The U.S. plays Russia tomorrow in Olympics hockey, and an odd situation could arise.
U.S. Coach Dan Bylsma has reassembled his Penguins defensive pair of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik. Will he match them up against Russia’s top line, which is centered by the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin?
Martin and Orpik are certainly familiar with Malkin, having practiced with him countless times. They’re also familiar with Malkin’s Sochi linemate Alexander Ovechkin, a frequent foe with the Washington Capitals.
But with the Penguins, Bylsma never matches lines. Never tries to avoid line matchups. “Get to our game” ad nauseam.
What if matching Martin and Orpik against Malkin works? What if Bylsma’s plan stops Malkin, when he’s never played the matchup game to help Malkin? If I’m Malkin, I’d be irritated.
If Bylsma uses matchups to shut down Malkin in his home Olympics, Malkin will carry that back to the NHL like a disease.
Maybe Bylsma won’t do that. Maybe he’ll use Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh against the Malkin line. Suter and McDonagh are a more likely shutdown pair, especially given Orpik’s mediocre season to date. Maybe he’ll match Martin and Orpik vs. Malkin and it won’t work.
Maybe Bylsma will just tell the U.S. to “get to our game.”
I want to see the U.S. do well. But I’m a Penguins fan first and foremost. I don’t want to see anything happen at Sochi to compromise the Penguins when their season resumes. No injuries, no bad feeling.