Having cooled off after the Pens' dramatic 5-4 overtime win over the Islanders to take a 2-1 lead in the series -- yes, we needed to cool off after a win -- perhaps we were too negative in our Raw Emotion Podcast recorded minutes after the Pens escaped with a win they didn't deserve.
After all, the Pens have scored 13 goals in 3 games and are winning a series against an Islanders team that played possibly its best game of the season, yet still lost 5-4 to a Pens team playing as poorly, sloppily, and lazily as it has played all year. If the Pens can actually play better, rather than just talk about the universally accepted notion that they need to play better, this can still be the 5-game series we predicted all along. So in this spirit of looking at the bright side of things, lets sprinkle a dusting of good among the bad, the ugly, and the repugnant.
THE GOOD: Sidney Crosby. He had two goals in Game 2 but for long-time connoisseurs of his excellence, he was noticeably rusty and far less able to dictate the game than he was before his injury. That was all to be expected, of course. But seeing him that rusty made us a little bit skeptical that he would be able to get back to his level from March so quickly. That was dumb.
Crosby was far and away the Pens best player Sunday and he was the only guy who inspired any confidence when he was on the ice. His passing was sublime and he dominated the boards in the offensive zone when he wasn't preoccupied in his own zone because of defensemen who were unwilling to take seriously the fact that there are two teams in each playoff game and the other team isn't going to step aside and allow you to tap-dance to loose pucks then gently push them in the general direction of "anywhere I won't get hit."
THE WAAAAAHHHHHHHH: As sure as the days get longer, the trees start to bloom, and co-workers lament their allergies during awkward elevator rides, Sidney Crosby is the subject of springtime controversy, having drawn the penalty that led to the game winning goal. This is a good place to be if you're a Pens fan because any shift of the conversation away from how terrible the team played to the psychological comfort food that is defending Sid against allegations of diving is a welcome distraction.
Was it a dive? No. Was it a soft call, as the estimable panel of Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury suggested during the post-game show? No.
There may be some truth to the notion that Crosby gets the benefit of the doubt, as have so many superstars over time. But there's more truth to the notion that superstars are superstars for a reason: they are better than guys like Brian Strait. Would hockey be a better sport if Strait was allowed to offset his cavernous talent disadvantage by reaching out with both arms to impede the best player in the world from doing the very thing that makes him the best player in the world? Of course not. I agree with the argument that that play would not have been a penalty against any other player, but not because the "rules of nature" don't apply to Crosby as Jesse Spector suggests. It's because if Crosby was any other player, Brian Strait wouldn't have had to use both arms to haul him to the ice after getting worked over on the boards.
|Not a penalty? Get real.|
THE NOT WORKING: Sutter and Morrow together isn't really working. Advanced stats will tell you that both players are bad with puck possession; your eyes will tell you that they routinely get pinned deep in their own zone and Morrow, for as much as he came on late in the season, looks like a guy who would be a lot more effective playing with guys who can actually get the puck so that he can do what he's good at: stand in front of the net and be tough to play against. You know when Brenden Morrow is not tough to play against? When he's sucking wind at the end of a 75 second shift spent entirely in his own zone.
THE STATUS QUO: The Pens defense gave Marc-Andre Fleury even less help in Game 3 than in a terrible Game 2, but four goals is four goals, and at some point if you want to be taken seriously as a goalie who can win another Stanley Cup you have to give up four goals a lot less frequently. The Pens defense was so bad, however, that the status quo holds: Fleury starts game 4, but remains on a very short leash.
THE REPUGNANT: It's hard to imagine that a hockey player could have a worse game than the game Mark Eaton played today. Matt Niskanen and Kris Letang certainly gave it their best shot, but Eaton reached such historic levels of terribleness during this game that he would have been better off spending his shifts laying across the goal line and hoping that he saved a goal by accident. And the thing is, we love Mark Eaton.
THE HANDSY: Chris Kunitz. Where would we be without him.
THE OUTLOOK: Despite our general malaise, the Pens are in a great position to win this series. The past two games have served to narrow our focus from the big picture to the little things like GETTING THE PUCK OUT OF YOUR OWN ZONE. Wooooosahhh. