The Pittsburgh Penguins have not faced a defenseman in the caliber of Victor Hedman since Zdeno Chara in the 2013 Conference Finals. A physically imposing force, Hedman can dominate a game in near identical fashion that Chara could during his heyday.
In Game 1, Hedman had a spectacular game with the Lightning dominating possession when Hedman was on the ice. In over 20 minutes of ice 5 v 5, Hedman had a CF% of 68, on the ice for 25 shot attempts and just 12 against.
Following the Penguins’ 3-1 loss in Game 1, much of the microscope is back on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Crosby has no goals in his last eight playoff games, while Evgeni Malkin has no points in his last five games. Per War-on-Ice, Crosby played over seven minutes against Hedman at even strength, and the Lightning dominated play with Crosby on the ice for just 4 shot attempts, 10 against vs Hedman.
Same story for Nick Bonino as the Lightning focused on getting Hedman against the Crosby and Bonino lines, letting others tackle the Malkin line. The Bonino line also had poor possession numbers against Hedman, a 27 CF% in over six minutes at even strength. The Lightning controlled 71% (20/8) of their shot attempts when Hedman was out against either Crosby or Bonino.
The way the Penguins lines are set up, they are extremely reliant on the Bonino line to produce at the rate they did in rounds 1 and 2.
The 5 v 5 numbers are concerning for Malkin and Crosby.
Crosby has just 4 even strength points in 12 playoff games, hasn’t scored a 5 v 5 goal since Game 1 vs the Rangers.
Crosby is 23rd in the playoffs in points per game (0.92), Malkin 36th at 0.82.
Former NHL GM Craig Button was on Rob Rossi’s Radio show (937 The Fan) this morning and Button was spot on with this quote — “Fact of the matter, Crosby and Malkin are paid and viewed as offensive players.” —
What gets overlooked, though, with Malkin and Crosby, even maybe by the organization including this coaching staff is that neither is the player anymore that they were during the previous Stanley Cup runs in 2008 and 2009.
These two are just no longer the offensive forces they were during their early 20’s. Does it mean their current production is acceptable? No it’s not, but both need more help from their linemates than the past.
What the Penguins have to weigh is that if it’s another quiet night in Game 2 from both Crosby, Malkin, and the Penguins go down 0-2, the coaches will have to think long and hard about splitting up the HBK line or even finding ways of playing Malkin and Crosby together.
The Lightning don’t fear Conor Sheary and with Patric Hornqvist more of just a net-front type player and not someone who creates a ton of individual scoring chances, they can easily shadow Crosby.
For Malkin, Tampa Bay was smart to not even worry about playing Hedman against Malkin with his wingers being Chris Kunitz and Eric Fehr.
A switch we may see in Game 2 is Hornqvist playing with Malkin which would now give Crosby and the third worst set of wingers, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust.