Monday, April 2, 2012

GTOPG: Is Peter Laviolette a liar? Penguins lose to Flyers 6-4

By GTOG Staff (follow Artistry and Finesse on Twitter)

[Make sure to listen to our podcast recapping Pens-Flyers]

With 1:07 remaining and the Flyers up 6-3 on the Pens, the following players were on the ice for each team:

Arron Asham (61 GP, 8 fighting majors, 76 PIMs)
Joe Vitale (65 GP, 3 fighting majors, 51 PIMs)
Craig Adams (79 GP, 2 fighting majors, 34 PIMs)
Matt Niskanen (74 GP, 1 fighting major, 47 PIMs)
Deryk Engelland (76 GP, 8 fighting majors, 56 PIMs)

Danny Briere (70 GP, 1 fighting major, 69 PIMs)
Wayne Simmonds (79 GP, 10 fighting majors, 110 PIMs)
Brayden Schenn (51 GP, 2 fighting majors, 32 PIMs)
Pavel Kubina (66 GP, 2 fighting majors, 70 PIMs)
Marc-Andre Bourdon (42 GP, 2 fighting majors, 50 PIMs)

Penguins: 355 GP, 22 fighting majors, 264 PIMs
Flyers: 308 GP, 17 fighting majors, 331 PIMs

As Danny Briere skated the puck through the neutral zone with his head down, Joe Vitale delivered a check that will be studied in checking schools until the end of time.  Then, all hell broke loose.

We understand emotion -- we modernized emotion with the Raw Emotion Podcast -- but what we don't understand is a complete lack of reason.  After the game, Laviolette said he was upset that the Pens put out their fourth line in the final two minutes of a three-goal game.
"It was a gutless move by their coach," Laviolette said. "[Pittsburgh's enforcers] hadn't been out on the ice in 12 minutes. It's gutless."
This makes so little sense for so many reasons.  Find out why after the jump...

First, as the numbers above show, you can't think of the Pens 4th line in the same way that you thought about 4th lines 15 years ago.  This isn't Francois Leroux and Steve McKenna.  It's Sgt. Craig Adams and Pfc. Joe Vitale.  These are actual hockey players who play "Grind Bitches Down" but can hardly be classified as goons or thugs.  If you think that they are goons or thugs then your opinion is based on ignorance cultivated by not having watched enough Penguins games this year.  Engelland is a great fighter, but he's only fought 8 times this year and we can't remember him ever getting into a pre-staged battle.  Asham is arguably the only one who fits the stereotypical description of a 4th liner, but watch the replay and you'll see: Asham didn't start anything.  The Flyers tried to jump Vitale, and Asham responded the way any player would, whether that player is a 1st or 4th liner.  Asham isn't an instigator.  He's a finisher.

Second, as Laviolette pointed out, THEY HADN'T BEEN ON THE ICE IN 12 MINUTES, and there was a perfectly good hockey reason for that.  The Pens were losing by two goals for much of the 3rd period and were trying to come back ... is there a better chance of that happening with Crosby on the ice or Craig Adams?  Once it became a three-goal game, Bylsma could afford to save Sid and Geno's energy for games down the road.

Is Laviolette suggesting that Bylsma should have continued playing Sid and Geno 25 minutes in what had become an unwinnable game so as not to hurt Pete's feelings?  So as to suggest to Brayden Schenn that, by all means, you should feel free to continue to crosscheck an unsuspecting Sidney Crosby in the back over the next two weeks at your convenience?  Would Laviolette like to submit a list of Penguins that would have been acceptable to him at that time?  Save the false outrage for when someone puts out an Eric Godard against Claude Giroux.

Game changer.
Third, and maybe most importantly, the Pens didn't start the fight.  Joe Vitale delivered a textbook check on Danny Briere (Why was Briere on the ice in the last 2 minutes of a three goal game? Isn't he a goal-scorer?  Was Laviolette running up the score?  Should Bylsma have smashed a stick into the Flyers' bench?).  The Flyers got worked up about it, and 5 guys flew at Vitale.  Are Engelland and Asham supposed to disengage so as not to give the impression that they were on at the end of the game to fight?

