Go Go Black and Gold: DefensemenPosted: 28/05/2013
A couple of notes: Sid has been cleared to practice without his jaw protector. I’m sure he wants to get rid of it as soon as he can, but at the same time I don’t think a lot of home fans would be too mad to see him wear it at least to the end of this series.
It seems likely, with both Western Conference series going to Game 7’s, that this series will kick off on Thursday evening, after the other series have concluded. No source on that, just taking a guess.
This series will come down to defense. The Bruins are perhaps the most systematic team in the whole playoffs. On both offense and defense they follow carefully constructed game plans that require comprehensive team play. In a lot of ways, that isn’t that much different from the Senators. The big difference though is the level of talent that each team boasts.
The Penguins were able to disable the systematic forecheck of the Senators. They completely limited the high quality opportunities and although they managed a lot shots, they weren’t dangerous. The trick this time is that the Bruins are way more talented than the Senators. Unlike the Senators who couldn’t even manage one full line of proven scorers until Jason Spezza came back, and admittedly he wasn’t at the top of his game, the Bruins have three lines, let alone Jaromir Jagr, perhaps the greatest active NHL player left in the league, on their third line. And that’s not to say anything about their 4th line which I’m pretty sure has more goals than the Pens third and fourth lines combined so far this postseason. So basically, for the Pens it comes down to this: although the theory should be more or less unchanged from the Sens series, the execution will have to be at an even higher level, and even if the Pens’ D plays at a higher level, they are unlikely to get quite as good success against this far more talented Bruins team (compared to the Senators). The Pens will have to be strong on the puck and keep the likes of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and good ole Double-J from controlling the front of the net. In light of all of that news, I would expect the Penguins to continue to use the 6 guys they dressed in Games 3-5 in the Senators series: Martin-Orpik, Letang-Eaton, and Niskanen-Murray. Should an injury arise or ineffectiveness get the better of some player Simon Despres seems a good fit in this series. The Bruins have been making a killing this postseason with highly drafted rookie defensemen, it would only be right for the Pens to do the same.
Speaking of the Bruins’ young defensemen, through the first 4 games of the Rangers series the Bruins dressed three defensemen who still count as rookies in the NHL: Dougie Hamilton (a first round pick from the Phil Kessel trade), Torey Krug, and Pittsburgh’s own Matt Bartowski. Bartowski helped to save the Bruins’ bacon in the first round with his early goal in Game 7 and Krug chipped in 3 power play goals and 1 even-strength goal in 5 games in the ECSF. Hamilton was a lineup casualty when Dennis Seidenberg returned to the lineup and as it stands now the B’s will likely try to keep Seidenberg and Chara together with the young guys pairing up with Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid. And that seems like the most interesting matchup of this series. There’s no question that Seidenberg and Chara are among the best in the league as shutdown defensemen. There’s also no question that the Bruins can match Patrice Bergeron against whichever of the top two scoring lines doesn’t draw the Seidenberg-Chara matchup (and at this point who knows what will happen) but will there be enough of a defensive presence behind Bergeron and his linemates to effectively shut down the Penguins.
Bottom line: I don’t think it’s going to matter who the Bruins will try to match Chara against. Both of the Penguins top 2 lines have tormented the Bruins in recent seasons with him on the ice. If the Bruins are really smart though, they can at least try to temper the quick transition game that Sid and his linemates in particular have used throughout so much of the playoffs. In order to do that, Bergeron needs to be on the ice to try to regulate the neutral zone for the B’s. If the Penguins can play the same structured defense they played against Ottawa (although it won’t be as easy as it was against Ottawa) then this advantage falls to the Penguins. Unfortunately we haven’t always seen the best from the Penguins defense. Solely because of the task presented to each team we still give the advantage to the Pens, if only by the slimmest of margins.