Pittsburgh Penguins Will Face a Tough Task in Shutting Down Rick Nash


The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to face a huge challenge as they’re tasked with shutting down Rick Nash in the first round of the playoffs. Nash is coming off a 42-goal performance in the regular season, which is a career-high. He also tallied 27 assists while tying his career high in points with 69.

The biggest issue that I see with facing Nash is Mike Johnston’s player usage. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a few solid shutdown forwards, but they haven’t been used in the right combinations. Secondly, Pittsburgh’s injury depleted defensive corps will also struggle if found in the wrong matchup.

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The most glaring case of misusage is that the Penguins see Brandon Sutter as a defensive Center. However, against talented opponents he has been exactly opposite of that. My biggest fear is that he’ll be force-fed a Rick Nash matchup that will prove to be detrimental to Pittsburgh’s hope of limiting his production.

So far this season Sutter has faced Nash for 20:08, which leads all Penguins forwards. That’s a clear indication that Mike Johnston is pushing for this matchup.  However, while possession numbers such as corsi tilt in Sutter’s direction, Nash has three goals and seven shots versus Sutter and his comrades.  Essentially, in the span of one period’s worth of play Rick Nash has a hat trick and seven shots. That is the most productive he has been against any individual player so far this season.

Which line has been the most effective against the big power forward? Evgeni Malkin’s.

Nash and Malkin have been on the ice together for a hair over fourteen minutes. During that time frame Rick Nash has a corsi-for of 35.7 and only one shot on goal. He also has zero points. However, you’re obviously not going to look to Evgeni Malkin to play the role of shutdown Center.  He does that circumstantially by living in the opponents territory.

Ideally, you want your third line to be the shutdown trio. If I’m Mike Johnston, my lineup change for this series is to run with a bottom-6 such as the one listed below.

Winnik – Spaling – Comeau
Lapierre – Sutter – Downie

Mar 1, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Daniel Winnik (26) skates with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Winnik’s TOI with Nash is 14:01, with Nash posting a dismal 25.0 corsi-for and one shot on goal. He did manage to get an assist during that time, but Winnik is clearly a great matchup option.  Also, consider that Winnik plays Left Wing and will lineup opposite of Nash at Right Wing for the Rangers.  Therefore, he pulls Nash as his assignment more often than not.

This lineup gives you a solid shutdown third line and some versatility on the fourth. Lapierre can pitch-in with defensive zone face off’s as he has been really good in that area. The downside of this is Sutter and Lapierre playing together, as they both tend to be possession black holes. But, considering the New York Rangers’ poor possession game, it’s a risk I’d be willing to take.

Given the Pittsburgh Penguins’ inability to put points on the scoreboard as of late, defensive matchup’s will be crucial in this series.  The New York Rangers are a very powerful offensive team, but they’re also a bit top-heavy.  They rely heavily on top end scoring and goaltending.  With the right match ups you can limit the production of guys like Rick Nash, keep things close and let Marc-Andre Fleury steal a series for you.

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