(Ed. Note: Crosby, Malkin not pictured. We think.)
Sidney Crosby(notes) and Evgeni Malkin(notes) haven't tallied an even-strength point in their series against the Montreal Canadiens. Is this indicative of the Habs' defensive system working to perfection -- combined with Jaroslav Halak(notes) stopping nearly everything that gets through -- or a dual-scoring slump for the Penguins stars?
In other words: Can the Penguins win two of the next three games if the Canadiens continue to keep their stars off the 5-on-5 stat sheet?
Here are Malkin and Crosby in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series:
Here they are in Game 4:
Malkin's been the more active offensive player, with 11 shots in Game 3 and 9 in Game 4. The ice-time fluctuation between the games is interesting as well.
From the Tribune-Review, on Pittsburgh Dan Bylsma saying he's not merely assuming Crosby will find his scoring touch without some tinkering:
"That's not the way I treat it," Bylsma said, when asked if Crosby's talent will eventually lead to production in this series. "That's not the way Sid treats it. You have to analyze what they're doing well, what we can do better and what our power play and Sid can do better. That doesn't change because it's Sidney Crosby."
The obvious solution to help Crosby in even-strength situations would be to place him on a line with fellow center Evgeni Malkin. Bylsma used this tactic more than usual in Game 4 against the Canadiens and has the flexibility to resort to aligning the dynamic duo because of Jordan Staal's(notes) remarkable recovery from surgery last weekend.
Obviously, the return of Bill Guerin(notes) will factor into Crosby's performance. Guerin's played on a line with Chris Kunitz and Crosby for most of the postseason, and Bylsma said he's a difference-maker against Halak:
"You saw Game 1 [a 6-3 Pittsburgh win], on every one of those goals [Guerin] was within a foot, two feet of Halak," Bylsma said. "That is what Billy brings, especially to our power play, is net-front presence. In the absence of Billy, we need guys to do it. Hopefully, we can get Bill back in there and add to that area we need to be better.
"We have to get there with more bodies and more pucks and not look for hope plays, not look for rush plays and try to take guys 1-on-1, but have that mentality it's going to be second chance with people at the net."
As for Malkin, Pensburgh had a look at his place in the Game 5 lineup in light of Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) being a healthy scratch (bust-ville on that pickup, huh?):
To my knowledge, Evgeni Malkin hasn't played at the same time with Pascal Dupuis(notes) and Talbot. That'll also be something to keep an eye on: Geno's been burdened with Ponikarovsky and/or Fedotenko for much of the playoffs. Talbot and Dupuis are flying right now and playing much better than the aforementioned European wingers. Maybe their spark can help ignite Malkin.
Must-win for the Penguins? Not quite. The team already has a win at Bell Centre, in a game where the Canadiens' offense sputtered, as it has at times during the postseason. But you'd like to see either Sid or Geno break out a bit against Montreal 5-on-5. Getting Guerin back could be enough.