Kukla's Korner

Another Take on Penguins/Lightning: Five Questions for Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com

Leading up to tonight’s Stanley Cup playoff quarterfinal opener between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, you’ll probably be gearing up by gathering every piece of information out there about both teams, previews, predictions, news and opinion alike. While I put out my series breakdown yesterday (and probably fell out of favor with some of the locals, as I picked the Penguins to win a true “pick ‘em” series in six games, while recognizing how very possible it is that the series could fall the other way in the Lightning’s favor) and also shared my brief thoughts on the other quarterfinal matchups, that was just me.

And, that’s just not enough.

Instead of relying on my take alone, I’ll be taking advantage of the Tampa/Pittsburgh matchup to do some long-awaited collaboration with a pal and former colleague who does a fine job in covering the Penguins at FromThePoint.com, Mr. Brian Metzer.

Metz has covered the Pens admirably for years at a number of different outlets and his word, on their end, is gold in my book. With that in mind, I thought I’d toss a few burning questions his way, to get his take on the series before it gets underway. He’s returned fire, and I’ve answered a few of his inquiries as well, which he’ll be running over on his site later this morning. (For now, Brian’s posted Ten “Must Sees” for the series…)

We’ll be staying in touch throughout the series and picking each other’s brains with every twist and turn therein, all to be shared right here (and there) for your reading enjoyment. (Make sure you’re following Metz on Twitter as well for further updates on his end.)

And, hurt feelings aside, I’m sure we’ll take a look back at this potentially-epic matchup once all is said and done.

Finally, each of us will be popping in at NHL Home Ice (Sirius 208/XM 204) periodically during the series and we’ll do our best to keep you posted on times for our guest spots. I do know that Metz will be on with Jim “Boomer” Gordon sometime this afternoon, for starters.

To kick things off, here are my five questions for Metz and his insightful responses thereafter. I’ll be posting a link to my retort on his site as soon as possible.

***

JJ: First and foremost: Word out of Penguins’ camp has been that Sidney Crosby’s status is still unknown. So, the only way to phrase the question on everyone’s mind is this: Under what circumstance(s) will we see Crosby against the Tampa Bay Lightning in this year’s Eastern Conference Quarters?

BM: I will be the first to tell you that Sidney Crosby wants to be out there right now. Unfortunately, he is still not medically cleared to take contact and that clearance isn’t slated to come any time soon. I do not believe that the Penguins will let what is happening on the ice dictate how they handle Crosby’s recovery. They have been very patient to this point and I doubt that they would risk his long-term health even if they found themselves down 3 games to none in their opening round series. That isn’t to say that we will not see Crosby during the playoffs. He has been practicing for close to a month, first alone and then with his teammates. He looks to have gotten his hockey legs and conditioning back as evidenced by his workouts and if doctors eventually feel that he is clear for FULL hockey related activities, he will be out there.

As I said above, this isn’t going to be a decision that is driven by what is happening on the ice. If and when medical clearance comes, we will see the Penguins’ captain. If the Birds happen to be eliminated before his is fully cleared, then we won’t see 87 until the fall.

On a sidebar, Crosby has looked pretty amazing on the ice. Especially when you take into consideration that he hadn’t skated in close to three months. He is zipping around the rink, curling out of the corners, cutting to the goal and roofing backhands short side that pop the water bottle. If my non-medical view of the situation means anything, he is much closer than anyone is letting on.

JJ: If Sid doesn’t play, what single characteristic about this Pens team, as it is right now without he and Geno Malkin, makes them good enough to best Tampa Bay in a seven-game series?

BM: Losing Crosby and Malkin was a significant blow to this team, however the group of players that they left behind made it their mission to continue on the same path that they were on with their two stars. They have been fully committed to Dan Bylsma’s system and have put a renewed emphasis on team defense. That team defense combined with the work ethic that has been a part of this team for two seasons had them winning a lot more games than they probably should have.

The acquisitions of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek have helped Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins trim almost a half a goal per game off of their average from a year ago. That statistic becomes even more important when you consider the fact that the Penguins as a team have scored .3 goals per game less than a year ago.

The newfound emphasis on defense helped the team to the fourth-best record in the National Hockey League and the second-best season in franchise history. That team defense combined with the Penguins stellar penalty killing will help them knock off the Lightning without their superstars.

JJ: Forget Sid for a minute… And Geno too… There’s another guy out of Pittsburgh’s lineup right now that we know won’t be suiting up at all against Tampa and that is public enemy number one, Matt Cooke. Is there honestly anything about this guy, when he’s in the lineup, that makes the Pens better and will he be missed in this series?

BM: I know, I know… public enemy number one: Matt Cooke. Believe it or not, the guy is a pretty good hockey player when he isn’t busy being a nudnik! [n. Slang. An obtuse, boring, or bothersome person; a pest. compliments of Dictionary.com for those who don’t know the term.] Cooke is one of the best penalty killers on the Penguins roster and will definitely be missed if that dynamic Lightning power play gets rolling in this series. It is just disappointing that he continues to do things that put him in hot water. It is almost as if he cannot help himself, which is why he was punished with such a long suspension this time around.

When he is in the line-up and playing the hockey that we get to see 60 nights a year out of him, he is a consistent 30-point scorer. He has averaged roughly 14 goals a season as a Penguin and was having his best penalty-killing season prior to his suspension, managing 6-shorthanded points in 67 games. Impressive for some stars in the league let alone a “role player.” Cooke also managed to score 2 game-winners for the Birds on the campaign.

