|Penguins hope day off gets Malkin back on his game|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 16 May 2008 10:51|
While the Flyers practiced at their suburban Philadelphia rink for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins enjoyed a day off. If there was any hockey for them, it was on Xbox or PlayStation 3.
Coach Michel Therrien gives his players time off whenever there's a two-day gap between postseason games and, with the Penguins owning an 11-2 record in the playoffs, he didn't break with that precedent. Not even with Malkin and Crosby coming off perhaps their least-effective game so far, the Flyers' win-to-stay-in 4-2 victory in Game 4 in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
``It's important to get rested mentally and physically,'' Therrien said.
Malkin, the NHL's second-leading scorer during the season and Pittsburgh's top playoffs goal scorer with eight, labored through his third consecutive goal-less game. He managed only two shots as the Flyers continually targeted him for extra contact, determined to keep him from being the game-altering scorer he's been for a month.
``Being physical is a huge part of our game. ... I think the biggest thing is the matchups and getting who you want on the ice against certain players,'' Flyers forward Mike Richards said. ``I think in the first couple of games, they did a good job of getting Malkin on the ice against different people.''
Crosby, tied with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg for the postseason scoring lead with 19 points, was held without a point for the first time in five games. He also got into several verbal skirmishes with Flyers determined not to be outtalked or outworked.
``If you're not physical with those guys and you don't get them pushed off the puck, they make plays,'' Flyers coach John Stevens said.
The Penguins need more from the players who make them go, and Therrien expects to get it in Game 5 on Sunday in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins are 7-0 in the playoffs.
The Penguins faced the same situation in the previous round, losing to the Rangers 3-0 in Game 4 after taking the first three games. Even as the Rangers talked about making a history-making turnaround, the Penguins won Game 5 3-2 in overtime to take the series.
``You wish it's going to be like this, that (the top two lines) give you one or two goals a game,'' Therrien said. ``But sometimes it's not going to be like this. You're not going to score four, five, six goals a game in the playoffs all the time.''
Since Malkin's decisive two-goal, one-assist game in the Penguins' 4-2 victory in Game 1, he has a single assist. He had only four shots in the two games in Philadelphia, failing to resemble the player who had five goals in his previous four games.
Have the Flyers' found a way to slow Malkin, one of hockey's most gifted offensive talents? Or is the fatigue of playing nearly 100 games during an extended season that began with training camp eight months ago wearing on the 21-year-old?
``He hasn't been productive like he was in the past,'' Therrien said. ``He's going to have to find a way to make sure he's going to be productive like he used to be as the playoffs started. But I think they did a good job of checking him. It's not, sometimes, a matter of the player not being productive.''
Therrien is more dismissive of the tired-out theory, if only because it's barely been a week since Malkin dominated Game 1.
``I could understand if fatigue would be a factor if we would had played seven games in every round,'' Therrien said. ``I think we have had some quality time to rest. Because of the amount of games that we have played (13), I don't think fatigue is a factor.''
With the Penguins one win from playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992, the Flyers could get some additional help in slowing their playmakers.
Injured defensemen Kimmo Timonen (blood clot on left ankle) may be ready by Sunday, only 10 days after he feared he might miss the rest of the playoffs.
``There's no question that if he (Timonen) is able to play, he makes us better,'' Stevens said.
A few more power plays likely would be good for the Penguins - they've had less than eight minutes of power play since scoring twice with a man advantage in Game 2. Coincidentally or not, Stevens complained afterward that Pittsburgh's stars were getting favorable calls.
``It seems that since then they're really disciplined,'' Therrien said, with more than a hint of sarcasm. ``We've had only two power plays a game. That's all I could say. That yes, they're disciplined.''
Despite the lack of penalties, Therrien said, ``We're not going to change our game plan. We've still got to move. We've got to be really quick. Speed usually brings scoring chances. Speed, usually, it's tough to contain. ... There are times the other team has no choice but to get obstruction, to get hooks and, hopefully, we'll get some calls eventually.''
AP Hockey Writer Ira Podell in Voorhees, N.J., contributed to this report.