1. Seriously though, what the heck happened to Fleury, and how did the team not bench him for Vokoun sooner?
Fleury is (or was) the clear-cut franchise goalie. Before the switch, he started all 75 playoff games that the Pens played from 2007-12. Fleury’s regular season stats this year (23-8-0, 2.39 GAA, .916 save %) were pretty strong, and he got a shutout in the first game of the playoffs. He’s had struggles in the past, but the team has been built around him for the past 10 years, so you give that guy every chance to succeed. It obviously fell apart, but I don’t have a problem at all with how Dan Bylsma has handled the goaltending, mainly because it worked. He gave Fleury the chance to get it together, but when it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen, they made the switch to Tomas Vokoun and haven’t had to look back.
At first I thought Vokoun might have a short leash, but given how he’s stabilized the team, it’s fair to say right now that he is in control of the crease and probably the starter from here on out. I really have no clue what has happened to Fleury, it’s all mental. Goalies have uneven tendencies and are prone crazy swings (as fans of Boston need no reminding) so don’t ask me to delve into the mind of a goalie. I don’t know if Fleury will ever be the same, no one really knows what the future holds. All that matters right now is Game 1, and it’s solidly Vokoun’s net.
2. What are your thoughts on Crosby taking off the jaw protector before a series against one of the hardest hitting teams? Not that I think people will target him or anything, but...
He’s not taking it off on a whim because he wants to, the protector is gone because the doctor says it’s not needed, which is good enough for me. It’s been 2 full months since the injury happened, and Crosby’s previously said he’s noticed players hitting him high and having their sticks come up a little more than normal. I mean, he’s Sidney Crosby, he’s always had a target on his back and every team has always made it a point to play him physically at every chance. It’s a part of the game of hockey. Obviously having the cumbersome jaw-piece on affects vision and playing the puck in your feet (something Crosby does better than just about anyone) so removing it ought to be more advantageous than worrisome for me. Which is easy for me to say, because 225+ pound men aren’t going to hit me in the face without mercy over the next couple weeks.
3. On our side, the time off is a huge benefit, with a few of our defensemen being a little busted, but how was the week off on your side of things? Is there any fear that the time idle might be detrimental, or is all rest good?
It’s always good to have a week off when you have a who goalie is almost 37 years old and has a checkered injury history. Chris Kunitz left parts of Games 4 & 5 in the Ottawa series with an unknown injury, and has practiced spottingly this week. James Neal (ankle sprain during Islanders series) has gotten a breather, too. Those two guys will be important for the Pens to play physical games on the forecheck, so the break ought to help them the most. From there, the Pens lean heavily on Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik to eat a ton of minutes, so getting them some rest this time of year is a nice benefit. Evgeni Malkin’s also dealt with a nagging shoulder injury that’s affected his shot, which may or may not still be an issue (I don’t think it’s too much of one).
4. What's the key to beating your team? No, seriously. I know all the Bruins-Pens games this year have been close, mostly one-goal games, but the Bruins have only beaten the Penguins once in two years.
Stay out of the penalty box, have Brad Marchand pester Malkin after the whistle, keep winning faceoffs and denying the Pens puck possession game as much as possible and try to exploit the lack of speed by Douglas Murray and catch your big guns on that 3rd defensive pair if the opportunity arises. The Penguins also can get too offensively focused when they’re breaking out, so jamming the neutral zone with players to slow them down (and create turnovers) can be tricky for Pittsburgh to overcome. The Pens are used to quick starts, early goals and playing from the lead. They haven’t had to make comebacks a lot, so the very obvious "try to score that first goal" advice is important, because it’s clearly different to play from a lead compared to playing from being behind on the scoreboard. Also, did I mention stay out of the penalty box as much as possible?
5. Are you guys all satisfied with every trade Shero made at the deadline? Seems like he's going all-in for this year and traded a lot of futures for it.
Absolutely satisfied. Shero’s never been one to be timid, his trade in 2008 to get Marian Hossa was the opening signal to a young team that they need to push hard to compete for the Cup every year. This year Shero had a great opportunity being under the salary cap and was able to wheel-and-deal basically without financial restraint. Also he knows a very large portion of the backbone of the team (Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams) are UFA’s, and the cap is going down next year and Malkin and Kris Letang will soon need new contracts.
Nothing stays the same forever in a salary cap world, so when there’s an opportunity to make a serious push, you gotta go for it. Shero did just that, and I couldn’t be more pleased. He traded a lot of prospects and high draft picks to make it happen, but he’s provided the team with some solid depth, size and ability all over the roster to make them into a very strong contender. Can’t ask for more than that from your manager- guys like Crosby/Malkin/Letang are only in their primes for so long.
6. If you were Claude Julien, who would you match Chara and Seidenberg up against?
If I were Julien, I’d want Patrice Bergeron to shadow Crosby and use Dennis Seidenberg/Matt Bartkowski to match the Crosby line. I’d play Chara with Johnny Boychuk and focus them on the Neal-Malkin-Iginla line, because of the speed and forechecking ability that Dupuis and Kunitz demonstrated in the regular season matchups. It’s a gamble to take Chara away from 87, but the Malkin line is just as dangerous at even strength and deserves attention too and since Chara plays 29 minutes a night, I’m sure there can be some overlap to match him everywhere. Malkin can sometimes be limited by bigger defensemen and if Chara can do that, it’ll put a lot of pressure on Crosby to break free from Bergeron and create offense. But, admittedly, I don’t know the dynamics of splitting Chara/Seidenberg up as much as you guys would, so that might be a better theory in my mind than in the real world.
7. Going into the series against the Isles and the Senators, the Penguins were obviously highly favored and didn't seem to have TOO much of an issue dismantling those two teams. Maybe the Isles a little less so, but still. What's the general attitude in your corner about playing the Bruins after two decidedly easier series?
To some extent, both of the Penguins early playoff opponents were of the "we’re just happy to be here!" mentality. I think now, when you face a team that was a former champion not too long ago, the mood is going to be even more serious than a normal playoff series. Especially with the chance to play for the Cup on the line. Most, if not all, around the team are fairly confident, because the Penguins are a deep team that has a good amount of health right now, and they’re close to firing on all cylinders at the right time. This will obviously be the biggest challenge to date, but with the 8 day break I think everyone’s just excited for the games to begin again and watch the two best teams in the East fight it out.