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Friday, May 13, 2016

Penguins-Lightning Eastern Conference Roundtable Brought to You By @commaolivia and Friends

The Penguins are back in the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2013 and, like 2013, they're doing it without Marc-Andre Fleury. With so much to talk about, I enlisted the help of some of the sharpest, savviest Penguins writers to break down the biggest Penguins stories headed into their match-up with Tampa Bay.

Questions on Deck

1. What will be the 3 most important factors in this series?

2. Heading into the ECF, would you make any changes to the forward lines? If so, what changes would you make and, in your opinion, what could be gained from this change?

3. Considering Tampa and their particular skill set, which 6 defensemen would you play and why? 

4. The Penguins have made their two deepest playoff runs since 2009 without Fleury. Does that say more about Fleury or more about the position of goalie?

5. Series Picks: Who will win and how many games will it take?

Our Starting Roster

From around the Pens blogosphere
Jim (@PandaPSU / ThePensNation)
Andy (@thatandysmith / Garage League Podcast)
Lyle (@lylekossis / Garage League Podcast)
Jesse (@jmarshof / Pensblog)

From right here at Pens Initiative 
Olivia, editor (@commaolivia)
Brian (@BrianK_PI)
Paul (@evil_shero)
Medina (@Medina_Marie17)
William (@williamahirsch)
Nick Case (@Nick422)
Stacey (@SpinMeWrite)

Roundtable Discussion 

1. What will be the 3 most important factors in this series? 

Andy: The Penguins went 0-3 against Tampa Bay this season, despite largely outplaying the Lightning in each game. Tampa Bay scored at least four goals each time, some of which can be traced to goaltending, but I think also speaks to the depth of skill throughout the Lightning line-up. I think the Pens ability to contain the Triplets Line, or the Killorn/Filppula/Drouin trio with Letang off the ice will be telling. On the flip side, I think the Penguins need to capitalize when Victor Hedman is on the bench is vital.

Tampa Bay also is fairly uninspiring on special teams. They’ve notoriously struggled on the power play, ranking 28th in the league in Shots For/60 on the PP this year, and 28th in Goals For/60. They are also, as of now, missing their best  PP finisher. Their overall rank on the penalty kill is better, but they weren’t a great shot suppression team when down a man. The Pens exploiting this advantage would go a long way towards winning the series.

BethPenguins using their speed, scoring depth, and injuries.

Paul: 1) Changing nothing: The Penguins have found what works for them and they need to stick to it. The Lightning have a few guys who like to park in front of the net and agitate all game, the Penguins need to keep mentally focused and play the way they have been all spring.

2) Goalie(s): Whomever plays the Lightning series needs to be mentally tough, calm, and possess the ability to bring their game to elite level. Murray has already done this. MAF is capable of this. I have no clue what adjustment period someone needs to go from sitting on the bench to the inferno that is playoff hockey.

3) Stars: The Penguins defeated the “best team in hockey” with Crosby managing one point on the score sheet. It’s been proven that the Penguins can win a game or even steal a series without substantial contributions from the Top 3 players. You can only guess on how long that can remain true. So far it hasn’t been proven either way but can we win the Stanley Cup with Crosby and Malkin letting Bonino and Sheary doing to heavy lifting? 

Medina: Stars being/needing to be stars, speed vs. speed, goalies

Jim: 1) Depth: Can Tampa find an answer the Penguins depth? Are they going to be able to answer with their depth players? I think this is where the Penguins have an edge on the Lightning.

2) Goaltending: Which goalie blinks first this series? My hunch is that one of these two goaltenders, Matt Murray or Ben Bishop, is going to struggle a bit this series. Both of these lineups can find a way to make goaltenders look pedestrian at times. Who blinks first?

3) Stamkos/Stralman: Will Anton Stralman and/or Steven Stamkos return this series? If so, how effective and healthy will they be? Stralman has had a ton of success against the Pens this season, and Stamkos has historically done well against the Pens as well. The two combined for five goals and four assists in three games against the Pens this season. Their return could change the complexion of this series.

