PHILADELPHIA — Will Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang play in Game 3 and what will the Penguins do if their top d-man is unable to play?
Letang took a maintenance day Saturday, which added a little mystery to the situation which began when Flyers forward Claude Giroux may or may not have intentionally plowed into the unsuspecting defenseman, early in the second period. Letang tumbled to the ice and went quickly to the locker room.
Rumors persisted of a hand laceration, but Letang finished Game 2. Of course, it is the second season and injury news is more closely guarded than anything at the CIA.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan will address the media at 1 pm. He may shed light on the situation, or tell us Letang is a “game-time” decision.
If Letang plays, watch the Flyers sticks. Look for at least a couple whacks on his hand in the first period. Because…it’s the playoffs.
Update 1:33 p.m.: Sullivan said Letang did not have to go through concussion protocol. He, like every player, is a game-time decision.
Analysis: Since he didn’t go through concussion protocol, he is a solid bet to play.
As PHN noted with the Penguins chalkboard, the Flyers clogged the neutral zone with a 1-2-2 coverage at 5v5, and the Flyers stacked the blue line when short-handed. The Flyers adjustments slowed the Penguins rush and forced them to fight for space in the prime scoring areas, which doesn’t play to the Penguins’ small wingers strengths.
In Game 3, the Penguins will need a tactical adjustment to create and maintain speed through the neutral zone, or they will need to get comfortable playing a chip and chase game.
The Flyers defense is not rugged and could be exposed if the Penguins dump the puck into the offensive zone and attack with vigor. Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, and Zach Aston-Reese are the players the Penguins who would excel in such a strategy, Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel are not.
The Penguins limited the Flyers to under 25 shots in each of the first two games. Defensively, the Penguins tactical adjustments will be less about limiting the Flyers and more about consistency.
The Penguins suffered a couple of breakdowns which immediately led to Flyers goals. Those mistakes cannot occur.
Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott was rough in Game 1 and in the first period of Game 2. However, Elliott settled in and in Game 2 was a world-beater for the final two periods. Elliott undoubtedly found confidence in the performance.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray was stellar in Game 1. He faltered in Game 2, just as he struggled down the stretch in the regular season.
“I’ve got to do a better job at trying to keep those out,” Murray said of the Flyers first couple goals in Game 2.
The differential between Elliott and Murray was a large part of the scoreboard differential. The Penguins goaltender must snap to it, and quickly, or the Flyers will be a legitimate threat to win the series.
Grandma can flip the bird, the place can go crazy, but the Philadelphia Flyers crowd has only served to energize Sidney Crosby, who has eight points (2g, 6a) in his last five games at the Wells Fargo Center, dating back to 2014-15.
There isn’t much goodwill between the Flyers faithful and the Penguins, or Crosby. In 2014, for Halloween Crosby dressed as city icon Rocky Balboa…and they still speak of it Philadelphia.
Multiple Penguins players mentioned the crowd and the atmosphere, yesterday. Most called it a fun atmosphere. Perhaps the early start will lead to a civilized discussion of the day’s significant issues over coffee instead of a bloodthirsty, angry crowd?
I didn’t think so.