Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How to get yourself adequately worried that the Pens will lose to the Islanders

By GTOG Staff (follow us on Twitter)

Artistry: Everyone around the water cooler today had the same question: "Are you happy with the match-up?" As an initial matter, happiness has nothing to do with playoff hockey. There is excitement, yes. But it's excitement like you feel before you go skydiving for the first time. "I hope I don't die" excitement. It's a lot of fretfulness and sitting really close to the television. The real question is, do we think the Islanders are a "favorable" match-up. 

The place we need to get to.
On paper, the answer has to be yes. The Penguins went 4-1 against them this season, with the only loss coming way back on January 29. Since then, the Pens have outscored the Isles 16-5 in four games, and three of those games were played without either Malkin or Crosby. And the Islanders were underwhelming against everybody. 21st in the league in penalty killing. 21st in the league in goals against per game. A negative goal differential. Is there anything that you can tell me to get me to the proper state of heightened anxiety?

Get worried with us after the jump...

Finesse: Asking me to reach a heightened level of anxiety during the NHL playoffs is like asking Mike Milbury to be more annoying. I'm already starting from a pretty high baseline. 

But be like every other NHL fan and forget about the Islanders. My biggest reason for anxiety is Marc-Andre Fleury. Based on last year's playoffs and his tendency to let bad goals snowball, he is so much more likely to be the reason the Pens lose this series than he is to be the reason they win it, right? Put him up against the John Tavares - Matt Moulson combo (yes, I'm talking myself into being scared of Matt Moulson) and there's at least a chance he melts down. Bylsma has a much better backup option this season, but would he have the balls to use it?

Artistry: OK, that didn't take long. I'm now standing at my desk, holding myself and slowly rocking back and forth on my heels. I'm where I need to be. It doesn't take balls to make a choice when there is no choice. And if we see a Fleury performance like the one against Philly last spring, Bylsma must go with Vokoun. I can't see Fleury being that bad again - even if he's not great. What I can see is our PK struggling in the face of a John Tavares-led onslaught. 

Finesse: This is where if I wasn't trying to scare you, I'd point out that 1) the Isles PP is under 20%; 2) the Pens PP is 24.7%; and 3) the Isles PK is only 0.7% better than the Pens (80.3% to 79.6%).  Then if I really didn't get the point of this exercise, I'd tell you that the Pens PK was 81.3% since the arrival of Crankshaft and 6 of the 9 power play goals the Pens have given up since acquiring Crankshaft came in only 2 games (NYR and TBL).

Artistry: I don't think you get the point of this exercise.

Doesn't care what the point of this exercise is.
Finesse: Fine, I'll spin negative.

When I try to envision the Pens losing this series, I don't see losing 4 tightly-contested games.  I see a borderline meltdown.  The Pens gave up multiple power-play goals six times this season, including games of 3, 3, and 4 against.  If the PK goes, it might go completely.  So I ask ... if you were given the option of accepting that the Isles score 6 total power-play goals in this series, would you take it?

Artistry: Hmmm. That seems like a lot. Until you consider that in Round 1 last year the Flyers' power play went 12-for-23. Let me just type that again. 12-FOR-23. So 6 goals in the abstract is not a frightening number. The more relevant question I think is whether more than 1 or 2 of these games will be close enough to make a power play goal by the Islanders matter. Just look at the rosters and it's clear, there's only one way THAT happens: Evgeni Nabokov plays lights out. 

Finesse: Hold it right there. Is Nabokov even good?

Artistry: You may think he's merely an average NHL goalie, but - and you knew this was coming - so was Glen Healy. Inexperience may be an issue for most guys on the Islanders, but not for Nabokov. He's 37 and has no less than 80 playoff games under his belt. During his deepest run with the Sharks, he sported a .935 save percentage and a 1.71 GAA. And I'm not looking this up, but I'm pretty sure neither Malkin nor Crosby has ever scored against him. Can he steal two games on his own, and can he keep the others close enough that a below par Pens PK might sink Pittsburgh?

Finesse: You're talking about the same goalie who refused to report when the Islanders claimed him off waivers 2 years ago?  Although in fairness, Mario refused to report to the Pens when they drafted him and now he has so much goodwill in Pittsburgh that he could melt down the Steelers' six Lombardi trophies to make a necklace for Francisco Cabrera and we'd start a petition for him to get a second statue on the Northside.

Nabakov is a concern, but I've maintained that the Pens are so ridiculously deep and talented that they are much more likely to be eliminated because of bad goaltending on their part than great goaltending by the opponent.  I remind you that Malkin-Neal-Kunitz is the Pens second line.

Artistry: There's also the coaching element to consider.  Wait.  Never mind.

Hair that singlehandedly keeps memories of 1993 alive.
To recap, the top two fears we've identified have little to do with the Islanders: a Fleury meltdown and a PK disaster.  The actual Islanders-based reasons that might make you afraid have their own flaws: John Tavares has never played a playoff game and is probably the 3rd best player in the series; Matt Moulson is Matt Moulson and we're not really going to get overly worked up about that; and Evgeni Nabakov has playoff experience the same way Dan Marino had playoff experience.

By any objective measure, the Pens should win this series.  But that doesn't mean you can't be afraid.


  1. I tried to hard to get adequately worried. I really did. I did not succeed. (Although the one player you didn't mention, Mike Grabner, is the Sonic to our Dr. Eggman, and I put the over/under at shorthanded breakaways from him in this series at 3.5).

    After the adrenaline of the first game dissipates the Isles will be faced with the cold reality of nightly beatings from Crankshaft, Morrow, and Orpik while simultaneously realizing that Brain Strait -- a player so dispensable to the Pens that he was given away for literally nothing -- has the responsibility of shutting down 9, 87, 12. This is right around the same time that Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald have to face the Pens' second first line and no sooner do they get a breather than some other players whose names I don't care to learn will have to stop some combination of Morrow, Sutter, Cooke, and Jokinen.

    The scenarios outlined in this post are possible no matter the opponent. The reality for this Pens team is that, when healthy (and even when only like, 85% healthy), there is no team in the East that can beat them unless they beat themselves.

    1. Well said. We should have mentioned Grabner.

    2. I've heard so many people (just generally, not here) already hanging a series loss on Fleury. So I feel compelled to say this: there isn't a goalie I trust more to handle Grabner (or anyone) on a break-away than Flower. That is definitely good news against this team in particular. He is the Shootout King.

  2. Who is porking Hartnell's wife now the Jeff Carter is busy with the playoffs?