The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading down to Tampa Bay for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night with a plan for how to deal with the deep defense of the Lightning.
Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan said to the question of being settled on line combinations, or bring satisfied with the way it was in last night’s game, “Well, we’d like to settle into some stability.
We’ll do that. We have a game plan to go into tonight. We’ll see how it goes, and we’ll make our decisions accordingly.”
Tampa’s suited seven defensemen in the first two games, and Sullivan said of what changes he has to make, “I don’t think it changes anything we do. Most –when teams go that route, a lot of times they might have a particular defenseman and might have a specialty like a power play guy, or they’re trying to free up an opportunity to use maybe some of their top guys in different line combinations. You know, just in a little bit of a heightened awareness of who’s going over the boards and who’s on the ice in certain situations, but it really doesn’t change what we do.”
Sullivan said of Tampa Bay having that ability change his line
combinations, “It’s not going to change. It’s not going to change our decision making by any stretch. I’ve said all along, the line combinations that we’ve had and that we’ll continue to use, we have a comfort level with our balance, that we have strengths on every line that can play both ends of the rink. We have a comfort level that our guys can play against anybody. Will we try to get certain matchups? Yes, we will, but as I said, we have a comfort level that our guys can play.”
Sullivan said of whether he has considered putting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line to start the game, or if he likes the idea of spreading those two guys out on the lines, “There really hasn’t been much we haven’t considered. We go through these discussions all the time. I think, by nature, the two of them like to play center. I think that’s where they’re at their best. But having said that, they can be dangerous when they’re together. So we try to put them in positions where they can be successful and play to their strengths, and then we make decisions situationally within games and whether or not we think it makes sense to put them together.”
Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen were on the line when the first goal came through in Game Two. Sullivan said of evaluating that game beyond the goal and what’s different there with Fehr on the line, “I thought the line was really good. I thought Eric Fehr might have had his best game in the postseason the last game. He brought a lot of energy. He was forcing turnovers. He was hard to play against. He was on the puck. He was strong on the boards. So I thought he had one of his strongest games in the postseason the last game, and, obviously, we really liked the line. Not only did they score for us but they’re hard to play against. I think they wear teams down. They’re very good in their end zone.
“When Cully and Fehrsy play in the same line together, they’re two that can take face-offs. There’s a lot to like about that line. I think the difference of whether we use Rusty or we use Fehrsy, Rusty brings maybe a speed element that Fehrsy doesn’t bring quite as much, but that’s probably the major difference.”
Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford retooled his team during the course of the season, including the acquistion of ex-Ranger Carl Hagelin from the Anaheim Ducks, and completely changing the third and fourth lines.
Sullivan said of Rutherford, “I think he’s done a terrific job as far as retooling the roster and giving the coaching staff the means to play the way we want to play. I think, when you look at the guys that Jim’s acquired over the last nine or ten months, they’re all guys that, I think, have allowed us to establish the identity that we have to this day. They can skate. They’re puck movers. They’re guys that like to play with the puck. They allow us to play that speed game that, I think, really suits the core players that are here. I think Jim’s done a real good job in identifying that and then trying to surround those guys with some role players that allow those guys to play that style of play. So I think that’s a big reason why we’re where we are today.”