A scenario that might have seemed inconceivable after the Pens took a 3-1 series lead last week has now become reality, and the Pens will have to try to shake the demons of last year’s Game 7 loss at home against the Montreal Canadiens and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night to keep their season alive.
Allow me to offer a suggestion that might give the Pens a better shot at victory: Put Eric Tangradi in the lineup. While you’re at it, Dan Bylsma, put Deryk Engelland in there too. Chris Conner, plucky though he might be, can sit. Same thing for Matt Niskanen. Tangradi especially has too many potential positives to add to the lineup for Dan Bylsma to keep him out. The Pens are 1 for 30 on the power play this series, and I don’t find it to be much of a coincidence that the one goal came with Tangradi on the ice, screening Dwayne Roloson. Conner’s ability to maintain offensive zone time and do good work on the cycle only goes so far, and his inability to score goals makes him expendable. The Pens are struggling to score, especially so on the power play, and Tangradi can help immediately in that department.
If you don’t have a net-front presence, you don’t really have much of a man advantage. Tangradi would force the Lightning to commit a player to keeping him from taking root in front of Roloson, and would theoretically open things up for this currently punchless attack when they’re on the power play.
While the Penguins’ problem on the power play is that they can’t get a net-front presence established, their main defensive issue over the last two losses has been their inability to keep traffic from being established in front of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is an outstanding goalie, but even he can only be so effective when Ryan Malone and others are in his kitchen constantly. Save for Brooks Orpik, the Pens don’t have any overly physical defensemen in their lineup. Putting Engelland in for Matt Niskanen would not only reunite him with Ben Lovejoy, with whom he developed some decent chemistry in the regular season, but it would also give the Pens another D-man unafraid to get physical and bang bodies both below the goal line and in front of the net.
The one hang-up about inserting Engelland would be that he’d be getting his first taste of the NHL playoffs in a do or die Game 7, but I suspect that it wouldn’t be hard to calm his nerves, given that his game is based on physicality and most players seem to settle in once they take or deliver a hit. He can help the Pens keep the Lightning from screening Fleury and from getting second and third chances on loose pucks near the crease.
The old maxim in hockey is that there’s no reason to make changes to a lineup if it’s working. The Pens have gone with the same lineup for for the last two games, and been outscored 12-4 as a result. It might not matter either way, but I’ll say here that if you don’t see either Tangradi, Engelland or both in the lineup Wednesday, you can expect the worst.