It remains to be seen how the Penguins will roll out their lines tonight. It could be that Jake Guentzel, the talented 22-year-old rookie, shifts from wing to center to replace Sidney Crosby (concussion).
“Every possibility is on the table in this type of a circumstance,” head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters this morning.
Pittsburgh will also be without Conor Sheary (concussion) for Game 4 against the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena. Carter Rowney and Scott Wilson are the favorites to enter the lineup.
Obviously, Rowney and Wilson aren’t Crosby and Sheary, but Sullivan insisted that it doesn’t matter who plays, that the Penguins’ game plan won’t change.
“I don’t think we’re going to change our game plan because someone is in or out of our lineup,” he said. “We’re going to play the type of game that plays to our strengths and gives us the best chance to win.
“I think we have capable guys. We’re going to put a lineup on the ice we know we can win a game with. And we’re just going to go out and we’re going to try and be committed and make sure we have a readiness to us and we’re focused on playing the game the right way.”
Still, there will be added pressure on Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel to lead the offense. The Penguins are also without their best defenseman in Kris Letang. A loss tonight and the series will shift back to Washington tied 2-2.
“I’m just going to go out there and do the same thing I do all the time and hopefully it works out,” said Kessel, who has four goals and eight assists in these playoffs.
Malkin leads the NHL’s postseason scoring race with 15 points, including 11 assists.
So there’s still some scoring punch in the defending champs’ lineup.
But without Crosby, make no mistake, Pittsburgh is a very different team. When the Penguins’ stars are all healthy, they present a matchup nightmare for their opponents.
Just ask the San Jose Sharks.
“When you have Kessel, Crosby and Malkin on three different lines, I mean, all three of those guys make more than anybody on our team,” said coach Pete DeBoer during last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
Tonight, the Penguins will look decidedly different than the team that rolled through last year’s playoffs. They’re still capable of winning, but it’ll be tough.
“Regardless of who’s in our lineup, I believe this group of players has a chance to win any game against any opponent,” said Sullivan. “That’s our approach. We’re focused on winning one hockey game and that’s tonight.”