In the span of 27 hours, the Pens went from a team with a fresh gloss of juvenation to a team caked in 5 years worth of stank. Reality is somewhere in between, though I don't buy the developing conventional wisdom that the best thing for the Pens is if they struggle to start the season. Why is that true? The best thing for the Pens is to be playing well in the spring; I'm not sure why blowing leads in October makes that more (or less) likely.
The obvious positive is that the Pens are first in the league in offense, and scoring should not be a problem as long as Crosby and Malkin are healthy and as long as 5 of the 6 guys on the blueline have legitimate offensive upside. The obvious negative is that the team gives up way too many goals, and too many of the scoring chances against the Pens are of the "Is it even legal for that guy to be so wide open?" variety. The Pens Corsis are OK, but their "what-the-F-are-you-doings" are still off the charts.
|"This area here. This is our net. What we don't want is the puck in this area."|
Can we talk about Marcel Goc? (Actually, before we do, let's take a moment to recognize that as the very first time anyone in the world has ever asked to talk about Marcel Goc). Is he good? If so, at what? He's played 27 games with the Pens and has a total of 4 points and a 0 Q-rating. I know he costs nothing and I know he's way-way down on the list of Pens problems, but take a moment next game to pay attention to him. You'll have to be looking at the screen, though, because the announcers will probably not be calling his name.
- Speaking of people who average fewer points per 60 minutes than Marcel Goc ... Brandon Sutter, everyone! It's well-documented that I am no longer capable of being objective about Brandon Sutter, but I think the same is true of anyone who thinks the 5 goals Sutter scored in the playoffs last season (one of which went off of his pants) has cemented him as a guy who deserves top-6 opportunity if only he wasn't boxed out of that role by 87 and 71. I give the guy credit for being so unmemorable so much of the time that people only remember the times he scores, and not the times he's invisible for several games in a row. He's scored 2 goals thru 6 games this year -- once in the 3rd period when the Pens were up 2 goals, and once in the 3rd period when the Pens were up 3 goals. He's fourth among forwards at attempted shots at 5-on-5 (which is good). But otherwise, despite playing significant stretches with Malkin (who, admittedly, looked very rusty in the first few games), he just isn't a consistent producer.
(If any of this seems too negative, I'll let this article point out the perils of being too positive in October:
That being said, one can’t deny the chemistry that Sutter and Kobasew seem to be developing with one another. They’ve already combined for two goals (both game-winners, by the way) and look to be more than capable of taking some of the offensive pressure off of the Crosby and Malkin units.You can never take the week of October 1, 2013 away from Chuck Kobasew!!! You just can't!!!)
- Speaking of attempted shots, Evgeni Malkin has 8 shots on goal at 5-on-5 in 6 games. He's a great player, but he's capable of a lot more.
- Every few days, The Christian Ehrhoff Bandwagon pulls slowly up along the curb, rolls down its window and asks us to hop on. Politely, we respond, "I think we're going to just walk from here, but I'll let you know when we need a ride. Thanks!"
- This is where we are with Fleury. If you're one of his loyal supporters, then you can probably go through the first five games of the season and, except for one or two goals, find some other player who is more at fault than Fleury. You could certainly do that for the Philly game.
But water finds its level, and it's probably a fair representation of Fleury that his numbers are less-than-mediocre over his first five games. A 2.81 GAA and a .906 SV% sucks. It just does. If a quarterback throws two interceptions every Sunday, maybe Ron Jaworski tells you on Wednesday that all those picks are because the receivers are running the wrong routes ... fine, but at some point, just stop throwing interceptions. With Fleury, at some point, just stop the puck, consistently, every game. If you need a good defense to be a good goalie, are you really a good goalie?
Well what about the Islanders game, he was great in the Islanders game!?!?! Sure, but that's 1 out of 5 games, and if you look at his game-by-game save percentages -- .862, .920, .893, .971, and .875 -- the Pens are down at least 3-games-to-2 in a playoff series with those numbers, and possibly sent home in 5. We are a broken record at this point, but it's not good enough to be great occasionally. You have to be really good, almost all the time.
That's why things like Rob Rossi's love note to Fleury, which says incredibly "The Penguins won't win [the Cup] again without Fleury" is just ridiculous. In 10 years, that statement could turn out to be true, but the underlying sentiment -- that the Pens can't win the Cup without Fleury -- is not only preposterous, but factually incorrect. A lot of teams have won the Stanley Cup without Fleury as their goalie. The Pens could do it, too.
That there is no easy answer to the question, "well who else are you going to get to play goalie?" is not an excuse for not trying to answer it. And when Crosby says that Fleury calms the Pens down on the ice, that's not reason for doubling-down on Fleury (as GMJR seems keen on doing), that's reason for concern. Does anyone believe that the Pens' "calmness" (especially Crosby's "calmness") has been a strength?
|Ben believes that Maurkice Pouncey helps the Steelers make good decisions off the field.|
- Overall, the early signs still seem positive. The Pens have scored first in 5 of the 6 games, and four of those have been multi-goal leads, so clearly Johnston's system is having an effect, at least when the teams are fresh and the ice is good. The pessimistic view would be that the second and third periods are like the second and third times a pitcher goes through the lineup. You're getting a little tired, and the other team is getting your timing down. It's important for the Pens to master the basics first, and the leads are indicative of them doing that. But then they have to finish.