Off-day: Penguins/Capitals News & Notes
The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost 3 of 4 games and are 2-3-2 in the midst of a 7 game stretch that included 6 of 7 games on the road.
On heels of a 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Monday night, head coach Dan Bylsma gave his team a day off today as the Penguins have a pivotal matchup against the Eastern Conference leading Washington Capitals Wednesday night in Washington.
There are a few concerns for the Penguins heading into the stretch run as the team has struggled defensively and have only scored 3 or more goals in 2 of 11 games since the Olympic break.
The acquisition of Alexei Ponikarovsky on March 2nd gave the Penguins depth throughout the lineup and a strong group of 13 forwards that would push each other in and out of the lineup. Dan Bylsma has stated on many occasions that it’s a good problem to have but is it?.
Over the course of the past 7-to-8 games, Pittsburgh has lacked continuity upfront and some players like a Bill Guerin have been playing out of their role.
Part of the reason is that Evgeni Malkin has missed 3 of 4 games with a foot injury but the coaching staff is still looking for the right mix. Upfront it is believed there are three pairings of two that the coaching staff will stick with.
1. Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby; 2. Alexei Ponikarovsky – Evgeni Malkin; 3. Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal.
Finding the right fits has been somewhat of a work in progress. Of late, head coach Dan Bylsma has prefered to use Pascal Dupuis on the top line due to Dupuis’ speed on the wing and his fore-checking ability.
That has put Bill Guerin out of his comfort zone and off the top line. In the past couple games, Guerin has seen significant time with Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke. However, he is not a fit in a third line checking role.
Guerin is only an asset on the top two lines.
When healthy Dan Bylsma has shown a reluctance to split up the unit of Ponikarovsky – Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko.
The line did play well together Saturday afternoon against Carolina and will likely stay together for the stretch run, at least that’s the vibe coming from team sources.
However, could Bill Guerin be a better fit than Fedotenko on Malkin’s right wing?
With Bylsma leaning towards Dupuis on the top line, one option could be giving Bill Guerin a strong look with Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ponikarovsky. But, the issue for the coaching staff is that Fedotenko would then be without a position. He is not responsible defensively enough to be a fit on the third line.
With the staff showing little reluctance to explore other options on Malkin’s right wing, Pittsburgh’s best option is to go with a top line of Kunitz-Crosby-Guerin and a third line of Cooke-Staal-Dupuis.
Therefore, Tyler Kennedy would stay on the 4th line with Michael Rupp and Craig Adams to provide energy and more of a cycling ability to that line.
For the time being, Maxime Talbot remains the odd-man out but finding continuity is a must for the Penguins.
The Washington Capitals head into Wednesday’s pivotal matchup with a 16 point lead in the standings on Pittsburgh and will look to improve to 3-0 against Pittsburgh this season.
Wednesday night will be the first matchup between the Penguins and Capitals since both teams made their trade deadline additions.
For the Capitals, Scott Walker who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes will not play tomorrow night. Walker did not practice today and remains bothered by a knee injury.
Newly acquired center Eric Belanger will center Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr on the third line. Belanger is a strong two-way player who should help upgrade the Capitals penalty kill unit in the long run.
The Capitals addition of Joe Corvo surprisingly drew praise of evaluators around the league and Corvo has played top-4 minutes in Washington.
He has been paired extensively with Tom Poti.
Question marks at the goaltending position has surrounded the Capitals all season but goaltender Jose Theodore is beginning to establish himself as the teams No. 1.
Theodore has won his past 5 starts and is 26-7-6 this season with a 2.75 goals-against average. Head coach Bruce Boudreau hinted to the Washington media on Monday that Theodore will be the Capitals No. 1 when the playoffs begin.
“He’s certainly making a good case for himself,” Boudreau said. There has been a belief all season that the Capitals would go with Semyon Varlamov in the post-season.