Staal injured in Game 1 Penguins win over Canadiens
The word of choice inside the Penguins' dressing room Friday night after a 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens was "depth."
They have it at the center position, but they might not have top defensive pivot Jordan Staal for a deep run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"He's a pretty tough guy to replace," winger Craig Adams after his second postseason goal and four power-play markers by the Penguins disappeared in a cloud of concern regarding the status of Staal.
Coach Dan Bylsma described Staal's injury as "undisclosed," adding that he had to be "evaluated further."
A Selke Trophy finalist as one of the NHL's supreme defensive forwards and a player that Penguins general manager Ray Shero has said "wins you Stanley Cups," Staal left Mellon Arena on crutches before the conclusion to Game 1 of this second-round playoff series.
Described by left wing Matt Cooke as "a staple" on the Penguins' third line, arguably the NHL's best, Staal favored his right leg after a collision late in the second period with Canadiens defenseman PK Subban.
"I'm just trying to finish my check," Subban said. "I don't even remember what happened."
Added Adams: "When (Staal) got to the bench, I noticed his (right skate boot) laces were cut. Obviously, I was hoping it wasn't too serious."
However, if the Penguins are deep at any position it is center, where their top two - Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin - have combined for 25 playoff points through seven games, including three in this first game of a best-of-seven playoff series.
Adams, who can play in the middle, worked with Cooke and right wing Pascal Dupuis in the second period after Staal's departure. Versatile forward Max Talbot, who has centered a fourth line and skated to the right of Malkin on a second unit, anchored the third line in the third period.
"It gives more responsibility to a lot of guys in this dressing room," Talbot said. "It's a big loss for us. They always talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins and their three big centers."
Added Bylsma: "Losing Staal would certainly change the matchup situations. Jordan is used a lot against other teams' top lines, so that's where there would be an adjustment we would have to make."
The Canadiens might want to adjust their penalty-killing philosophy after surrendering four power-play goals to the Penguins, who in the playoffs are 11 for 32 (34.4 percent).
Montreal denied Washington's NHL-best power play a goal on 32 of 33 opportunities in a stunning first-round upset of the top-seeded Capitals.
The Canadiens rode great goaltending by Jaroslav Halak to that rally from a 3-1-series deficit; Halak stopped 131 of 134 shots to close that series with three consecutive wins.
Halak made only 15 saves through 45 minutes, 18 seconds in Game 1 - allowing power-play goals to defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, and Staal, who anchors the Penguins' second advantage unit.
Adams and right wing Bill Guerin also scored for the Penguins, who benefitted from 28 saves by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Subban and wingers Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta bested Fleury, who turned aside 22 of the final 24 shots he faced.
The Canadiens favor a collapsing defensive philosophy that allows for long-range shots on Halak, who has said he feels more comfortable the more rubber he faces.
Bylsma said before Game 1 the Penguins wouldn't always "shoot to score," and early in series opener they intentionally blasted shots off the end-zone boards while wingers such as Guerin and Cooke worked for position in front of the Canadiens' cage.
The end result was six goals on 24 shots for the Penguins, who had only 15 attempts blocked - a low number for the block-eager Canadiens.
Aside from the potential loss of Staal, the start to this series couldn't have gone better for Crosby and Co.
Still, that loss...
"He's a horse," Dupuis said of Staal, who has never missed an NHL game because of injury and has played in all but one game since his NHL debut four years ago. "He's our iron man. I don't know, he must have been really injured."