Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, June 03, 2021

bench-beating
Here’s what struck me about last night’s triple-overtime 4-3 win by Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cups Finals (which I gladly ate up, not least because I’m typically up until 1:30-2:00AM most nights anyway):

Prior to both the tying goal and the game-winner, the Pens made last-minute player insertions that seemed critical. In a way this is obvious: Max Talbot potted the goal that sent the game into OT, and the only reason he was on the ice for that final minute was thanks to a gut decision by coach Michel Therrien; likewise, Sergei Gonchar provided an assist on Pittsburgh’s fourth goal despite being sidelined from the game up to that point due to a second-period injury.

But their actual results seemed to come from how their time-critical re-introductions into the gameplay affected the Detroit Red Wings. In each instance, having a “new” player opposing them visibly put the Wings’ formation into a bit of a disarray. Talbot’s positioning really seemed to hamper Johan Franzen, allowing a lucky puck-possession by Pittsburgh to wind up in the back of the net. It’s like Franzen didn’t know quite what to expect from a Pittsburgh jersey he hadn’t seen for several shifts.

This effect was even more dramatic when Gonchar came back. Granted, he’s one of the NHL’s smoothest-skating offensive defensemen anyway; but his maneuvering on the blueline during that last power-play was exceptionally fluid, and really seemed to freeze the Wings players who were covering him. Gonchar’s range of movement gave him all the time and space he needed to fire the puck toward the net, which led to the sequence with Petr Sykora’s GWG (I couldn’t believe he “called” his own number to end the game — what an asshole ;) ).

Any lasting lessons learned? Can Pittsburgh flummox the Wings trap/boxing in Game 6 with timely bench substitutions? I can’t believe Detroit’s success has been keyed to precise reads and matchups versus individual Penguins; but it certainly looked to me like positional tweaks created opportunities against a normally-suffocating defense.

There was a good amount of luck involved as far as Talbot goes, and I can’t see Pittsburgh holding out a key cog like Gonchar for long stretches again just to create a “sneak attack” late. Still, I’m thinking Pens practices are now featuring experiments in line/unit matches.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 06/03/2021 12:08:27 PM
Category: Hockey
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