Wednesday, April 4, 2012

GTOPG: Chopping down the Chara Tree; Pens win, 5-3

By GTOG Staff

We don't count our chickens before they hatch, so there's no use dwelling on this point, but it must be mentioned.  As a fanbase, we all say that we collectively hate the Flyers the most, but based on fans, history, and style of play, a 7-game series against the Bruins could make for the most turbulent 2-weeks of our lives.  But there are other fish to fry first, and after last night's win, there's a good chance the baking will start in Pittsburgh.  With the Flyers loss to the Rangers, the Pens magic number to making Saturday's rematch with the Flyers irrelevant is 2.

So doughy. So easy to hate.
As far as we're concerned, not much was answered about the Penguins last night because the two main themes of the past two weeks endured: There were stunning defensive lapses, but the Pens still scored 5 goals.  As we said on our podcast Sunday, we'd be more concerned about giving up dozens of Grade-A scoring chances every game if we didn't have full confidence that the Pens could score 5 goals any game. But we're still worried because that confidence is a false confidence: high-flying offense alone won't win you the Cup.

Exhibits A - Forever.
Why James Neal was the story of the game, after the jump...

The story of this game, as it has been between these two teams all year, was James Neal and the distinct possibility that he's developing commercial real estate inside Zdeno Chara's head.  Here's what we said in our recaps from the 3 previous Bruins matchups:

December 5, 2011: "James Neal ain't afraid of no man. There is not one ounce of back-down in Neal, and if there is one thing Zdeno Chara was thinking about when he found himself startled and awake at 3:30 am Tuesday, it's this: 'I have to play 30 minutes a night. It's exhausting enough. Please don't make me do it against that guy.'"

February 4, 2012: "Come on, when Kunitz chopped down Zdeno Chara like he was a piece of wood Saturday during the Pens' 2-1 win in Boston, we were all thinking the same thing: You cut him! He's not a machine. He's a man! Chara is Drago - bigger, stronger, faster, and the worst nightmare imaginable for a team relying heavily on one line for offense. But here's the thing. Chara doesn't like to be hit. And that makes Kunitz and the equally fearless James Neal his worst nightmare."

March 11, 2012: "What we saw today was a 6 foot 9, 260 pound Zdeno Chara who was quivering like a little fawn in the forest in the face of an onslaught by James Neal and Chris Kunitz."

Last night, the Bruins clearly decided that they'd seen enough of Neal torturing their best player, and from the opening faceoff, they tried to do something about it.  Neal was targeted all game.  He was hit late, he was hit high, he was hit away from the puck.  He even had his first fight of the season (against Andrew Ference) and acquitted himself rather well.  But the one guy who stayed away from Neal, the one guy who still seemed to want no part of Neal was the oak tree himself, Zdeno Chara.

Z, you're the biggest guy in the league.  Some out there would say you should have taken off your skirt and fought your own battle. (Of course, we would never talk like that).

A lot of that is hyperbole, of course.  Chara is a hall-of-fame player, one of the toughest guys in the league, and actually seems like a decent human being.  But it helps show that the Pens are dangerous in a 7-game series not just because of talent, but because they will wear your ass out.

- Something to watch for: If on Thursday the Sabres beat Philly (could happen for a desperate, on-the-bubble Buffalo team), the Penguins beat the Rangers (should happen with Biron in net and the NYR locked in at first in the conference), and the Devils beat the Wings (less likely, but you never know), what are we looking at?  A situation where the Devils merely need to win a Saturday home game against Ottawa to find themselves one Flyers' loss from moving up to #5 in the conference.  The Flyers play Pittsburgh on Saturday.  Could get interesting, but if you're the Devils and you need to take a dive to ensure a first-round series against Florida, you TAKE A DIVE.

- Sidney Crosby has 27 assists in 20 games. Alex Ovechkin has 27 assists in 76 games.

- Sidney Crosby looks ready to do some damage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

- Flyers assistant coach and former really big goon Craig Berube says Crosby and Malkin are the two dirtiest players on the Penguins.  This might actually be true if you're focused solely on the number of slashes, trips, and/or jabs to the chin those two dole out over the course of a given season and choose to ignore all of the things the opposition does to precipitate those exchanges. This psychological gamesmanship is pretty hilarious, really.  The Pens should, to a man, laugh and slap a knee whenever they're asked about something someone on the Flyers said. 

A great thinker of the game.
- We feel bad for the puck that hit the side of Vitale's head.  It probably has an upper back contusion.

- We're not happy that Johnny Boychuk got injured last night trying to check Arron Asham.  But we don't feel bad.  Not because we're bad people, but because injuries went a long way toward making the 2011 Boston Bruins the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.*

1 comment:

  1. After the last year, seeing Sid in a suit makes me a little twitchy.