That Laviolette doesn't grasp these basic ideas raises the following question:  Is he a liar or just a bad coach?

Unfortunately, we know he's not a bad coach because the Flyers generate unlimited scoring chances against the Penguins and are much better (usually) at avoiding Meltdown-Mode under Laviolette than they were under the completely over-matched John Stevens.  Therefore, he's lying, and he knows it.  He should save his outrage for his wife and yell at her for forgetting to water his hair plugs.

- In case you missed last night's podcast, we discussed the similarities between how this Penguins team is finishing out the regular season and the 2010 Pens, who thought they could flip a switch in the playoffs and light up Montreal, only to find that they lost to Montreal. That team, if you'll recall, and we know you don't want to, also had a healthy Sid, Geno, and Staal, a suspect defense, and a shaky-looking Marc-Andre Fleury. Yes, there are significant differences between then and now.  This team has James Neal and a bionic Pascal Dupuis.  That team had Alexei Ponikarovsky.  This team has Paul Martin out of position.  That team had Sergei Gonchar in position, but unwilling to take advantage of it.  This team has Tyler Kennedy making $2 million.  That team had Tyler Kennedy making what Tyler Kennedy deserves.  That team had Chris Bourque.... Listen, we understand there are differences.  But the similarities concern us.  And if you're not concerned, you should be.

- In addition to the Pens' insistence to playing only "stick on puck" defense, their refusal to put a body on anybody and the faltering Fleury, the team has been infected by its own skill up front. A theme over the last 5 games has been top 6 forwards making blind drop passes high in the offensive zone on virtually every shift, resulting in dozens of turnovers.  Classic case of what happens when you just can't believe the other team is as good as you, which is clearly what this Penguins team believes.  They seem aggravated that they lost to the Flyers.  Not angry.  Aggravated.  One step above annoyed.  Big difference.  An angry team is dangerous.  But if you aggravate a team, maybe you get them thinking, who needs the aggravation?

[Make sure to listen to our podcast recapping Pens-Flyers]


  1. For the most part, I agree with what you've said. But I think it's worth pointing out that the 2010 team was sloppy and inconsistent for months. Even more importantly, they were coming off back-to-back cup appearances and an Olympics. They were exhausted. Sid could barely form whole sentences during his press conference after the Olympics he was so beat. They lost that series because they just hit a hockey wall and because Flower stunk.

    I also think its unfair to say that they aren't angry or are complaisant merely based on press conferences. You aren't in the room or in meetings. This is a veteran team that has managed consecutive 100 point seasons while racking up 300+ man games to injury. While I'm as irritated as anyone by their lackluster play, they at least deserve some benefit of the doubt; too many of these guys have shown the appropriate mental fortitude and discipline for me to completely doubt it now.

    It concerns me that Flower looks bad, and the 5 forward PP is ridiculous. Otherwise, this has been a streaky group all season - largely because it's taken on Geno's form. Geno will go crazy for a few weeks, then start looking like the impatient, turn-over machine of his slumps. It's almost like he knows he CAN'T go that hard without burning out, and he probably isn't wrong.

    I guess what I'm saying is that every team has these down-turns, because no team can go at 100% for 6 months of the regular season, regardless of how much it irritates the fans. They barreled through 11 teams, put themselves in good position, and now look like they are conserving their emotional, mental, and physical energy for late next week. Could it come back to bite them on the tushy? Sure. Is their timing poor? Yep.

    I was more angry, less optimistic yesterday. But it's like Brooks said after the game: when the Pens pushed the pace, the Flyers couldn't keep up. And if there's a Pen whose judgment I trust with respect to the pulse of the team, it's his. They may lose: I'm just not ready to throw in the towel yet or be melodramatic. Had the Pens not gone up by two yesterday so quickly and lost focus, this may very well have been a different game. I don't expect them to lose focus in a playoff game.

