For the final two games of the Penguins’ first-round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, they played without defenseman Brooks Orpik.
At first, the loss seemed unfortunate – still is – but Robert Bortuzzo filled-in nicely for Pittsburgh.
Sizing up the ‘Jackets and creating a formidable physical presence, Bortuzzo didn’t shy away from going toe-to-toe with Columbus’ brutes. And he did it without playing too reckless.
Maintaining responsible puck management, Bortuzzo didn’t try to do too much, and just plainly kept it simple, which is sometimes what Pens’ skaters tend to forget to do. All-in-all, Bortuzzo greatly executed.
But does that mean he’ll get the nod in round two?
We still don’t know the extent of what’s ailing Orpik, after leaving last Friday’s practice unexpectedly. And while it may seem not too painful, hockey players’ play through injuries all the time in the playoffs. So, whatever it is, it’s at least semi-serious enough to keep him out.
With that being said, Bortuzzo, although arguably earned a chance to start in the quarterfinals, probably won’t, which I have mixed emotions about.
While I understand Orpik’s experience, leadership, and superior puck harassing, at times he can be caught flat-footed. And it was evident with the way Pittsburgh struggled mightily on the defensive side of things. Speed really played a factor towards the ‘Jackets potency.
Though Bortuzzo isn’t exactly fleet-of-foot, he picks up his assignments more precisely than Orpik does. That’s not to say Orpik doesn’t know how to, its just ever since Bruins’ forward Shawn Thornton sucker-punched him back in December, Orpik’s shown signs of hesitation.
Paul Martin, whose Orpik’s usual defensive partner, played alongside Kris Letang for the last two outings and seemed to have a huge impact on Letang’s game. It’s imperative for Letang to start clicking and feeling comfortable again because the team is way more deadly when he’s on. And Bortuzzo seemed to have an effect on Rob Scuderi.
Scuderi’s endured the same issues Orpik’s struggled with. Both aged veterans have gotten in trouble with turnovers in the neutral zone, and since Pittsburgh’s trying to eliminate all unforced errors, making sure the pairings are the absolute best they can be is important.
Am I suggesting Bortuzzo plays over Orpik? If I had it my way I would. And that’s not knocking Orpik, that’s just implying Bortuzzo’s game is better suited for the Pens at the moment.
However, should Orpik be healthy enough to suit up, he’ll most likely get the call. Although, I’m hoping head coach Dan Bylsma reconsiders.