Sunday, May 12, 2013

All's well that ends well: Pens win 4-3; Isles sent packing

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Check out the recap podcast by listening below or clicking here.

When Brooks Orpik redeemed himself for nearly decapitating Sidney Crosby last month by firing a laser beam past a completely overmatched Evgeni Nabokov to send the Pens to the second round, the immediate euphoria was quickly replaced by a sense of relief.  With a team as seemingly loaded as the Pens, a first-round loss to the 8th season Islanders was unthinkable.  The fallout would have been impossible to contain.

Now all we have to do is contain the emotion.
But when the story of the 2013 Penguins is written, no one will care that the Islanders outplayed the Penguins for long stretches of this series.  The Confederacy won a lot of battles in the Civil War, too.  The playoffs are supposed to be hard. The Isles were able to capitalize on shaky goaltending by Fleury and make the Pens start feeling a little bit of doubt (fine, a lot of doubt), but the Pens did what winners do: they finished games.  Dominating the puck for two and a half periods like the Isles did is great; having world-class players making world class plays to win playoff games is better.  So if you're wallowing in the Pens poor performance for much of Game 6, you may find some solace in the most elementary aspect of the sport -- the clock.  Hockey games are 60 minutes for a reason: it's usually a long enough time to allow the better team to win.  Or at least get to overtime.

The Isles were a worthy foe.  But the better team won this series.  What this performance foretells for Ottawa is for another day.  Let's wrap this thing up.  A full breakdown of the series after the jump...

Series MVP: Tomas Vokoun

For a team that's being widely criticized even though it won the series, there are no shortage of legitimate series MVP candidates.  Malkin is tied for the lead in playoff scoring, Crosby was sensational, Pascal Dupuis constantly scores goals, Jarome Iginla had the quietest 9 points ever scored, and Letang and the Prime Minister finished with a combined 12 points and a +8 (I know, seems crazy).

But this is a fairly easy one.  The situation after Game 4 was getting a little too dire for anyone's liking.  The Pens had played a lot better in Game 4 than in Game 3 and probably should have won -- after all, the Isles only had 24 shots and gave up 4 goals.  It was clear that Fleury's terrible play was starting to affect the team's overall play.  It's very hard to "get to your game" when every shot you let up is its own roller coaster ride.

Tomas Vokoun came in and gave the Pens a baseline of competence in net.  His first period of Game 5 saved the series from slipping away in horrifyingly embarrassing fashion.  And for the rest of Game 5 and Game 6, he did all the Pens need their goalie to do: not lose the game.  In Game 6 he never let the Isles get a two goal lead and every shot against wasn't the tumultuous journey of emotion that we experienced with Fleury in net.

It shouldn't be up for debate.  Vokoun should start Game 1 against Ottawa.

Underrated performance: Jarome Iginla

Iginla had nine points in six games and flawlessly delivered every cliched quote you want from your revered Canadian veteran ex-captain.  We know he isn't the player he was ten years ago, but he's a first-ballot hall-of-famer.  The points he's racking up may come quietly, but they aren't by accident.  And look at his face in this picture celebrating TK's goal in Game 5.

Worst performer: Mark Eaton

The Pens went 20-3 with Mark Eaton in the lineup during the regular season, so the guy still has gas in the tank.  But after all-time stinkers in Games 3 and 4, he was replaced for Game 5 by Simon Despres, who the coaching staff only trusted for 6:12 of ice time in Game 3.  In other words, this was the get-Eaton-off-the-ice strategy.  It's hard to diagnose exactly what went wrong for him because he is usually So Serviceable.  Maybe the Isles' speed was a problem for him. Whatever it was, the guy looked completely overwhelmed.

He will be back in the lineup during these playoffs, and possibly even for Game 1 against Ottawa.  In the meantime, we'll all start trying to forget about his performance in this series.

