Some pre-game tidbits as the Penguins look to close out the series tonight….
— Despite still being in the drivers seat, up 3-2 in the series, I believe the pressure is on the Penguins tonight. Sounds odd considering the Lightning are the one’s in a must-win situation but the Penguins don’t want to come back to Pittsburgh for Game 7.
— One thing the Penguins are great at is putting a previous game behind him. That’s the mindset surrounding the team after Saturday’s 8-2 loss on home ice. The players moving on from Saturday’s loss doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily see a “W” tonight but don’t look for a carry over in their lackluster play from Saturday .
— The Penguins and head coach Dan Bylsma were very tight lipped today on any lineup changes today. If there is a change, it’s expected it will be at the forward position with Eric Tangradi coming into the lineup.
At this point Bylsma and his staff know whose playing as the players do and my gut feeling is we won’t see any changes.
In matchup situations against the Lightning’s top-6, the Dupuis – Talbot – Conner line is the No. 2 line in 5-on-5 situations. In 5-on-5 situations, the Penguins don’t yet trust Tangradi defensively as evident by his limited playing time late in Game 4. We’ll see in about 90 minutes but that’s my feel on the situation.
Another question surrounding Tangradi getting into the lineup is whether the coaching staff is willing to open a power play spot for him. Tangradi’s ability on the power play would be the main reason we would see him tonight.
Tangradi is the Penguins best net-front player but would Bylsma actually take Jordan Staal out of that role? That’s hard to see, despite Staal being very poor at it.
A mystery in league circles is why the coaching staff continues to throw Jordan Staal out there as the net-front player on the top unit.
One evaluator I spoke with believes it’s nothing more than the Penguins “just throwing Staal a bone” and that the Penguins coaching staff has to see what the rest of us do and that he doesn’t belong in that role.
“He looks like a scared puppy dog, ” an NHL scout told me with a laugh on his analysis of Staal as a net-front player on the power play. The scout told me Staal lacks the instincts and courage to be a force in that spot, pointing out that a player has to have the “drive” to be effective in that kind of role.
Maybe that’s just not part of Staal’s game and based on his career thus far, it’s not. However, the consensus from some of the best hockey minds I know is that the Penguins need to quit trying to make Staal feel good and just let him do what does well.
— The Lightning’s ability to crash the net effectively should not be seen as a surprise. As good as Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek are, Brooks Orpik is the only defensemen among the top-6 who can punish players in front.
Deryk Engelland could help combat that but based on yesterday’s practice, there has been no indication that Engelland is getting in tonight. He has not appeared in a game in 15 days.