  2. Great stuff as always, Brandy.

    The sky is far from falling, and I'd still consider the Pens to be the favorite in the East, even if they end up as the #5 seed. But the frustration stems from the fact that the relatively minor things we've been complaining about throughout the season, even when times were good, don't seem to be going away.

    There are opposing forwards unchecked in the Pens' zone with regularity. If Flower isn't making spectacular saves, he suddenly looks very ordinary. The Pens forwards continue to take undisciplined penalties in the offensive zone. Crosby and Malkin are too easily pushed into after the whistle stuff, which I don't think gets them off their game or intimidates them, but is just a waste of precious energy.

    No team in the league has a higher ceiling than the Penguins. At times, we look unbeatable. It's just that there are other times where we should look unbeatable but, for whatever reason, we just don't.

  3. I think the Pens have already been bitten on the tushy, and the issue now is, will their sloppy play of late come back and devour the entire tushy.

  4. Eh - no tushies really get bit until the playoffs: pretty sure that's a rule. :)

    Even if they lose home ice, it hardly seems to have mattered. Both teams have played better in the other team's building. Having game 7 at home never seems to help the Pens, and sometimes I think you get a better hold on a series by taking a game or two away first.

  5. Discussion (on the internet in general, not just here) seems to point to the following: If the fourth line is out at the end, that's instigating. If the first line is out (winning team), that's running up the score. If the first line is out (losing team), that's wasting skill players in a losing effort.

    So, new rule: only 2nd and 3rd liners, and I guess 2nd defensive pairing, are allowed to play in the last 5 minutes of any game.

    SOLVED. Someone make sure Laviolette's okay with this.

    1. Haha. Remember, the fourth line can't start the game either. We learned this from the Great Torts-DeBoer Debate of a few weeks ago.

      I propose a new Atlantic division motto: "We make hockey etiquette our #1 priority!"

  6. pssst - That WAS the Flyers 3rd line. You okay with it now?

    1. Pssst, you may be be missing the point. We are making fun of Laviolette for bitching about the Pens' 4th line. No one cares who is on the Flyers' 3rd line.

  7. Here's what I propose.

    Before each game, each coach should submit a list of 5 players from the other team that he deems acceptable to have on the ice in the following circumstances:

    - Team is down 3 or more goals with under 5 minutes to play
    - Team is up 3 or more goals with under 5 minutes to play
    - A one goal game with under 5 minutes to play where one of the teams has already clinched a playoff spot or is officially eliminated from the playoffs

    If a coach chooses not to submit a list of acceptable players by name from the other team, he has the alternative of requiring that any player the opposing team uses in any of the above scenarios have between 20-50 penalty minutes, less than 3 fighting majors, not be within 25 points of the NHL scoring lead, and does not already have 2 goals in the game.

    If an opposing coach violates any of these rules imposed by his counterpart, it's a 2:00 bench minor, and a $2,000 fine.

    This would achieve Laviolette's objective of coaching the other team's bench.

  8. That creepy hunchback Cammalleri smile will haunt me till the day I die.

  9. Oh, and my LOLing about the hockey etiquette made me forget about my thoughts from when I originally read this post earlier today. You guys did a great job laying out the context of the players on the ice, and the fact that Wayne "Nobody Would Call Him an Enforcer/Goon" Simmonds has more fights and PIMs than both "Enforcer" Engelland and "Goon" Asham.

    But that inspired me to go look at the full team's PIM and... nobody has more than 80 this season (as compared to Not-Goon Simmonds' 110). Which is a good illustration of the bigger context I was thinking about at the game yesterday, that there are a couple guys who can fight when needed, but I don't remember having the feeling at any point this season that they went out for a game, or even a particular face-off, with instigating as a strategy. It's just not how this current team operates. Which is a good thing. (And which is further illustrated by the fact that the team-high 80 PIMs belong to Neal. Because you KNOW nobody's ever telling James Friggin' Neal to try and start a fight on this next shift.)

    Forgive me if this comment makes no sense; I'm typing it while I stirring things on the stove. ha.