BrianDepth at the bottom of the lineup, who adapts to the strength-on-strength of both teams' speed better, and if Sullivan can match lines to shut down the triplets. If he uses Crosby’s line in a similar role as he did against Washington, and they neutralize Tampa’s top line, it could be a very short series, though that will be another tall order for them.

William: (1) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel producing as depth scoring will only take you so far. (2) Matt Murray vs. Ben Bishop and who can carry their team the most. (3) Whether or not Anton Stralman and Steven Stamkos play and are productive. They accounted for eight points on Tampa Bay's 15 goals scored against the Penguins when they went 3-0 against Pittsburgh in the regular season.

Jesse: 1) Pile on as many shot-attempts at Ben Bishop has humanly possible. Bigger goalies have a tendency to give the impression that nothing is available to to the shooter. Rick Tocchett had some great points about this during the week. Don’t think, just shoot. If you wait for a hole to open, you’re going to die of old age. Just put him to work and lay as much rubber on the net as you can. The more the Penguins do that, the more chance the puck goes in. 

2) Maintain home ice advantage: Mike Sullivan was masterful in his deployments against the Capitals. As a result, he was able to maximize his defensive matchups against the Caps forwards and he enabled the HBK line to run amok on the ice. With the Penguins starting this series at home, look for more of the same from the Penguins head coach. I think the Penguins depth can win this series. 

3) Neutral zone responsibility: The good news for the Penguins? They just played a Capitals team that make zone exits an absolute nightmare. The Lightning are not as adept in that department, but if you turn the puck over against them, they’ll make you pay for it. The Penguins need to make sure they’re staying responsible in their neutral zone trap, limit Tampa’s speed, and make the dump the puck into disadvantageous situations.

Hannah: Goaltending, speed, and scoring from the stars. A combination of Murray continuing his current level of play—and he’s given us no reason to believe he can’t sustain it—the Penguins focusing on continually pushing the pace rather than sitting back, and scoring from Crosby and Malkin’s lines will be their best bet to get past the Lightning.


1) Goaltending: Among goalies who have played 4,000 or more minutes the last three years, Bishop is 5th in all situation save percentage. If Murray starts to crack and Bishop holds serve, this could be a much shorter series than many of us expect.

2) Star Production: It’s great that players not named Crosby and Malkin are scoring more for the Penguins. But I don’t think we get through Tampa if Crosby and Malkin aren’t contributing.

3) Puck Possession: The pens haven’t had great possession numbers during the playoffs this year, and Tampa may very well be the strongest team they’ve faced thus far. If they can’t control possession for longer stretches of time, then they’ll need Murray to be even better than he was against the Caps.

Stacey: 1) The big names: We’re not getting through this series without some offensive power from Malkin and Crosby. That’s not to say that they’re not contributing. They set up more goals than they’re given credit for, Sid’s playing crazy defense, and just their presence on the ice frees up space for the others to make plays. But they need to start showing up on the score sheet. With the Lightning, it’s whether Stamkos and Stralman are back. 

2) Rattling Ben Bishop: We got through one Vezina nominee, time to get through another. That’s not going to happen if the Pens don’t get shots on net. Don’t give him time to regroup.

3) Composure: Keep it together. Don’t take dumb penalties. Keep playing that Sullivan brand of hockey.

Nick: 1) Tempo: Tampa is one of the few teams who can match the Penguins speed. They can’t afford many lapses or to sit back as much as they did against Washington. They can’t tire or wear down, they have to keep pressing.

2) Continued contribution from depth: Tampa can shut down Crosby. Or they can shut down Malkin.  It’s imperative that the other plays strong and HBK continues to produce.

3) Keeping cool: They’ve done a great job of letting things roll off of their backs to this point. No one is here to play nice. Keep their heads. They showed signs of reverting back to the old Penguins a few times against Washington, the ones that would lose it when provoked. Contain that.

2. Heading into the ECF, would you make any changes to the forward lines? If so, what changes would you make and, in your opinion, what could be gained from this change?

