Paul MacLean is playing a hunch by suiting up Mark Stone for Wednesday’s crucial Game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A hunch that Stone can step in and help offensively like he did when he was parachuted into the Senators-Rangers first-round matchup last spring.
You’ll remember that Stone’s first NHL game was the fifth of the series against the Rangers. The Senator won it 2-0, with Stone setting up Jason Spezza for the game winner and Spezza adding a an empty netter to seal the matter.
It would be the last game the Senators would win.
Stone didn’t play Games 6 and 7 of the series, as MacLean inserted Jakob Silfverberg in his place. Silfverberg did not produce a point.
“It’s a pretty similar scenario for me, coming into a series almost half over,” Stone said after the morning skate Wednesday morning. “I’m excited to be a part of it. Just looking to produce at the best of my ability.”
Stone, who saw 8:43 of ice time that night, will replace Cory Conacher and play on a line with Spezza as the Senators try to even their series with the Penguins.
A huge point producer as a junior with the Brandon Wheat Kings, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder had a strong second half of the season with Binghamton during this, his first year as a pro.
I think he would have had a shot with Ottawa earlier in these playoffs if he were a left winger – where the Senators are not as strong – and not a right-handed shot who has always played the right side.
With his size, he’ll be better equipped to handle the battles in front of the net than Conacher. But as a mediocre/slow skater, can he keep up to the fast-paced second-round play.
That’s the big question.
“Obviously it’s fast hockey,” said Stone. “These guys look like they play pretty fast, but at the same time I think the way our team plays, it slows them down a fair bit. We’re very good, sound defensively. We play as a five man unit. Definitely helps with individual play.”
Spezza said Stone “has that natural calm demeanor about him” that helped lead to his success in one intense playoff game last year.
The two of were watching from the press box together while Spezza worked his way back from injury and Stone waited for his chance.
Can any chemistry they have developed strike twice?
“Obviously he’s a fantastic player,” said Stone. “He’s a guy you want to give the puck to whenever you can. He makes plays, he makes things happen pretty much every time he steps on the ice. If there’s anybody you want to get the puck to, you want it to be on his stick.”
Spezza will be a key for the Senators in Game 4. Clearly, MacLean is hoping that putting Stone in the lineup can help speed up the progression of his big centre.