Cooke, though saddled with baggage, is a very valuable member of this team, however that baggage has certainly gotten management contemplating his worth. Will he be here for the long haul? I am not sure, though I do think that he will be missed at times during this series.

JJ: Tampa’s power play finished sixth in the league overall but struggled mightily at times, whereas Pittsburgh’s penalty killers were the best around, statistically. Will the stats mean anything when push comes to shove and can the Penguin PKers stymie Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier and the rest of the formidable Bolts offensive attack?

BM: Well, this is certainly the million-dollar question when it comes to this series. I feel that special teams will go down as the most important aspect of this match-up with the team that masters that area likely advancing.

The Lightning’s power play will have its hands full with the Penguins penalty killers and vice versa. In looking at it prior to a single game being played, I think it is safe to say that each side will likely have its moments of triumph. However, I don’t think that the most important aspect of this special teams battle is going to be the Penguins’ PK versus the Lightning’s PP, so much as the other way around.

The Penguins power play was struggling to score goals when it was icing the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and it has been downright atrocious since the two-headed monster has been out of the line-up. The Penguins might be able to contain Stamkos and company for segments of this series, but if their PP unit cannot find the back of the net they could be in for a long series.

JJ: Dan Bylsma deserves all the credit in the world for steering Pittsburgh’s ship straight despite a rash of injuries to superstars and key role players at several different times this season. Is there any substance to the school of thought that the grind that the regular season turned out to be, just to ensure that they ended up where they did, even without so many key contributors, might actually work against them now that the postseason is upon us? Or is it possible that the obstacles the Penguins have had to overcome have made them an even better team moving forward?

BM: In the Penguins’ case, they seem to use adversities like the ones they encountered this season as fuel. Where many teams might have bowed their heads, tucked their tails and wilted, they rose up and posted the second-best record in franchise history. Guys like Mike Rupp took it upon himself to ensure that the team would not fail in keeping pace with the league leaders in the Eastern Conference.

“Honestly, there was a bit of a chip on our shoulders back when our big guys got hurt,” Rupp told DeJean Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “The hockey media across North America questioned us. When you read or hear that we’re ‘hanging on’ until those guys come back, you take that personally. I mean, we’re obviously a better team with Sidney and Evgeni in the lineup. But we’re also a good team without those guys.”

“I deserve to be here. I deserve to be in the NHL. So does every guy on this team. We’ve done our work. This was our opportunity to show that we’re still the Pittsburgh Penguins. I didn’t want to wait for help. I wanted to get it done.”

That attitude had them in contention for not only their division title, but also the Eastern crown with four days left in the season.

It really seems as if this season has galvanized this group, brought them closer together and put them on another level as a team. What I mean by that is that they are now a group that is greater than the sum of its parts. Any one of these players wouldn’t be near as effective on another team as he is with this group. The chemistry has formed, the bond is there and be it this year or next, they seem primed to do something special.

Considering what they have gone through this year, their special moments my not include a Stanley Cup, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them make a run at it.

***

Again, folks, stay tuned for ongoing collaborative efforts between Brian and myself throughout this series. And be sure you’re following both he - @Brian_Metzer and I - @JonJordan on Twitter as well.

More to come…

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

Filed in: Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Comments

Evilpens's avatar

Metz hits the Bigtime

Posted by Evilpens on 04/13/11 at 11:38 AM ET

Russian Rocket's avatar

Good stuff here guys.  This series is so interesting and could go either way.  I feel like St. Louis always plays well against PIT while Stamkos hasn’t quite brought it against the Pens in his career.  The Pens seem to always crash the net hard against Roloson, even when he was with NYI.  I hope it won’t be too chippy in a dirty sense but I have a feeling it will be a more physical series than people are expecting.

Posted by Russian Rocket on 04/13/11 at 11:50 AM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Metz is a great dude and an excellent hockey mind. He and I should have some fun over the next several (seven?) games and, hopefully, you folks will too.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 04/13/11 at 12:12 PM ET

Avatar

I have a feeling it will be a more physical series than people are expecting.

It has to be for the penguins to have a chance.  The pens have to exploit downie.  He is the type of player who will take a stupid penalty if you get under his skin.  The also need to lay the hits on their D, and “invest” into the hard hitting early and often in the series.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 04/13/11 at 12:25 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

gretzy to lemieux: Thing with Downie is, Boucher’s on him like flies on shite right now about just that. If he slips up once, Coach won’t be afraid to staple him to the pine and he knows it.

Another interesting storyline in the series!

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 04/13/11 at 12:37 PM ET

brianmetzer's avatar

Hey Gang…

I am definitely fired up to work with JJ during this series. It has been a long time coming… wild to think that we have now known each other for 5-plus years and haven’t had an opportunity to put something like this together until now. It should be a blast for us and hopefully for everyone reading as well!

Thanks for the kind words JJ… as I tell everyone, JJ is the one of, if not THE finest Lightning blogger out there. He is well connected, brings a great point of view and his is the only word you need on the team!

Look for JJ’s Q’s over at http://www.fromthepoint.com very soon.

Brian

Posted by brianmetzer on 04/13/11 at 12:38 PM ET

Avatar

Boucher wouldn’t be the first coach to glue Downey to the bench for that.


The also need to lay the hits on their D, and “invest” into the hard hitting early and often in the series.

That’s the thing. Even if Tampa pulls off the upset, half the D are going to be icing their shoulders and backs from being forechecked to death. It’s like playing the Ducks—even if you win, you lose. With Tampa’s neutral zone formation, it just gets worse because there’s no second D to set a pick on the forecheckers on the dump-ins.

Posted by steviesteve on 04/13/11 at 02:07 PM ET

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.