Paul (Nick Case’s #1 Fan): Literally change nothing. Same stick tape, same socks, same underwear, same breakfast in the morning everything should neurotically stay the same. What’s just baffling about this team in this playoff run is that if one line gets “shut-down” there are 3 other capable lines. When you have Phil Kessel leading your “3rd line” into game winning situations, your team is graciously deep.

Jesse: One of my favorite anecdotes from the post-season so far is when a reporter asked Mike Sullivan a question about the 2nd line. Sullivan’s response was “which line is the 2nd line?” I wouldn’t change anything. A lot of people talk about the Penguins “depth” - but it’s way more than that. It’s star power on every line. Phil Kessel isn’t a depth forward; he’s a top line talent playing on a pseudo top line. The challenge for the Lightning is to try and find a way to shut down the Crosby/Malkin combination without allowing the HBK line to run wild. The Capitals got the first part of the equation correct in limiting what Crosby and Malkin could do, but their ultimate undoing was the buffet-line they set up for the HBK line as a result.

Brian: I can’t see them making any changes at this point. Maybe a small swap of wingers somewhere in the lineup, but I think they’ve got to roll with what’s been working so far.

Beth: No, I would not. Don't fix what isn't broken.

William: I’m with Beth here, don’t fix what isn’t broken. These line combinations got you into the Eastern Conference Finals and past the Presidents Trophy winners in six games. That being said, the only thing I could see being a reason to switch up the combinations would be to get Crosby and Malkin going again. That could backfire though. No sense is risking it. They’ll get going on their own.

Medina: Until it starts to break down, don’t change a thing. Heck, the only thing I am personally changing is my nails because they are grown out too much.

Andy: I’m okay with beginning the series with the current lines. However, I think there’s a balancing act between spreading out your talent and going the depth route, while also giving your top-end players the linemates to maximize their potential. Specifically, I would like to see Sullivan use Crosby and Malkin together more frequently, even if it’s just picking spots to strategically do it at first. Despite suggestions to the contrary, it’s worked historically, and I thought the team got away from doing it too quickly after Game 2 against the Rangers.

Jim: I’m like Andy’s though here, at least initially. I think it’s important for Sullivan to start with the same lines this series. It’s worked for the Penguins so far, and they do have some great depth. That said, when a team is blessed with great depth, the team should not be married to these lines if things start to go south for the team. As good as the Hagelin/Bonino/Kessel has been for the Penguins, if Sullivan thinks Hagelin and Kessel could provide a scoring spark for Crosby, put them with him for a few shifts. The greatest thing about the team’s current construction is that many of the pieces can be plugged and played on multiple lines. Players like Rust, Cullen, Sheary, and Fehr have been all over the place this season and have been successful in each of those roles.

Hannah: Right now I say don’t change a thing. Crosby and Malkin’s lines being low-scoring against Washington doesn’t mean they’ll be low-scoring against Tampa. While I personally (and selfishly) would like to see Hagelin and Kessel with Crosby, I’m firmly Team Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken—at least, until it breaks. Start with the current lines and evaluate how they match up against Tampa’s lines and defensive pairings, and adjust if and when it’s necessary.

Lyle: I don’t want to break up the HBK line because they’ve done so well. That being said, I worry the team will struggle as the competition gets tougher if Malkin has some combination of Kunitz/Fehr/Rust as his linemates. I would consider going with Kunitz-Crosby-Sheary, HBK, and Fehr-Malkin-Hornqvist. I thought the Crosby-Hornqvist duo waned down the stretch against Washington, so switching up that line might spark Sid. .

Stacey: I’m definitely of the mindset to stick with what’s working. However, if Crosby and Malkin continue to be non-entities, I’d start playing around with their lines and trying different combos. I like what Lyle said about putting Hornqvist with Malkin. I think Horny’s style fits Malkin’s more than Crosby’s. I see potential in Fehr with Malkin, but sometimes I don’t know what Kunitz is doing out there. Again, I’d only shuffle things on those lines if the stars continue to slump. But it’s a new series with different style team, so who knows? I think we’re pretty much all in agreement that HBK stays. Obviously.

