NHL Playoffs 2011: 3 Changes Needed for Pittsburgh Penguins to Win Game 7
With the exception of Game 4, when Chris Kunitz was suspended for elbowing Simon Gagne, the Penguins have played with the exact same lineup every game.
This lineup has gotten stale at this point, though, and I believe that there are three changes that need to be made for the Penguins to advance to the next round.
1. Eric Tangradi Replaces Chris Conner
No one feels worse for Chris Conner than I do about losing control of the puck on a penalty shot in Game 6.
But this isn't Little League baseball, where we are supposed to console every person who makes a mistake; this is Game 7 of the NHL playoffs.
Coach Dan Bylsma made a great gesture pulling Conner aside to let him know that everyone makes mistakes, but he also only played Conner 9:41 (third-fewest on the team).
Eric Tangradi provides the big-body presence the Penguins need to succeed, and it is no coincidence that the Penguins' only power-play goal (more to come on this topic) came in Game 4 with Tangradi in the lineup.
You don't want to bury the confidence of Conner, but in a do-or-die situation, I believe that Bylsma needs to play the more physical Tangradi, solely for his net-front presence.
2. Deryk Engelland Replaces Matt Niskanen
This could just as easily be Ben Lovejoy, but I chose Niskanen based on his minus-two rating and the fact that Lovejoy went up through the ranks with Bylsma as his AHL coach with Wilkes-Barre.
The pairing of Niskanen and Lovejoy has been brutal, as it seems like one or the other is grossly out of position on every backbreaking goal.
Clearly Bylsma feels the pairing is a liability, as Lovejoy only played 9:41 last night and Niskanen played 12:20 (Kris Letang, on the other hand, played 27:50).
When the Penguins were in the midst of their long winning streak this season, it was the rugged style of play that powered them through offensive difficulties. Deryk Engelland is the prototypical bruising defenseman that could be perfect for this situation.
Don't get me wrong—Engelland isn't going to add any offensive firepower, but he is a strong fundamental defenseman that will make opposing forwards pay.
At least we wouldn't have to worry about him bunching in the corner behind the goal line like we have seen from nearly the entire Penguins defensive unit.
3. Please, Please Shake Up the Power Play
One for 30. ONE FOR 30!
I think that if I went out there with four of my friends that played college hockey, we could score one out of 30 times (and I'm only half kidding).
One thing is for certain: Kris Letang needs to spend every waking moment in the offseason practicing carrying the puck in to set up the power play. Penguins fans took for granted the great years of having Sergei Gonchar quarterback the power play, and now we realize how difficult a job it is.
Please, Coach Bylsma, I'm pleading with you: Shake up the power play configuration. It clearly is not working.
Byslma attempted to shake it up a little on the final power play by placing Mike Rupp on the first unit, which is a step in the right direction.
Think to yourself for a second.
What forward combination has played the best this playoff season?
The correct answer is Rupp, Arron Asham and Craig Adams.
Who played the fewest minutes last night?
Arron Asham (8:57).
Who leads the Penguins in goals?
Doesn't make sense, does it?
I'm not saying put the fourth line out as the top power-play unit, but why not cycle in Asham and Rupp on the PP (Adams already spends the bulk of his time on the PK)?
It certainly couldn't be any worse than the current 1-for-30 streak the Penguins are converting at.
Conclusions for Game 7
Listen, it is apparent that the Penguins cannot score in droves as they used to with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
But for the love of God, can we all get through our heads that Crosby will not be making a miraculous comeback to save the day in Game 7?
Crosby has to be seriously hurt to miss this much time with a concussion.
Consider this: We are five days away from it being four months since Crosby sustained his initial hit from David Steckel that is believed to cause his concussion.
If you place this in football terms, that is the equivalent of a quarterback sustaining a concussion in Week 1 and missing the entire regular season.
Crosby is taking every precautionary measure, and rightfully so.
As a Penguins fan, would I love to see him come back for the game? Absolutely.
But the fact of the matter is, do we want to see him go the way of Eric Lindros or more recently Marc Savard? No.
Therefore, the Penguins need to play strong defensive hockey within their limitations.
Marc-Andre Fleury has to be outstanding in net, and the defensemen need to stick to their assignments and not try to be offensive heroes.
If the Pens stick to fundamentals, I believe it will be on to the second round.
Follow me on Twitter @BFlow82 and Let's Go Pens!