Thursday, May 23, 2013

A 7-3 victory sounds about right; Pens push Sens to the brink in Game 4

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

We opened our podcast last night asking the question: Was Game 4 the game we've been waiting for the Pens to play all postseason?  Our answer was a definitive 'no.'  Game 3 was the game we had been hoping the Pens were capable of -- a tight, 1-0 win, with scoring from an unexpected place, and an ability to overcome a hot goalie with a hot goalie of our own.  But you know, shit happens.

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Game 4 was the game we knew the Pens had in them, and the Pens teased us with it a few times in the Isles series (Games 1 and 5) and even early in this series (Game 1).  But they never got all the way there like they did last night.  Game 4 was total domination.  The Pens OWNED the first period and probably should have been winning 5-2 after 20 minutes.  With all due respect to Dejan Kovacevic, who is having himself a hell of a playoffs, the Pens were not "awful" in the first period.  In fact, it was arguably the Pens most dominant period offensively in the whole playoffs; it just took a few minutes more of play in the second period to reap the benefits on the scoreboard.  What happened in the third period -- 4 goals in 10 minutes -- was not the product of 10 good minutes of hockey, something which has often been enough for the Pens to win games.  It was the well-earned payoff from two excellent overall performances in Ottawa in Games 3 and 4.

The Pens went into Ottawa and scored 8 goals in 2 games -- it's just a matter of bad fortune that they weren't spread out more evenly to come home with two wins.  Because one thing is clear this morning and it's that this series should already be over.

Read on for more...

Unfortunately, it's not over.  The mental errors that the Pens make way-too-regularly are not going away, so there's no guarantee that the Pens close it out in Game 5.  But the Pens would be wise to keep their foot on the gas and try to bury Ottawa right from the start because as clearly as the fans and media can see that the Pens are the better team, the Senators themselves seem to see it most clearly.  From Scott Burnside of
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who reached the 100-point plateau in playoff scoring with a power-play goal with the game out of reach in the third, was asked whether it was feasible to win three straight against this Pittsburgh team.

"Probably not," he answered with brutal candor. "With their depth and their power play right now, it doesn’t look too good.

"I’m just saying that I don’t think there’s much going for us. Maybe that’s the way we like it."
The Senators are ready to lose this series.  The only way they get back in it is if the Pens let them, and the killer-instinct and refusal to get frustrated last night is the most encouraging sign yet that the Pens won't allow it.  The last 4 games for Ottawa have been like nursing a sick relative.  There was a brief glimmer of hope, but we all know how it should end.  It's time to pull the plug and let go.

It's ok, Paul. Don't be scared.
- Somehow Evgeni Malkin ended up with zero points despite the Pens putting up a 7-spot, including two on the power-play.  He's now gone two straight games without a point. On paper, this looks bad.  But if you have eyes, then it's evident he is returning to his MVP form of last season.  If Geno and Sid are both playing at their highest level -- where they each are around 1.5 points per game -- the Pens are a near-impossible match-up for anyone.  With no Cups in the prior three season, there have been questions about whether the "2 superstar model" works.  The answer is that it does work when the 2 superstars are playing like the 2 best players in the league.  Which they are.

- Tomas Vokoun is something to behold.  I've never seen a goalie look behind himself so much to make sure the puck isn't dribbling between his legs and in.  It doesn't dribble between his legs, though, and that's all that really matters.  As long as he keeps winning -- and he's 5-1 with a 1.82 GAA and .942 save percentage -- there is nothing to discuss.  He's the goalie.  If he falters (and despite the constant looking over his shoulder, there's no indication that a collapse is imminent), Fleury will be ready.  The only question at this point is whether if Vokoun has a bad game, would that even be enough for Fleury to supplant him as the #1 goalie again?

- Kris Letang must be bi-polar.  One personality is an evolutionary Scott Neidermayer; the other is a de-evolutionary Mike Green.  His first period was horrific, from giving up a shorthanded breakaway to falling on top of his goalie.  But then he had 4 assists.  When he isn't limiting himself, his ceiling is unlimited.

- If healthy, Jussi Jokinen needs to stay in the lineup.  Joe Vitale did a very nice job in his few games, but Jokinen brings something that can further separate the Pens from the competition -- an ability to sustain offense.  The Pens are so top-heavy that you can't even really say they have a "1st line."  With Jokinen, the same is true at the bottom of the lineup.  There's really no 4th line.  With Cooke, Kennedy, Sutter, Jokinen, Adams, and Bennett/Morrow, it doesn't really matter what you call any combination.  Each can play 10-15 effective minutes.  Here are Game 4's time on ice numbers:

- Last night was a sad night for Sergei Gonchar.  He was a -4 and was in the box for James Neal's killer PP goal early in the third.  He's a big time liability at this point.

- 15:32 from Crankshaft, and you barely heard his name.  That's a great thing.

Pens need to put this one away on Friday.  We suspect they will.  Go Pens.


  1. My fav quote of the night was Letang, on getting pucks past Anderson: "We just kept going at it, putting pucks at his feet and going for the rebound. And it actually worked."

    Gosh, golly, how bout that. It actually did.

    I've decided Tanger is the perfect representation of this team - wildly talented, completely unpredictable, and apparently slightly surprised by the effectiveness of basic hockey strategy.

    But whatever- I've given up trying to figure this team out. It's whatever it feels like being on a given day. So I'll just enjoy the ride.

    Also - one thing that didn't come up that I think is worth mentioning: The third line looked good last night. They spent much time in the offensive zone and were noticeable just about every shift. I know y'all aren't big Sutter fans, but that line is working. (Cooke has been quietly excellent this series, I think. The play he made on the shortie was wonderful.)

    1. You're right, Sutter was more noticeable in a positive way last night. I don't like the combo of him with Morrow, so maybe splitting those two up (or having Morrow be injured) is a solution.

      Morrow is most productive when he's with guys who can keep the puck in deep so he can deliver some hits and stand in front of the goalie. Sutter hasn't been good at that (at least not this season).

      Sutter plays what I would kindly call a "low-energy" game. I'm not saying he isn't giving 100%, but maybe it's just his style -- he never really looks like he's really flying (the way that TK is sometimes, for example). Having a high-energy guy like TK with Sutter seems like a much better match than Morrow.