Nick Case: Everything seems to be working just fine, I don’t see any need to change.  You’d want better play from someone like a Kunitz, but aside from swapping him out for an injured young gun all is fine.  Sure Crosby and Malkin didn’t put up numbers in the Capitals series but looking at lines beyond that they played a fine, sound game.  They were shadowed well by the Caps defense and that’s why HBK thrived.  As much as some may joke about the Three Headed Monster this is precisely why it works.  Crosby and Malkin would be shut down in the past and no one would be able to step up and deliver.  Instead we have a third line that’s as good as our first and second and here they are.  Keep on keepin’ on.

3. Considering Tampa and their particular skill set, which 6 defensemen would you play and why?

Beth: I would go Dumo, Letang, Maatta, Cole, Daley, and Schultz. Schultz earned his time with Cole in my mind.

Lyle: I would play Letang, Dumoulin, Maatta, Daley, Schultz, and Pouliot. The first four are a lock for me. And during the playoffs this year, Cole and Lovejoy have the worst score-adjusted 5v5 CF% among Penguins defensemen. You can’t get worse than the 44% puck possession those two are putting up. No reason not to try Schultz and Pouliot, especially because I think they’re faster and more mobile than Cole/Lovejoy, and we’ll need those advantages against Tampa.

Jesse: A lot of people have expressed concern over Olli Maatta, but he hasn’t been quite as bad as a lot of people would lead you to believe. He’s still 2nd on the team to Kris Letang in limiting shot-attempts against at even-strength this post-season. That being said, I think it’s fair to say via the eye test that he’s definitely lost a step. While that hasn’t matriculated its way into the metrics yet, it doesn’t make me feel good given the speed and finesse that Tampa brings to the table. I’d stay put with what Mike Sullivan did to finish out the Capitals series, but the leash on Maatta would be a short one. If he doesn’t seem capable of handling Tampa’s speed, I’d immediately insert Justin Schultz into the lineup to provide the mobility necessary to handle Tampa’s forwards.

Andy: Jesse, piggybacking on your point about Maatta’s metrics, here’s what continues to interest me about him: throughout his career, he’s essentially been a chameleon, with stats almost completely dependent on whom he’s partnered with. It’s an interesting long-term trend to watch, and there are certainly explanations for it. Someone being able to hang with Matt Niskanen as Maatta did at 19 is impressive, and his injury history, and subsequent recovery time and lack of conditioning could explain why he hasn’t developed to the point he could lead top-four pairing. That’s a long of way of saying that I’d put Maatta with Letang, and let Brian Dumoulin head up the second pairing with Trevor Daley. Dumoulin has shown a better ability at this point in his career to carry someone with occasional defensive deficiencies like Daley. This is also the point where I say I wish the Penguins had been more committed to playing Derrick Pouliot down the stretch. His ceiling is by far the highest of any of the remaining options, his numbers at the NHL level in parts of two seasons didn’t warrant him rotting in the press box,  and he’d thrive in a series like this.

Jesse: Andy, those are great points. I maintain the Penguins kept Pouliot way too sheltered this year. While he might not have played the toughest minutes while he was in the lineup, he posted some unbelievable metrics given the assignments he had. His dCorsi numbers (evaluating results vs. expectation) were well above what I thought they’d be. That being said, Sullivan isn’t one to break up the band when things are going well, and fitting him in down the stretch might have been a little tougher given how well the six guys they had were playing at the time.

Hannah: Letang and Dumoulin looked great together. I liked Maatta with Daley on the second pairing, and I think “Maatta has gotten better as we’ve gone through the playoffs” isn’t just a narrative—like Jesse pointed out, there are some numbers to back up continuing to play him—but he would be one of my guys with a short leash, along with Lovejoy. To my eye he’s the least likely, in terms of skillset, to match up against Tampa’s forwards. I’d love to see Pouliot get some playing time. I know he’s made some mistakes, but those aren’t mistakes he’s going to fix in practice. To improve them he needs game-time, and his ceiling is high—I’m just not sure about throwing him in cold against Tampa. I like the offensive punch Schultz can add, and since he’s played more recently, despite my personal love of 51’s game, I’d probably go to him first if I pulled Lovejoy.

