By Mark Madden
I pride myself in being able to work up a good, unhealthy pessimism regarding any situation. But that’s tough to do when it comes to the Pens-Sens playoff series. Ottawa lost too much secondary scoring when Alex Kovalev got hurt, and they’re playing the wrong goalie. Brian Elliott had a better year, but Pascal Leclaire is better. The Senators acquired him to be their No. 1, but lost faith too quick. Imagine the Penguins sticking with Ty Conklin in the 2008 playoffs.
So, Penguins in 7. I would say 6, even 5, but this team seems determined to do things the hard way.
Evgeni Malkin is the story. If Ottawa’s shutdown defense pair of Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips controls Sidney Crosby, Malkin will have to shoulder a bigger burden. He’s certainly capable, but the Senators are a frustrating team to play against, and Malkin has proven he’s easily frustrated with a plethora of dumb penalties, including several down the stretch that were insane. Witness negating a power play in Atlanta by cross-checking Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg.
Not only that, but if Malkin keeps carrying his stick and elbows high, somebody’s going to straighten him out, and it might not be Henrik Zetterberg this time around.
Malkin needs discipline. The coaching staff needs to provide it.
Crosby doesn’t need discipline from the coaching staff. He provides his own. He’s self-employed and self-educated. Crosby knows what to do and he does it. He thinks the game at a level that, frankly, is likely beyond that of his coaches.
This season, Crosby improved his goal-scoring, face-offs and shootouts. Which did the coaches impact? None.
The coaches certainly don’t need to teach Malkin how to play hockey. But there needs to be accountability when he takes dumb penalties. There must not be, because Malkin keeps doing it.
The Penguins were shorthanded 22 times over the course of their last three games. That had better not happen against the Senators or, God forbid, later this spring against Washington.
As noted, Ottawa will match Volchenkov and Phillips against Crosby. That’s the strategy. OK, so strategize against them. Get the puck behind them. Make Volchenkov the hunted, not just the hunter. Hit Volchenkov as much as he hits you, and he won’t have much left for Games 6 and 7.
Dan Bylsma is an excellent coach in a 7-game series. He knows about collateral damage. How hits, forechecking and skating add up. How the cumulative effect can help a team dig its way out of a hole, if necessary. The Penguins played very well at match point last spring, and that was a positive reflection on Bylsma.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).