Pittsburgh Penguins Switching Things Up for Game 5

Jan 2, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) looks on against the New York Islanders during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) looks on against the New York Islanders during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Injuries and sub-par performances in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals sent the Pittsburgh Penguins back to the drawing board. On the morning of a must-win game five, the Pens’ lineup has a new look.

The Pittsburgh Penguins almost managed to pull off a miraculous comeback in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals, bouncing back from an awful first forty minutes to draw within one goal in the third period. However, they just ran out of time and couldn’t make up the whole deficit, dropping the game 4-3 and allowing the Tampa Bay Lightning to even the series at two wins apiece.

That game saw a few mid-game lineup changes, due to injuries and poor performances. Trevor Daley was injured in an awkward hit by Ryan Callahan into the boards, and couldn’t stand up to get off the ice on his own. Understandably, he didn’t return that night.

He left the arena on crutches and with his foot in a boot, and now we know the true extent of his injury. Daley has a broken ankle and will be out for the remainder of the season. That’s a tough break (no pun intended) for both Daley and the Penguins.

Daley’s injury will allow Olli Maatta to come back into the lineup and get a chance to prove himself. Maatta’s been underwhelming this postseason, especially after how well he played in his first couple years with the team. He’s been the weak link in the fast Penguins team, though his conditioning has always been lauded; he’s also made more than a few  poor decisions with the puck that have allowed for goals.

Maatta’s been a healthy scratch in the last two games, which put Justin Schultz back in. Schultz had no playoff experience before this year, thanks to being stuck on the dismal Edmonton Oilers, but has stepped up into the spotlight well. Head coach Mike Sullivan has trusted him on the powerplay when he’s in the lineup, even in do-or-die situations like the final few minutes of game four.

Now both Maatta and Schultz will be in – well, most likely. Schultz was rotating on the third defensive pair with Ian Cole and Derrick Pouliot. Personally, I’d prefer to keep both Schultz and Cole in the lineup rather than Pouliot, especially with Olli coming back in.

Of course, Sullivan is evasive as ever and says the lineup will be a game-time decision. So we’ll have to wait and see.

The one part of the lineup that we know now is who’s going to be in net. For the first time of the playoffs, Matt Murray will start the game on the bench rather than in the goal crease. He’s had a rougher series against the Bolts, which culminated in the game four loss. He was pulled between the second and third periods in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury, who will get his first playoff start of the year tonight. 

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Fleury looked sharp in the twenty minutes of action he saw on Friday, and I agree with the choice to switch things up in net. Murray got the Pens to this point, true; however, it just wasn’t really working anymore. The Penguins got it together and started playing the game they should have been when Fleury got back in net.

That kind of kick in the rear could be even more important tonight. The Pens were weak in the first forty minutes on Friday, and they knew it. They have got to get it in gear right from the start tonight, and having Fleury behind them will provide a different kind of confidence and insurance.

Meanwhile, it looks like we may see one of the first lineup changes on the front end. Conor Sheary remained out on the ice after morning skate while Beau Bennett practiced with the fourth line, implying that the Californian may see his first bit of playoff action this year.

Sheary had a great regular season up in Pittsburgh, showing great chemistry with Sidney Crosby and impressively gritty forechecking skills against far larger players. On the other hand, he hasn’t been good this series, frequently getting benched during games when Sullivan felt a need to shorten the bench.

Bennett has also frequently underwhelmed when he’s in the lineup, but he’s also shown flashes of brilliance. He’ll surely want to prove himself after being out for so long. Plus, he won’t be up on the top line, so there’s a little less pressure on him than Sheary in this case.

Though the different lineup could easily preempt a different Pittsburgh game, there is one thing that everyone will need to work on tonight. The Penguins need to keep their cool – cough, Kris Letang, cough – and not take dumb penalties or make retaliatory plays.

Yes, the referees have been anything but consistent this series and have let a lot of questionable calls go for both sides, but Letang has such a short temper that we see the same thing every game. He gets targeted, the referees don’t punish the assailant(s) to a degree that Letang agrees with, and he takes things into his own hands – whether that’s playing a bit dirty himself or mouthing off to the refs.

Other teams have figured out this pattern, including the Bolts. If they can get away with it, they’re going to go after Letang. And in this series, they most definitely can get away with it.

It’s easy to get lost in the moment during a game, especially when you feel like people are taking liberties with your safety. However, he needs to take a step back and compose himself, thinking of what’s better for the team. They can’t afford to lose him for even two minutes of a penalty, especially with Daley out.

The Penguins cannot make it much further if Letang can’t keep his cool. The Bolts frustrate this team and irritate most of the roster, but the same thing can work in reverse. If the Pens don’t give in to their antagonizing, then Tampa will in turn get frustrated that their tactics aren’t working and will have to find another way around the Penguins.

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I have high hopes for tonight’s game. It’s back in Pittsburgh, the Penguins know what they need to do in order to rebound from the last game, and we’ve got a few lineup changes to help spur them on. If they can put the same volume of shots on net that they did in game three, almost nothing can stop them.

As far as the other bench goes, both Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop will remain out of the lineup. The puck drops tonight at 8 ET.