Post-Game 5 Observations
-*Some of the media, mostly notably the national media called Dan Bylsma’s decision to scratch Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky “gutsy” prior to game 5. Bylsma pushed the right buttons in game 5 and may have finally found his most complete lineup.
Lines 1-4 had a good mix of speed and grit and most importantly the Penguins fourth line on Saturday night consisted of players who actually bring fourth line attributes to their game. The Penguins physical play in game 5 was the difference, out-hitting Montreal 35-23 in the game.
The Penguins fourth line of Michael Rupp, Craig Adams and Mark Letestu were effective from the standpoint that they played a fourth line type of game, which the Penguins lacked for the first four games of the series that can be blamed more on personnel decisions such as having the likes of Ruslan Fedotenko in the lineup as the fourth line right winger.
The Adams unit set the tone on a number of shifts as they were physical, had good puck possession in the offensive zone and were effective on the forecheck. All three players, especially Michael Rupp had strong games.
-* Bylsma’s coaching style in game 5 was aggressive. He relied heavily on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin early on. The star centers had five first period shifts together and three more in the second period. However, a concern from some has been the lack of even strength ice time for Malkin in the series compared to Crosby.
Malkin who only has three even strength points in the playoffs, had just 14:34 of ice time at even strength in game 3 and 15:39 in game 2. In comparison Sidney Crosby had 17:13 of ice time at even strength in game 3 and 17:39 in game 2. Those numbers have stayed somewhat consistent throughout. In game 5, Crosby had 16:41 of even strength ice time, while Malkin had 14:33 of ice time during 5-on-5 play.
-*Jordan Staal’s skating was much improved in game 5 and is feeling no ill effects to his injured foot, just a week after having emergency foot surgery. Bylsma reunited Staal with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy and the Penguins third line set the tone on the first shift of the game, controlling the puck in the offensive zone and getting the crowd into the game early.
Staal skated with authority and played a solid overall game, leading the Penguins in the face-off circle on the night (10-for-15, 66.7%).
-*It’s hard to find a member of the Penguins organization to criticize the play of Alex Goligoski or Jordan Leopold but the Goligoski – Leopold pairing was very vulnerable defensively in game 5 and had a poor first period.
Leopold’s play in the offensive zone has been frustrating as he passed up a number of shots from the point and was looking for a bank pass off the boards. Leopold has an accurate shot from the point and needs to use it more. He has just 2 shots on goal in the playoffs.
-* A major disappointment for the Canadiens in the series has been center Tomas Plekanec, the teams leading scorer in the regular season. Plekanec has just two assists in the series after scoring 4 goals and adding 3 assists in the Canadiens first round series against Washington.
-*The Penguins and Mike Rupp’s camp continue to be quiet on the specific reason Rupp was scratched for game 4. There continues to be word that he was a coaches decision and indeed a healthy scratch.
-* Sidney Crosby has now gone six games without a goal, the longest drought of his career in the playoffs. In speaking to reporters on Sunday, Crosby though doesn’t appear frustrated. He has not scored a goal in Montreal since the 2005-2006 season.
-*Sources inside the organization expect Alexei Ponikarovsky to get back in the lineup soon and believe we haven’t seen the last of him but there’s little chance Bylsma will alter his lineup in game 6. Pascal Dupuis had a strong game on the second line, making it even more difficult for Ponikarovsky to regain his second line spot.
-*Ruslan Fedotenko appears to have 9 lives but barring a couple of injuries, the chances of him getting back in the lineup are slim. A high ranking official told me that Fedotenko getting elevated to the second line in game 4 was his last opportunity to show something.