Brian: Top 4 are Letang-Maatta, Dumoulin-Daley, and I think that the conversation would come down to Ian Cole, Justin Schultz, and Derrick Pouliot. An argument could be made for any combination of the three, but given the chemistry Cole and Schultz had together that’s my 3rd pairing to start the series. Of course, it will be Ben Lovejoy, but Schultz really helped his case with a strong showing in Letang’s absence.

Paul (3rd Most Popular Paul Clemente on Google): I’d have to say where the d-men are most comfortable. A former defenseman myself, when your usual partner is sitting, hurt, or in the box it really throws off your game. Yes, they are on a level infinitely above where I was when I was a kid but it’s easy to feel disjoined for a shift without your regular paring.

58-3 - Maatta has had a tough post-season and it got more complicated after the Orpik hit. During the last game versus the Capitals, he seemed to have recovered. Mattaa is best when he can defer to Letang to swirl all over the place and command play from his end.

6-4 - Yeah, Justin Schultz! Paired with Daley, Schultz has really been undervalued this post-season. He needs to finally exorcise the Oilers stink off him and play some minutes.

12-28 - Lovey and Cole have been outstanding this post-season and should be recognized for it. Maybe a cool hat? Yeah, a cool hat.

Medina: Letang/Maatta (as long as Matta keeps his head together, if not put Daley in his spot), Dumo/Daley, Cole/Schultz. While Lovejoy is playing some of the best hockey of his career right now, he is still a turnover machine and at this stage, those mistakes need to be avoided as much as possible. Unless you want to roll with 7 defense and I have no bones about that either.

William: Lovejoy is certainly a good NHL defenseman but he’s going up against a tough group to compete with. Pouliot played in the last round against the Capitals and looked shaky at best. The Pens should keep Schultz in the lineup. Solid young defenseman who is gradually coming into his own. Cole, Maatta, Letang, Dumoulin, Daley, and Schultz should get the jersey’s for the Eastern Conference Finals. Mike Sullivan knows more than I do so I trust his moves.

Jim: The pairings I’d like to see are:


I think Letang and Dumoulin have done really well together. Daley and Schultz maximize your offensive potential, and Cole and Lovejoy can be insulated as a third pairing. I really like the balance Daley and Letang can bring to the first two pairings. They are able to cover up for a lot of mistakes with their speed. With all of this being said, I don’t see the coaching staff going away from Maatta, even though I think it is the smartest idea. He’s clearly not 100%, and with a team like the Lightning that has so much speed, they’ll be able to exploit Maatta being a step or two slower--much like the Caps did at the beginning of the last series.

Stacey: Dumoulin has really impressed me these playoffs. I like him and Letang playing together. Probably Daley and Maatta. As down as I was on Maatta, he has gotten better and I don’t feel the urge to rip him out of the game. Lovejoy has been solid but I’d go back to the Cole/Schultz pairing. They had chemistry from their first game together and the Lightning are a faster team than the physical Caps. I think Schultz’s speed and offensive instincts would be beneficial for this series.

Nick Case: Letang, Dumoulin, Daley, and Cole are must-keeps.  While I worry about Maatta’s speed (or lack thereof) against a fast Tampa team, I’d much rather see his offensive intangibles out there than Ben Lovejoy. Also, Justin Schultz needs more love. He’s played steady and strong hockey since his trade here. He deserves more time on ice.

4. The Penguins have made their two deepest playoff runs since 2009 without Fleury. Does that say more about Fleury or more about the position of goalie?

Brian: It’s impossible to deny that they had to bench Fleury in 2013 before making the ECF, although a couple of his best performances since 2009 were the past two years when they team couldn’t score around him. Maybe he’s playing as well as Matt Murray is currently if not for the concussion, but under Sullivan Fleury has a 0.916 SV% and 2.34 GAA in 34 starts - Murray has a 0.932 SV% and 2.02 GAA in 22 starts spanning the regular season and playoffs. I think both seasons though they’ve received playoff goaltending at a higher level than Fleury could provide, so I think it says more about Fleury.

