3 Key Factors for the Boston Bruins in Their Prime-Time Showdown with Pittsburgh

Al DanielCorrespondent IIJanuary 6, 2015

3 Key Factors for the Boston Bruins in Their Prime-Time Showdown with Pittsburgh

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    Physical energy, mental freshness and emotional incentive should all be in sufficient supply for the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins alike this Wednesday. Those factors alone will only make a difference if one team inexplicably fails to show up.

    The latter prospect is particularly unlikely in that both parties are coming off a disappointing weekend. The Bruins have lost three straight overtime/shoot decisions, most recently in Carolina on Sunday. The Pens endured a 4-1 repression via the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

    Both teams, though, will have had multiple days to recover and prepare for one another leading up to their encounter at the Consol Energy Center.

    In one other common thread, each side figures to employ a relatively new winger with the initials “DP.” An official team press release Tuesday morning confirmed that David Pastrnak is rejoining the Bruins after finishing the World Junior Championship.

    Meanwhile, eighth-year NHL veteran David Perron is raring to put in his second appearance for Pittsburgh, which acquired him from Edmonton last week.

    From a Bruins standpoint, both of those additives can and should influence the dynamic of Wednesday’s game plan. Even if the former is not a direct factor, stifling the opposing newbie will be one of Boston’s musts.

    With those pieces in place, and with each team itching to rinse out their vinegar, here are the Bruins’ three keys to winning Wednesday night’s race to redress.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.

Pastrnak Perk-Up

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    Given that he is still 18 years of age and a listed 167 pounds, Pastrnak would be better served in Providence at this time. By bringing him back to the parent club on the heels of the WJC, the Bruins are implicitly looking for an intangible, team-wide effect.

    To a degree, the move and the motive make sense. They have not had much luck in the way of external transactions. But given their results from within the last week, any shakeup they can make for themselves is better than nothing.

    Incidentally, Boston’s last win, a thorough, 5-2 defeat of Detroit on Dec. 29, came on the heels of losing Matt Fraser to waivers.

    Did that last transaction instill a timely motivational boost to the Boston dressing room? One can only speculate, but it is hard to dismiss that notion considering the circumstances and the results.

    Now the Bruins brass has made another shuffle to the lineup amidst a three-game winless hex. Assuming Pastrnak dresses Wednesday, the onus will be less on him to make an instant impact than it will be on his elder teammates to respond.

    As Nicholas Goss wrote on NESN.com Tuesday, in reference to Pastrnak, “The most likely spot for him in his latest stint with the Bruins is right wing on the top line alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic.”

    If that is the case, the two veteran strikers will warrant extra scrutiny. That will hold especially true for Lucic, whom head coach Claude Julien recently called out to the media.

    For reasons related, in part, to the other keys to Wednesday’s matchup, Boston will need to maximize all of Lucic’s strengths. Rotating in a new fellow winger, especially one as fresh and eager as Pastrnak, is one way to nudge him forward.

Negating Crosby’s Guards

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    It is safe to assume the aforementioned Perron will work with Sidney Crosby and Steve Downie again after tallying Pittsburgh’s lone goal Saturday. This means the Bruins will face a multifaceted challenge in the game’s top specimen of skill and two sandwiching models of grit.

    In a Monday practice report, Michelle Crechiolo of the Penguins website summed up Perron’s contribution by describing him as “a physical, skilled goal scorer with incredible hands who should be a fantastic complement to Crosby.” Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Downie has no shortage of veteran sandpaper to deliver almost anywhere between the boards.

    Based on Boston’s Tuesday practice pairs, as the team’s Twitter feed reported, Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton will likely be the go-to tandem against the Crosby line. But with home ice at his disposal, Penguins coach Mike Johnston may thwart that plan by using the last-change privilege.

    Naturally, the Adam McQuaid-Dennis Seidenberg combination would be the next best option. Given their more specialized propensities for physicality, one could even argue they are a better choice to curtail Crosby’s wingers. Although, while not as experienced, Hamilton may have an advantage in his quicker feet.

    Both units should be ready to take on their share of shifts against the host’s top troika. As long as the Bruins blue line flexes its brawn in shadowing Downie and Perron, Crosby will have less space and fewer options for creativity.

    Regardless, on any given shift, two-way connoisseur Patrice Bergeron (or any other Boston center) will have more than enough to deal with. Between faceoffs and their own shadowing duties, Crosby’s pivot counterparts should be bent on winning the possession game.

Traffic Command (aka the Montreal Model)

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    The Canadiens slapped the Penguins with their fourth regulation loss in six games, but only their 10th all season, this past Saturday. They ran up the 4-1 difference by variously creating congestion in their own zone and filling seams on Pittsburgh property.

    Per NHL.com correspondent Wes Crosby, Pens coach Mike Johnston acknowledged, “I thought they stood us up at the line. We didn’t get pucks in behind them. We couldn’t make plays through traffic or make the quick play in the neutral zone to get around people. We didn't get a lot of support.”

    Of the setbacks on his end, Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury told Crosby, “Two times they go to the net. ... The last goal, I couldn’t see much of, and I think that’s how they play. They shoot pucks and guys get some traffic and it worked out all right for them.”

    Those insights are a friendly reminder that the Habs did not prevail on Saturday, let alone sculpt an Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference lead by happenstance.

    Granted, they do not have the same speed or firepower as Montreal. But the Bruins would be wise to emulate their time-honored rivals in delivering the same frustrations to the equally formidable Penguins.

    Between crashing the cage and establishing gridlock, the aforementioned Lucic should be a logical factor. Ditto for hulking third-line center Carl Soderberg.

    Behind them, the defense’s task of matching Pittsburgh’s force intertwines with the zone-to-zone traffic task. With Evgeni Malkin likely centering the second line and Chris Kunitz working with the third, the Pens are spreading their offensive wealth.

    The Bruins first need to establish mutual confidence with goaltender Tuukka Rask by salting their ice for those Penguins droves. Support on the scoreboard must come second by way of dictating the rhythm and getting the most out of their grinders.