On Monday, the Bruins stayed off the ice for a second straight day. Their bosses, however, had their laptops running full blast.
The coaching staff spent the long weekend watching video of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Starting Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena, the coaches will introduce to their players what they’ve learned from those film sessions. The video shows that the Bruins will be up against a frightening opponent in the Eastern Conference finals that has stacked its roster for one goal: the Stanley Cup.
“When you look at Pittsburgh’s roster, it’s really deep,” said coach Claude Julien. “They made a lot of big trades at the end to make sure they have the team to compete for a Cup. They threw all their eggs in the same basket. They’re going for it.”
Pittsburgh’s identity revolves around its superstars. There is no better 1-2 center combination than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby, who tied for third in the league in scoring, is the game’s best player. He compiled 56 regular-season points, the same number as Washington’s Alex Ovechkin — in 12 fewer games. Malkin’s package of size, speed, skill, and creativity make him just as challenging to defend as Crosby.
Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will have to be seamless in their play. The Bruins might consider splitting the two strongmen to account for Crosby and Malkin.
But Chara and Seidenberg are better as a sum than as parts. The most likely scenario will feature Chara and Seidenberg against Pittsburgh’s power line of Malkin between James Neal and Jarome Iginla. That leaves Matt Bartkowski and Johnny Boychuk as the matchup duo against Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis.
“Maybe it’s pairing, maybe it’s separating,” Julien said of his Chara-Seidenberg deployment. “We’ll have something in mind by the time the first game comes around.”
On defense, Kris Letang moves the puck and pushes the pace as well as any defenseman. Letang posted a 5-33—38 performance in 35 regular-season games, good enough to make him a Norris Trophy finalist.
But general manager Ray Shero made sure that the Penguins are not only about their 100-watt players. Shero has assembled a roster, especially up front, that is stacked with depth. Of the 20 players who dressed for Pittsburgh’s series-closing Game 5 win over Ottawa, 10 were acquired via trade.
Just this season, the Penguins landed Iginla from Calgary, Brenden Morrow from Dallas, Jussi Jokinen from Carolina, and Douglas Murray from San Jose. Total number of roster players shipped out in all four deals: zero.
The trade that stung the Bruins the most was the Iginla transaction. The Bruins believed they had acquired Iginla from Calgary for Bartkowski, Alexander Khokhlachev, and a 2013 first-round pick. Instead, Pittsburgh swiped Iginla from the Flames for a far lesser cost: college prospects Ben Hanowski, Kenny Agostino, and a 2013 first-rounder.
Iginla’s selection of Pittsburgh underscored the ex-Flame’s belief that the Penguins were better-suited to win the Cup. It’s up to the Bruins to prove Iginla wrong.
Those trades have made Pittsburgh the deepest team the Bruins will play. The Bruins dismissed the Rangers in five games because of their depth advantage. The Bruins turned to Bartkowski, Torey Krug, and Dougie Hamilton on defense to fill in for Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, and Wade Redden.
Up front, the fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton overwhelmed the spare-parts foils that New York coach John Tortorella rolled on his fourth unit.
Pittsburgh has a skilled, heavy, and experienced third line in Matt Cooke, Brandon Sutter, and Tyler Kennedy. Morrow and Craig Adams bring the pain on the fourth line, while No. 4 right wing Jokinen — a Bruins killer while with Carolina — has the skill of a top-six forward.
Players that can’t even get in the lineup include Tanner Glass, Beau Bennett, Joe Vitale, and Dustin Jeffrey.
The quality the bottom-six grinders share with their skilled teammates is speed.
The Penguins play at a frenzied pace. When they rev up their wheels in the neutral zone, they attack with abandon. The Penguins are even more dangerous when their puck-moving defensemen — Letang, Paul Martin, and Matt Niskanen — ignite the transition game.
During the regular season, Pittsburgh averaged 3.38 goals per game, most in the league. During the playoffs, that number has spiked to 4.27. The Penguins’ power play rolled at a 24.7 percent clip in the regular season, second only to Washington (26.8). The man advantage also improved in the playoffs to 28.3 percent.
To counter Pittsburgh’s speed and skill, the Bruins must dictate play in the neutral zone. If they can slow the Penguins in center ice, Pittsburgh won’t have as much overwhelming momentum in the Boston zone. The defensemen must keep tight gaps. The forwards have to backcheck aggressively. The Bruins will ask Tuukka Rask to be a game-changer in goal.
Above all else, the Bruins have to manage the puck as if it were the Cup itself.
“It’s not just about the defense, it’s about the five-man unit on the ice,” Julien said. “We need numbers coming back. We can’t afford to get caught deep and leave our D’s alone to battle that.
“That’s going to be important — our game without the puck and making sure we have numbers coming back. At the same time, we’ve got to be extremely good in the offensive zone. The more time we spend there, the more it’s to our benefit.”