Jim: It’s certainly a little bit of both. It’s clear Fleury would like to have a few of those playoff series back to prove himself, but the fact is he hasn’t been as good as he needed to be in the postseason. He’s had stronger regular seasons and has tailed off in the postseason. That being said, we’ve seen countless times that a hot goalie is the most important thing in the playoffs. Goalies can steal games and even series. Many times it doesn’t speak to how great they are over a career, but if they string together 15-20 strong games, it’s the only thing that matters.

Beth: I think it says more about the Penguins goalies. Penguins did a great job in seeing the future in Murray and it has paid off. There is no disrespect to Fleury. Both goalies are absurdly talented, Murray has the hot hand currently.

Lyle: I think it says a little bit about both. Because the playoffs are a small sample, nearly any goalie can get hot for a few weeks and lead his team down the stretch. Think Halak in 2010, Boucher in 2010, Roloson in 2011. These aren’t big name goalies, but they played great hockey during the most important games of the year. Conversely, look at well-paid goalies that haven’t had consistent playoff success--Lehtonen, Cam Ward, and Rinne are a few names that come to mind. The point is that goalies (sans 2-3 elite ones) are never worth the large salaries many of them make, especially because their position is at its most volatile during the playoffs. This applies to Fleury as much as anyone else; I’ve said for some time that he’s overpaid. Couple this with his playoff struggles and the ability of Murray and Vokoun to carry this team much farther, and I have tough time imagining why you want Fleury on the starting roster when it’s opening night in October.

Paul: Interesting question! I think we are very lucky to have this issue. If Murray can’t play we still have a 31-year-old,Stanley Cup winning, 93.2% 5 on 5  even strength save percentage having, stud of a goaltender. I think the pre and post Mike Bales Fleury are almost two different people. I’m unsure what exactly happens on the ice between the two, but I think we have seen a “different” MAF since the coaching change. 2013 MAF was certainly flappable, inconsistent, with only the occasional flash of brilliance that natural ability grants him. Yes, pre-Bales I would say that Fleury was one of the dozens of failure catalysts but now definitely not a question.

Medina: I think it definitely says more about the way our goalies are being developed. Having a back-up so young that can withstand what Murray has and almost match the same level as a player (MAF) who has 10 years of experience in the league shines a light on just how much attention Mike Bales is giving them. There is also something to be said about having that “it” factor. Some people are just born to do what they do. Murray has that “it” factor. Likeable kid, extraordinary situation, cool under pressure, focused and humble. I am interested to see if this carries on and what more we can expect in the next season.

Andy: It’s interesting to me how much this issue seems to suddenly take on ramifications about the future, when I think it being framed in this way is much more about re-litigating the past. I agree with Jim, that the Penguins success in 2013 and 2016 does say something about both, particularly how volatile evaluating goaltenders can be. However, to me this is pretty squarely about Fleury. In four straight playoffs, from 2010-13, Fleury finished the postseason with a save % below .900, and the Penguins were eliminated despite hammering their opponents at 5-on-5 play. Even in 2014 post-Mike Bales, when his full body of work in the postseason was better, Fleury closed poorly as the Rangers stormed back to win the series. Fleury’s certainly become a more consistent goaltender since his meltdown against the Islanders, even if the overall numbers haven’t moved much. It’s certainly possible that had he not been hurt, he could have taken the Penguins to this point. However, considering the degree to which they’ve been outshot in these playoffs, that’s more based on hope than anything he’s shown in playoffs past since 2009.

William: What Fleury has done for the Pittsburgh Penguins should not be forgotten. He’s a very talented goaltender who has lead Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup. His injury near the end of the regular season was incredibly unfortunate. Murray is young and robustly talented. With the Fleury injury, Murray got his chance to shine and he’s taken it and run with it. There’s no sense in changing goalies now. It’d be a very questionable move. Especially with what we know about concussions now, the longer Fleury sits out, the better for him in the long run.

