Penguins try to solve Crosby 'slump'

| Saturday, May 8, 2010

Destiny's team has stifled destiny's child through four games of the second round, the upstart Montreal Canadiens' team-wide commitment to defense proving successful in slowing down Sidney Crosby's postseason scoring spree.

The Penguins are taking a proactive stance on Crosby's "slump."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma isn't merely assuming that Crosby's goal-scoring touch will soon resurface but instead sounds prepared to tinker until the proof is on the score sheet tonight when the Penguins host the Canadiens in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series, which is tied, 2-2.

"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 remarkable recovery from surgery last weekend.

Allowing Staal to essentially become the second line center while Crosby and Malkin work their magic on the top line is always a weapon that Bylsma can activate, though the coach is not about to tip his hand during a playoff series.

"The game and the result will take care of any storyline that you would like to talk about," Bylsma said after being pressed repeatedly about Crosby's struggles.

Make no mistake, the current storyline in this series is Crosby and Malkin's inability to explode in the manner which has become almost expected during the past two postseasons. Crosby only has three assists in four games against Montreal, all coming on the power play. He hasn't scored a goal since Game 5 against Ottawa.

Malkin scored the game-winning goal in Game 3 and was clearly the Penguins' most dynamic player during the past two contests. But he still only has one goal and one assist in this series.

That neither Crosby nor Malkin has produced an even-strength point in this series is rather striking and an indication that tactical changes from the Penguins are necessary.

The Canadiens are thrilled with how their defensive approach has silenced two of the game's greatest players.

"We're happy with how we've accomplished that to this point, but there's a lot of hockey left to be played," Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges said. "We can't be satisfied with what we've done."

The Penguins obviously aren't satisfied, nor are they discouraged. Even though their play is remindful of how Washington dictated zone time and the tempo but couldn't score consistently in its first-round loss, the Penguins maintain their current style will eventually work, with only a couple of minor alterations necessary for a breakout night from their captain.

Continuing to work down low and crash the Montreal net are likely parts of the plan.

"We haven't had a lot of rush opportunities against this team," Bylsma said. "And they're not going to give them to us. We need to be focused on different ways to create offense."

Staal doesn't believe there is anything wrong with the Penguins' current approach. He believes Crosby's hard work - which is every bit as heralded as his talent - will eventually help break the goal-scoring drought.

"It's the playoffs, and it's hard to score goals right now," Staal said. "He's always the hardest-working guy in games and practices. It's just like anything else. You just need to stick with it."

Additional Information:

Breakout box

Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are struggling to produce even-strength points against Montreal. Will changes be made tonight•

Game 1: 4 power-play goals, 2 even-strength goals*

Game 2: 0 power-play goals, 1 even-strength goal

Game 3: 1 power-play goal, 1 even-strength goal*

Game 4: 1 power-play goal, 1 even-strength goal

*empty-net goal

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