Overrated storyline: Kyle Okposo

How many times did NBC Sports show the Kyle Okposo highlight reel package, which was basically him getting credit for two goals being scored by Marc-Andre Fleury, followed up by a nice move through the Pens defense but not actually scoring on Vokoun?  The guy is a good player, but the notion that he was having some kind of Claude Girouxian series against the Pens was ridiculous.  Fine, he beat up Matt Niskanen, but so has Sidney Crosby.

Unsung Hero: The Penalty Kill

With the game tied at 2, the Pens killed off two Islanders power-plays late in the second period of Game 6.  It's impossible to overstate how important these kills were.  The Pens were playing terrible hockey and the Coliseum was coming to rolling boil.  There was a serious chance of an unraveling had the Isles taken advantage.

Overall the PK killed off 18 of 20 power-plays.  That's Dance of Champions stuff.

Turning Point: Tyler Kennedy screaming for a pass at the top of his lungs

Listen to this guy call for the pass.

And what an insanely good pass by Letang.

Underrated storyline: Andrew MacDonald's broken hand

The guy was averaging over 23 minutes of ice time before he got hurt in Game 4.  Sure, the injury was largely his fault because he got hit with a shot while bear hugging Craig Adams, but still, it was a tough break for the Isles.  His replacement Radek Martinek was a veteran, but he was a veteran of a bunch of terrible Islanders teams.  And it showed.  Imagine if when Brooks Orpik was injured the Pens best option as a backup was Josef Melichar.

Series Goat: Evgeni Nabokov

It's not that he let in a ton of bad goals, though there were a few of those.  It's that he didn't make a single memorable save all series.

Crosby is saying "thank you" in this picture.
Most vexing player: Kris Letang

The guy makes more $8 million plays than any other defenseman in the league.  But he also makes more $500K plays than any defenseman in the league who thinks he's going to be worth $8 million in free agency.  That we know Letang is bipolar doesn't make it any easier to watch.  He's emotionally abusing us.  But damn, is he good.

Lasting legacy of this series:  TBD

The immediate impact of winning this series is that it relieves the suffocating pressure to get out of the first-round.  The long-term impact is yet to be written, but the obvious question is whether this was the beginning of the end for Marc-Andre Fleury.  If Fleury gets back into form and leads the Pens to the Cup, then this series is a mere hiccup on his resume and it will end up being about as memorable as Pens-Sens in 2010.  But if Vokoun leads the Pens the rest of the way, or if Fleury comes back and craps the bed again, then what happened in Games 2-4 is potentially franchise altering.  We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, but we probably haven't seen the last of the Flower this spring.



  1. I disagree re: the penguins' penalty kill. I actually think they looked pretty sloppy all series. I guess you can't argue with 18/20, but I think that was more a product of dumb luck than skill. The Isles had a ton of time in the Pens' zone during their PP and narrowly missed the net on a multitude of shots. One a few PPs the Isles kept the puck in the pens zone for a minute and a half at a time. The Pens were allergic to clearing the puck out of their zone all series.

    Dan Byslma got brutally out coached in this series. I really hope he gets in the lab and comes up with a different breakout than the boards stretch pass breakout they employed all series (even after the Islanders completely figured it out). I think Byslma needs to stop jamming a square peg into a round hole (e.g. continuing to put 12-71-18 together when everyone and their brother could see that Iginla and Malkin had less chemistry than I would with Kate Upton). He needs to learn how to make some adjustments once in awhile.

    1. I definitely noticed that the Islanders wingers were getting in between the Pens D and the Pens wingers and were frequently intercepting breakout passes. We always blame the D for turnovers, but the wingers have to do a better job of supporting the puck (or the coaches have to come up with a better system).

      I don't know if I'd say DB was brutally outcoached, but I will say this. I don't think that after any series he's coached we've said to ourselves, "wow, DB really outcoached the other coach that series." The overwhelming talent means he probably doesn't have to "win" the coaching battle for the Pens to win a series, but you're right that it isn't always clear whether he ever has a Plan B.

  2. That TK goal won me the Humble Double Fine indie bundle. I guessed he would score the first goal, and what a goal it was. good for him.