Hannah: If you asked me this after 2013, I’d say Fleury. I think taking everything into context since then, though, it says more about goalie drafting and development. Mike Bales has been invaluable, and you can’t deny the impact he’s had on Fleury in terms of both play and mindset. Fleury carried the Penguins in the regular season. When he was needed, Murray stepped up. Overall the position of goalie is the strongest it’s been in Pittsburgh in quite some time, and that becomes even more important in the playoffs.

Nick Case: The last time the Penguins made the Eastern Conference Finals it was because of not having Fleury.  He was having his issues and he was replaced. The last couple of years Fleury has shown himself to be a steadying force in the net during the post-season, acting as one of the few players for the Penguins who have showed up. I think this year it speaks to the depth of the team that they have his replacement behind him, that he’s ready to go, and he’s stepped up big.  I believe the team would be in the same place with him as they are without him.

Jesse: I think it’s circumstantial. While benching Fleury was certainly warranted in the Penguins most recent run to the conference finals, he’s been more than adequate in the Penguins subsequent playoff flameouts to the New York Rangers. Murray is red hot, but I think there’s a pedigree discussion to be had here. While I’m not crowning Murray the immediate king of goaltending in Pittsburgh, he’s spent the last few years proving how capable of a goaltender he is at the AHL level. Couple that with a few months of success at the NHL level, both in the regular season and the playoffs, this is more than just an Andrew Hammond-esque trend. Mike Sullivan isn’t a coach that generally changes things when the getting’s good, so-to-speak. It’s unfortunate for Fleury that the situation has presented itself in this way, but if Murray starts to crack, the Penguins currently have the best back-up goaltender in the NHL.

5. Series Picks: Who will win and how many games will it take? 

Brian: Pens in 5. I think that Pittsburgh’s team speed cancels out what has been Tampa’s biggest edge, and they manage to exploit the Lightning’s weakness at the bottom of the roster.

Beth: Pens in 5.

Paul : Pens in 5.

Medina: Pens in 5, but I am almost anticipating going to 7 and me possibly suffering a heart attack.

Andy: Tampa Bay is really good, and I thought from top to bottom, they had the best roster in the East coming into the season.  Pens in 6 if Stralman/Stamkos both miss extended time. Flip a coin if they both come back at full strength for an extended stretch.

Olivia: Pens in 6, with Stamkos and especially Stralman as the "wild cards." Tampa will be much harder to beat if they both come back (and if they're able to provide effective contributions in the line up). Even without Stamkos or Stralman, I think the Lightning give the Penguins a hell of a series and their toughest match up to date.

Jesse: Penguins in 6. I’d say 5, but I’m finding myself feeling super conservative about this the longer I think about it.

Stacey: Pens in 6. Home ice is huge for the Pens. They didn’t do so well against Tampa Bay during the regular season, but this a completely different Pens team.

Nick: Penguins in 6.  Penguins depth and home ice is the difference.  You should see more from Malkin (Crosby will be shadowed by Hedman, as he should be).  Murray or Fleury it shouldn’t matter, both bring ample ability.  Penguins scoring and defensive depth are just that much better than the Lightning, who are also pretty deep.  If the Lightning are a B+, the Penguins are an A-.  It’s the slimmest of margins but as we’ve all learned the slimmest of margins are what matter. 

William: Pens in 6. Tampa Bay is going to have to steal a game or two on the road if they are going to win this series. I just don’t see that happening. The Pens are too good on home ice and they’ve proved they can steal games in hostile environments.

Hannah: Tampa’s going to be a tougher opponent than Washington because their style is more similar. Pens in 6 if one of Stamkos or Stralman come back. Pens in 7 if both of them come back. They might be able to close it in 5 if neither Stamkos nor Stralman can play this series, but I’m more comfortable saying 6.

Lyle: Pens in 7.

Jim: The Lightning match up very well against the Penguins, even with Stralman and Stamkos out. I see a lot of folks picking the Pens in 5 or 6 games, but I just don’t see it. I’m going to take the Pens in 7 games, but it took me a long time to come to that conclusion and bet against the Lightning. They are going to give the Penguins all they can handle with their speed, skill, and ability to create scoring chances.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis by all. Exploit their weaker defense, out speed the, and stay out of the penalty box. If so Pens win.


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