Friday, March 8, 2013

Two teaspoons of goaltending and a half cup of discipline; Pens beat Flyers 5-4

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Early in the third period last night and shortly after the Pens took a 5-4 lead, Kris Letang and Zac Rinaldo collided behind the Pens' net.  It was a big collision, leaving the puck loose and Letang struggling to keep his balance.  Evgeni Malkin swooped in and pushed the puck aside, but not before having his own collision with Max Talbot.  After a whistle about 10 seconds later, Rinaldo "accidentally" bumped into Letang.  Letang stumbled for a moment before regaining his balance and doing the unthinkable: skating away.  Meanwhile, Talbot started chirping Malkin.  Geno smiled, then skated to the bench.  Then the puck dropped and play continued.

Imagine that.

What happens when you act right.
The first period last night was a worst-case scenario gone worse.  The only penalty the Pens had enough discipline to avoid was a delay-of-game minor for closing their hand on the puck and throwing it in their own net.  Fleury looked like he usually looks against the Flyers.  Scott Hartnell looked like he was buying real estate in your nightmares.  And James Neal looked like he was thinking to himself, "I've already out-crazied Kris Letang, I'm coming for you, Ron Artest!"

If you look to the left, I believe this is a rare photo of James Neal not taking a penalty against the Flyers.  Hang on to this one.  Could be worth something someday.
But finally, for reasons unknown, the Pens got their act together.  The first few minutes of the second period were as dominant as the Pens have been all season.  They appeared to be trying out a new strategy: making the Flyers play extended stretches of normal, 5-on-5 hockey.  Not the hockey where you launch flying elbows, check from behind, and bite people after the whistle, but the hockey where you get the puck out of your zone, in deep in the offensive zone, and then work for it on the boards.  It proved two things we already knew but thought we may never see again in this matchup: the Pens are really good at a normal hockey game.  The Flyers?  Not as much.

"Don't forget me and Bryz! We suck, too!"
If you want to know how badly the Flyers are struggling, consider: If the Caps lose two of their next three games, they'll have the same record as the Flyers.  Right now Philly's odds of making the playoffs are at 15.5% if you believe whatever this site is.  After the first period last night it looked like the Pens were subsidizing rocket fuel for the Flyers launch back into the playoff picture.  By the time the game was over, the Pens might have stomped on Philly's jugular.

It doesn't matter what caused the 180 degree change between the first and second periods last night.  It just matters that it happened.  It doesn't mean all is well -- the Pens still gave up four goals, Fleury looked embarrassing, and it's just one game.  It means there's hope.  Not hope that the Pens are good -- we know they are.  But hope that they might finally be grasping just how good they can be when they don't get in their own way.

More thoughts after the jump...

- Marc-Andre Fleury's performance last night is not just the elephant in the room, it's the whole herd in your mouth.  He was dreadful.  It certainly doesn't help that his defense allowed 18 shots in the first period, but hockey is not played in a vacuum   Everything is related to everything else.  When a team has zero confidence in its goaltender -- and the Pens had no reason to be confident in Fleury last night -- it affects every facet of the game.  Should professionals be able to compartmentalize these things, and not let the fact that Fleury allowed Kimmo Timonen to score on a throw from third base to first base get them off their game?  Ideally, yes.  In reality, they don't.  Fleury's terrible play doesn't excuse James Neal or anyone else making dumb plays.  But their dumb plays don't excuse Fleury's bad goals either.  Vokoun came in and all he had to do was calm down.  You can say that Vokoun was tested less than Fleury which is true only to an extent -- Fleury wouldn't have seemed like he got tested so much if he hadn't put a rebound on a tee for Rinaldo and let Timonen score from the 25-yard line.

Is there a worse feeling in life than looking at pictures like this?
It's hard to have much confidence in him going forward, at least against the Flyers.

- Beau Bennett is inches away from making real magic with Malkin and Neal. Finding Neal wide open in the corner for the third goal was just scratching the surface. But the most impressive thing about Beau so far isn't necessarily his offensive awareness, it's his battle level. This game reinforced for us that the last thing the Pens should be looking to do at the deadline is to alter their top 6. That doesn't mean you don't test the waters on Jarome Iginla, but it certainly means you don't get into a bidding war over him.  We're pretty much in agreement with Mark Madden. Adding a top-6 winger to this team is like taking a Lexus that needs new treads on the tires and adding a sixth cup-holder instead.

- Last night also confirmed that the defense as currently constituted is unacceptable. Wayne Simmonds is a monster in front of the net, and neither Paul Martin nor Brooks Orpik wanted any part of him. It won't get easier when Milan Lucic comes to town next week, or Eric Staal, or David Clarkson, or whoever. It's the net front presence that makes teams a legitimate matchup problem for the Pens, and Ray Shero has to bring in a space-eating defenseman at the deadline to address it. That's the priority.

- Mark Eaton has just been so steady. We hate to sit Engo, but if the Pens do bring in a defenseman at the deadline, he is the logical odd man out. Sure, Engelland is physical in that he hits and he fights but here's the thing: you can take a hit to make a play.  What you can't do as a forward is make a play when someone is taking away all your space.  Engelland will catch a forward whose head is down, but what about when the guy keeps his head up?

- Giroux was not at his best last night, but his line with Hartnell and Voracek is deadly.  Giroux may not be the best player in the world -- ok, he's definitely not -- but what he may actually be the best in the world at is putting the puck into open space where only his teammates can get to it.  Watching Giroux angle his dump-ins so that the puck bounces out to his streaking winger at the faceoff dot reminds me of watching the Black Widow win the 1995 Brunswick Classic.

What a performer.
- Pens are in Toronto on Saturday.  If you're going to the game, check your passport. (Last one, Artistry, I promise).


  1. Why do I feel like that's not the last one.

    1. I don't know. How many more games do the Pens play in Canada this year?