Prisuta: Benchmark decision, Sykora replaced with Satan?

| Thursday, April 23, 2009

In the frantic, final 8 minutes and 16 seconds of Game 4 against the Philadelphia Flyers it was all hands on deck, with one notable exception.

Pascal Dupuis played with Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko.

Max Talbot played with Malkin and Fedotenko.

Craig Adams played with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

Adams played with Crosby and Talbot, and with Jordan Staal and Talbot.

"We had the blender going," Penguins assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

The only constant was that Petr Sykora never left the bench.

He was on the ice when Daniel Carcillo sliced the Flyers' deficit to 2-1 at 11:44 of the third period, but not thereafter.

Sykora emerged from the Penguins' 3-1 victory having played 8:21 (only Dupuis played less at 8:15), having missed a wide-open net from point-blank range and at minus 1.

Sykora is minus 2 for the series that resumes with Game 5 tonight at Mellon Arena.

He has no goals in his past six games, one in his past 15 and two in his past 21.

Either he's injured or for whatever reason he just can't get it done.

Either way, it's time for the Penguins to see if Miroslav Satan can do better.

"We were in a situation where guys that play in defensive situations were getting on the ice more," Penguins interim coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday of the thought process behind his late-game line-juggling. "For the most part, the Crosby line stayed together, but we put guys in situations that they excel in, that they do their job in.

"Guys like Craig Adams and Max Talbot, they're going to get more ice time in situations like that where we're up in a game and it's late and we need plays along the wall, faceoffs and blocked shots."

So sitting Sykora was circumstantial?

"Yes," Bylsma said.

It's a plausible explanation, except that when asked to address Sykora's lack of production before the series shifted to Philadelphia, Bylsma praised Sykora's decision-making and puck management and the like.

Bylsma also replaced Sykora with Talbot on the Malkin line with the Pens down 2-0 in the final minute of the first period in Game 3 (Talbot helped set up a Malkin goal).

Something doesn't add up.

Sykora won't make excuses. He's repeatedly said he isn't injured, but he still looks injured.

He looks nothing like the clutch performer he'd been prior to hitting an apparent wall in February.

Sykora remains a heart-and-soul presence on the Penguins, a player as well-liked in the dressing room as his game -- when healthy -- is respected and appreciated.

Still, it's difficult to lead from the bench.

This being the NHL postseason, legitimate injury information is tough to come by.

Bylsma addressed the topic in general yesterday when asked about potential lineup changes for Game 5.

"Playoffs are always a game-time decision," he said. "It's always how we're feeling body-wise and injury-wise.

"No one is 100 percent right now."

Warrior that he is, Sykora is far enough from that, either physically or from a confidence standpoint, that he needs a breather.

Not playing at all can't be a whole lot worse than not playing when the game is on the line, for Sykora or the Penguins.

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