBA's broadcast partners treat LeBron James.
Deryk Engelland played 12:23 in Game 2 vs. the New York Islanders, was minus-1 and took two bad penalties.
Simon Despres replaced Engelland in the lineup for Game 3. He was minus-2 and, many would say, was directly responsible for the Islanders’ first two goals.
Who plays Game 4 tonight?
Brooks Orpik is the preferred answer. But, if Orpik doesn’t yet return from his lower-body injury, the choices are:
*Engelland. The likely pick. Engelland seems too slow to play against the quick Islanders, but Coach Dan Bylsma trusts Engelland more than his other options.
*Despres. I’m shocked Despres got a playoff game at all. Bylsma has no faith, not yet.
*Robert Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo is no faster than Engelland, but he has size (6-4, 215), reach and is just as willing to fight as Engelland. Bortuzzo hasn’t yet suited up during the postseason but – after Games 2 and 3 – better the devil you don’t know.
*Dylan Reese. The longest of longshots. Reese has spent nearly the entire season with the Penguins’ minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. But Reese is a strong skater, and he played parts of three seasons (2009-12) with the Islanders. Familiarity doesn’t hurt.
Who is your choice? Vote, please, in the poll at left. (Reese isn't included because he just isn't a legitimate possibility.)
Bylsma needs to give whoever he selects a regular shift. Despres played just 6:12 in Game 3. The result was overwork for Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Mark Eaton, and lesser performance by all three. It’s better to be able to use all six defensemen.
Photos courtesy of GettyImages.