Throughout his career, Kimmo Timonen has earned a reputation as a very smart defensive player who also moves the puck very well. When we acquired him, he quickly became our best defenseman. Timonen paired up with Braydon Coburn as our shutdown defense pair. When both of them were injured prior to the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh, we pretty much knew that the chances of beating the Penguins became slim to none. As he has aged, his play has gone downhill a bit, but we keep letting him slide.
Does anyone regard him as a shutdown defenseman anymore? His contribution on offense has steadily declined each season he has been here. And his reliability on defense has followed suit. It was him who got head faked by Patrick Kane in overtime before he scored the fluky goal to beat us in the Finals in 2010. Last season, he was getting beat to the outside and failing to clear pucks from the middle. He’s continuing to make those same mistakes this year. His small stature never hindered him before. When guys would try to shield the puck from him before, he would usually put himself in a position to knock the puck away. Now, he just isn’t as successful as usual.
Against Pittsburgh on Saturday, he had an awful game. First, after the puck jumped past him and Matt Cooke raced after it, Kimmo did a terrible job of tying him up. If you’re going to take a penalty and risk a penalty shot, make sure you take the guy out so he doesn’t get a shot off. I don’t care what you have to do, but once you commit to the foul, finish the job. Later, after we caught a lucky break and tied the game up, it was his stupidity that lead to the Penguins 4th goal.
After he got possession of the puck in the corner near our net, he was under a bit of pressure. Rather than whipping the puck around the boards, he put a blind, backhanded pass (or weak clearing attempt) directly towards the slot. Pittsburgh was all over it, and banged it home. I put that goal on him completely because Bobrovsky had no reason to expect the puck popping to the middle the way that it did. Why make such a bad play, when he definitely knows better? He never had physical gifts, he excelled because of his smarts. So if that’s failing him now, there’s not much he can do to compensate.
However, the one thing that gives me hope is that I don’t believe a player can just turn dumb out of nowhere. Maybe his hands won’t be quick enough to react to plays that his mind can still recognize, but he can still be sound positionaly. He can still take the right angles, and force player into weak shooting positions. He can still make smarter passes or clearing attempts. The turnover in Pittsburgh is not a typical mistake that he makes. In fact, it’s so rare that it really struck me as odd that he would make that kind of mistake. But he does need to get better overall at forcing turnovers.
He’s a guy who gets big time minutes, and with our team just bleeding goals against, he shoulders a lot of that responsibility. On paper, he should be our best defenseman with Pronger down and out. He just needs to prove it on the ice.
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