Forward Petr Sykora notched 25 goals for the Penguins this season, but has been a healthy scratch for 14 playoff games. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH – It has been said many times before that desperate times call for desperate measures and the Pittsburgh Penguins are indeed a desperate team.
Enter Petr Sykora.
It’s fully expected Sykora will make his first appearance in 15 playoff games when the puck drops for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Tuesday. That’s the same Sykora who has been a healthy scratch for the past 14 games, but it’s also the same Sykora who has a remarkable run of 10 straight 20-goal seasons to his credit and the same Sykora who extended last year’s final to six games by scoring in triple overtime in Game 5.
But make no mistake: Sykora has been putrid of late. He had two goals in 17 games down the stretch for the Penguins and one assist in six playoff games. And he must have been really bad, considering he and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma were teammates with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for their run to the Stanley Cup in 2003 and are good friends.
The only problem is if Sykora is not contributing as a scorer, there isn’t a whole lot he brings to the lineup. Chris Kunitz, for example, has not produced offensively, but at least he hits a few players and plays at both ends of the ice.
It’s expected Sykora will start the game on the fourth line with Miroslav Satan and Craig Adams, with Adams primarily filling a penalty-killing role. The thinking is his spot on that line at center will be filled by a rotation of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who will receive double duty.
“Petr’s exceptional skill is that he can shoot it in the net,” Bylsma said. “That’s why he continues to play in this league and probably will continue to play in this league. When he gets the puck on his stick, he puts it behind the goalie.”
Well, not so much lately and it couldn’t come at a worse time for Sykora, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. Under normal circumstances, a player coming off a 25-goal season would be a reasonably coveted player, but there’s little doubt Sykora’s stock has plummeted through the playoffs.
But there’s also little doubt that if Sykora plays, he has the potential to be a difference maker.
“In a limited role situation, if he were to get the puck on his stick, you would expect him to rip it and have a chance for it to go in,” Bylsma said. “So that’s why he would be appealing.”
BETTMAN IN THE HOUSE
Despite being in Phoenix for the Coyotes bankruptcy hearing, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to be in Pittsburgh Tuesday to award the Stanley Cup to the Detroit Red Wings if they win Game 6.
Bettman is not scheduled to actually attend the hearing and will fly out of Phoenix in the afternoon. He’s scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh around 7:30 p.m., a half hour before the start of the game.
Brent Sutter’s exhaust fumes haven’t even cleared up in New Jersey and there is already speculation about who will replace him.
Assistant coach John MacLean is a natural choice, given his loyalty to the organization and the fact he has patiently waited for his chance, but there are some other intriguing names that have surfaced.
One is former Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who won the Cup with New Jersey in 1995. Another is Peter Laviolette, another Cup winner who would bring a fresh look to the Devils.
If the Devils were to follow conventional thinking, which they never do, they might hire Kurt Kleinendorst, who coaches their American League farm team in Lowell, Mass.
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com's regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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