Penguins Notebook: Gonchar has strong mental approach
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PHILADELPHIA -- It has been apparent since the earliest shifts of the Penguins' first-round playoff series against Philadelphia that they wanted to hit Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen at every opportunity.
• Matchup: Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 7:08 p.m. today, Wachovia Center, Philadelphia.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Series: Penguins lead, 2-1.
• Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Martin Biron for Flyers.
• Penguins: Going into last night, led playoffs with 10 goals. ... C Evgeni Malkin led playoffs in goals (4) and points (7). ... Fleury is 6-2 in postseason vs. Flyers.
• Flyers: Have won four of past five and six of previous eight home playoff games. ... Are 7-17 when trailing a series, 2-1. ... Had scored only short-handed goal of playoffs before last night.
• Hidden stat: Through yesterday, Penguins C Sidney Crosby was second in Eastern Conference, fourth overall, in playoffs with 63.8 percent faceoff efficiency.
And while much has been made of them doing that, it's a logical and time-honored tactic to play the body against a skilled defenseman who logs a lot of quality minutes, with the intent of wearing him down as the game -- or the series -- moves along.
A guy who has been on the receiving end of that kind of attention, Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, recognizes the rationale behind it.
"When the playoffs start, you know that's the way the games will be," he said yesterday. "You take it as it is and obviously, facing a club like Philly, you know they do that a lot.
"We knew that was exactly what they're going to do. It's expected, and you just have to be strong mentally. If you let yourself think about it too much, it's going to take your focus off the game and you're not going to be yourself."
The Penguins' first goal Sunday was set up when Max Talbot knocked Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn off the puck in the waning seconds of the first period, allowing Ruslan Fedotenko to throw a cross-ice pass that Evgeni Malkin buried from the right circle.
Thirteen seconds into the middle period, right winger Bill Guerin stationed himself directly in front of Flyers goalie Martin Biron, making it impossible for him to see Rob Scuderi's shot from the blue line.
Neither Talbot nor Guerin got a point for what they did, but neither goal would have been possible without them. Which underscores the perils of evaluating performance solely on the basis of point totals.
"This time of year, the smallest of plays is a big contribution," Guerin said. "Blocked shots, things like that. Winning a battle to get the puck out of your zone. That's a contribution. It doesn't always have to end up in a goal."
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was the playoff leader in hits (19) and blocked shots (12) going into games last night, but the Wachovia Center statisticians can't be accused of padding his totals in Game 3.
The scoresheet showed him with no hits and two blocks.
The former was more than a little eye-catching, given that Orpik had been credited with 14 hits in Game 2 two days earlier, had placed second in the league in the regular season with 309 and had failed to get credit for at least one just once in 79 regular-season games (Feb. 3 at Montreal).
"That stat, I don't know, I think it can be a little misleading sometimes," Orpik said.
But subjective as the hits statistic is, and regardless of how it is recorded in different arenas around the league, what matters most is the impact that playing the body with regularity can have.
"You just have to be as consistent as possible when you're playing a series like this, because you know [hitting] does wear down guys," Orpik said. "Anytime you get a shot in on a guy, whether the game is 5-2 or 2-2, it all takes its toll later in the series."
Gonchar does not have a goal in his past 21 playoff games. His most recent came in Game 2 of the opening round against Ottawa April 11, 2008. ... The Penguins have lost Game 4 in three consecutive series.
First Published April 21, 2009 12:00 am