Penguins a Challenge for the Bruins’ Kids
By Steve Conroy
The Pittsburgh Penguins may not be playing like the Stanley Cup champions that they were a couple of years ago, but they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang on their roster, and they will still represent a formidable challenge for the Bruins when they face off at PPG Paints Arena on Friday.
That is especially true for the NHL underclassmen line of freshmen Ryan Donato and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and sophomore Danton Heinen. The grouping enjoyed its promising moments in the B’s 4-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, when they produced the first goal of the night for the B’s, setting off a four-goal outburst. That game, however, was in the friendly confines of the Garden, where coach Bruce Cassidy had the last change at his disposal.
He’ll have no such luxury on Friday, but he’s curious to see how the kids handle themselves in that environment.
“I’ve always felt that if you want to play in the league, you can’t run from matchups every night,” said Cassidy. “There are certain ones you want to avoid, but you want to prove you can play, at least hold your own. (Friday) might be one of those nights where they have to keep their head above water and do their job. Maybe the next night they’ll have a more advantageous matchup. But that’s the way it is for them. And if they want to stay together as a line, that’s the other message. ‘Listen, if you guys enjoy playing together, then you’ve got to be able to play night after night after night.’ Maybe you’re not playing every shift against the top line, but if they throw them out, they have to be able to handle it. That’s the message to them and they can go from there.
“As you know from being around here, I don’t like yanking guys off the ice every time a good player goes out there. There are a lot of good players in this league and it throws off your chemistry and you never really get any pressure on the other team if you’ve always line-changing. You make it an easy game for them. You can certainly do it late in the game in situations, but I’d rather get skating, press the play, make good reads coming back to your own end and hopefully they don’t learn too hard a lesson on the job.”
JFK has already had a taste of facing Pittsburgh’s top players. In the team’s first matchup at the Garden on Nov. 23, he was getting a shot at taking the injured Patrice Bergeron’s place on he top line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak and saw a ton of Crosby’s line. It wasn’t all bad. The B’s held the Penguins to one power-play goal in the 2-1 overtime win. But JFK took some knocks in the dot, losing eight of nine draws.
He said he went back and studied where he was beaten, but wouldn’t divulge where he went wrong.
“I might not want to give away those secrets,” said the smiling Swede, who went .500 (six up, six down) against Arizona.
Keeping his line together will be part of the slick centerman’s motivation when goes out there on Friday.
“For me, personally, those two guys are really good players and it’s a lot of fun to play with those guys, so I’m trying to do my best to get them the puck as much as possible, try to make plays and play good defensively so we can contribute as a line,” said JFK.
Donato is looking forward to the chance of doing well against top competition. The Pens may not be playing all that great, but they should have a tinge of desperation. Right now they’re just outside of a playoff spot.
“That brings opportunity and that’s what everybody wants, a chance to do well. I think with a team like Pittsburgh, up and down their lineup at any point they’re going to have a deadline weapon on the ice that can score,” said Donato. “The thing for us, not having the last change is good for the young guys to have that opportunity to try to play against the top guys in the league.”
Whether it’s a good thing or not, the line will be getting a taste of the best on Friday. It will be interesting to see if they can stick together for the whole meal.