Crosby, Malkin could use a little help from their friends

CanWest News Service
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Penguins looking for an edge as they look over the ledge in elimination game tonight

The phrase "Our best players have to be our best players" is the kind of thing champions say, and accept as part of the deal.

Their coaches have no problem making such pronouncements, because they know that while a team is a collective that requires great effort and passion from all precincts, the load is disproportionately heavier - and ought to be - on those who have the talent, and get the ice time.

Despite their team's precarious position in the Stanley Cup final, Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin (left) and Sidney Crosby looked loose during a practice session in Pittsburgh on Monday. Photo by The Canadian Press

Pittsburgh -

The phrase "Our best players have to be our best players" is the kind of thing champions say, and accept as part of the deal.

Their coaches have no problem making such pronouncements, because they know that while a team is a collective that requires great effort and passion from all precincts, the load is disproportionately heavier - and ought to be - on those who have the talent, and get the ice time.

Their star players understand this, even embrace it. Response to pressure separates them from those who merely want to be champions, but haven't yet figured out how.

And so, we come to the Pittsburgh Penguins' first elimination game of the Stanley Cup final - Game 6 tonight at Mellon Arena; the Pens' first peek over the edge of the precipice - and head coach Dan Bylsma has rejected the "best have to be best" theory. Or at least, he chooses not to be the one who is seen to be applying the whip to his horses.

As if, perhaps, he worries he will get the wrong response.

To date in the playoffs, the Penguins have been all about Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, whose scoring has carried the team - and Marc-Andre Fleury, whose goaltending has risen and fallen with the Pens' fortunes, sometimes the cause, sometimes the effect.

From most everyone else: silence.

The Detroit Red Wings got through seven playoff games - including the first four of the final - without their best player, Pavel Datsyuk, because the members of the surrounding cast leaped into the void and filled it with inspired performances: Henrik Zetterberg, of course, but also Dan Cleary, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Valtteri Filppula.

But once Datsyuk was back, expectations rose, forward lines stabilized, and everyone's roles clarified. Now, Johan Franzen was again a force, and Marian Hossa, and even Tomas Holmstrom's goalmouth battles seemed more relevant.

From the Penguins' support cast: silence.

The wingers who've skated alongside Crosby and Malkin in the final - Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, Maxime Talbot and Ruslan Fedotenko - have a combined seven points in five games. Most grievously, Crosby's linemates have disappeared: Kunitz had a lone assist in Game 4, is minus-4 in the series, and has scored one goal since April 1. Guerin has one Game 2 assist in the final, and is minus-3.

But on the eve of Game 6, asked whether the Penguins can possibly win a Stanley Cup without at least a drop of inspiration from the secondary scorers, Bylsma said: "Yes, we can."

Unequivocally.

"Do we need those guys to score a goal? We don't. We need our team to play well," said Bylsma who, to be fair, is still feeling his way along as a rookie NHL head coach in his first Stanley Cup playoff run.

When you put together your team you say, yeah, these are guys that you count on to be a part of the offence, definitely. But we don't need Sidney Crosby to score (Tuesday night) to win the game. We don't need just Bill Guerin to step up his game. We need our team to play well. We need to get into the offensive zone and push them back on their heels and force them to deal with us. We need to get 35 shots at their goaltender, and we need to win the special teams battle. If we do that, we'll find someone in that room that can score a goal. I'm confident in that."

"Obviously, that's what helps win championships - guys coming out of nowhere to help out, everybody's got to contribute," Kunitz acknowledged. "I've got to be better, but right now we're looking for just anyone to score goals to help us win. But yeah, when you're getting the minutes, you've got to contribute.

"It comes from everybody. You can't rely on one guy, or two guys, because (the Red Wings) are going to be coming hard - they know it's their chance to close it out, and you never want to let those slip away from you, because Game 7s, you just never know."

The danger, of which Pittsburgh must be aware - even Bylsma, who wasn't part of last year's six-game defeat by the same Red Wings - is that the Penguins are approaching another defining moment for their franchise, and if it goes badly, it won't be the definition they were hoping for.

"I like it being a defining moment," said Bylsma. "Everyone in that room should be ready to play their best game and make a difference, by doing what we do as a team. Everyone needs to be ready to have the puck on their stick and make the play or make the defensive play or block the shot or make the save. That's what we need. We need a defining game."

Because here's the thing: If not now, when? When does a group of talented kids stop being a sure thing, and start acquiring more baggage than promise?

Probably not yet - their core group of centres is still incredibly young - but before the questions get too onerous, they could use something a lot better in the way of a lasting memory than Saturday's 5-0 pratfall in Detroit.

Tonight, your best players really do need to be your best players, Coach. And it wouldn't hurt if their sidekicks showed up, either.

Organizations: Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings

Geographic location: Pittsburgh

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Telling it like it is
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are a one trick pony - Crosby and Malkin.

    The Red Wings, like most great Stanley Cup Champions show roster depth, every line there is at least one player who when the chips are down can become a superstar.

    The Red Wings are the model NHL franchise and that's why they will be raising the Stanley Cup tonight and why Sidney Crosby will be shaving that rediculous ''beard'' off.

  • Doug
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Barry....sorry man. Its going to game 7.

  • Scott
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Hey...one of the real heros will be from Harbour Grace....Wait and see...remember game the last game...who had the winner...remember the last serious...who won it for Detroit....go Cleary go bring her home again boy...the kids cant wait

  • Barry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Its all over tonight!!!!!!

  • Telling it like it is
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are a one trick pony - Crosby and Malkin.

    The Red Wings, like most great Stanley Cup Champions show roster depth, every line there is at least one player who when the chips are down can become a superstar.

    The Red Wings are the model NHL franchise and that's why they will be raising the Stanley Cup tonight and why Sidney Crosby will be shaving that rediculous ''beard'' off.

  • Doug
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Barry....sorry man. Its going to game 7.

  • Scott
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Hey...one of the real heros will be from Harbour Grace....Wait and see...remember game the last game...who had the winner...remember the last serious...who won it for Detroit....go Cleary go bring her home again boy...the kids cant wait

  • Barry
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Its all over tonight!!!!!!