Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GTOPG: We've seen worse; Wings Spank Pens, 4-1

By GTOG Staff

The Penguins fan-base right now is a little bit like a dog that keeps getting smacked on the nose with a newspaper.  The injuries that we don't want to talk about anymore, and recent losses to the Flyers, Rangers, and Bruins - teams that a few weeks ago each looked like reasonable bets to lose in the conference finals to the inevitable Stanley Cup champion Penguins - are all enough to make us want to just keep our head down for a while.  When news broke Tuesday that Malkin and Staal would be game-time decisions against Detroit, we flinched.  And then we remembered, we've seen worse.  Far worse.  Need we remind you, the Penguins played a game last season in which their 12 forwards had a combined 57 goals in the previous 54 games.  You think this is adversity, hockey gods?  We laugh at this.  Do your worst.

Laudable effort, Hockey Gods.
The Penguins aren't Stanley Cup favorites anymore.  They're not even the best team in the Atlantic Division.  With Giroux and Pronger on the shelf in Philadelphia, for the time being we'll give that title to the Rangers.  But if you haven't learned that none of this matters when HBO hasn't even aired Episode 1, Season 2 of 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, there's no hope for you.  Let's get to the game after the jump...

- Malkin played.  And gave his best performance of the season.  "Every single time he touched the puck it seemed like something was happening," Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said.  "He's a great player, there's no way around it.  He makes things happen when he's out there."  Geno elevated last night like a falcon in a field of rodents.  No one could skate with him, and being able to distinguish oneself like that against Detroit's system (i.e., five guys water skiing on your back) is a very rare and exemplary thing.  He had 9 shots on goal, and by our count, at least 5 of those came on wide open looks.  But here's the trouble with Geno, as discussed here: his dominance often doesn't translate into production.  He finished with a single goal, the same total as the mystical Pavel Datsyuk, who waits, lurking, for his opportunities (i.e. for Matt Niskanen to turn the puck over), makes a move you need to watch back in slow motion, then calmly wills the puck off the backhand into the top corner of the net. We don't know whether Malkin can find some Finish commensurate with his dynamic on-ice presence, but we do know that Sidney Crosby's absence gives him some kind of psychological turbo charge.  It's always been this way, and we got a beautiful reminder on Tuesday:  Geno loves to be the man.

Ok, Hockey Gods.  That's pretty good, too.
- Staal also played.  And gave maybe his most invisible performance of the season.  We suspect he needs to listen to his lower body.

- For as awesome as Geno was, he ended up a -2.  That's another minus for the meaningfulness of the +/- statistic.

- The Pens dominated the first half of this game not only because of Malkin's great play, but also because they played the best 30 minutes of team defense we've seen all year. Then Datsyuk struck and someone else reportedly scored during a Root Sports commercial.  Tomas Holmstrom's ass was allegedly involved, as it all too often is.

Seriously, Hockey Gods. You can stop now.
- We finally realized who Pascal Dupuis reminds us of last night. He's a Detroit Red Wing from 2008. He's fast, he's strong, he dominates the puck, he's annoying to play against, and he scores big goals. As much as we dislike the Wings, there is no better model for how the Pens should strive to play. Dupuis is the poster-child for what that should look like.

- Is it a coincidence that Chris Kunitz got bumped up to the top line and Geno and James Neal had the space to work the give-and-go all night?  We think not.  Dan Bylsma is a few days behind us on this, but he made the right call demoting Steve Sullivan.  Sullivan had us fooled a bit early in the season.  He's been a total non-factor in this stretch against some of the better teams in the league.  We won't call his signing a total failure, but let's just say we're moving in the wrong direction.

- The bottom line is that no matter how we try to spin last night's loss, it's never fun to lose to Detroit. The worst part was not the loss itself, but that moment on the power play in the first period when you go, "Who is #19?" and then come to the stunning realization, "OH DEAR GOD THAT'S JASON WILLIAMS ON THE POWER PLAY."  You know at that point that losing is inevitable, but it doesn't really make it any more palatable.


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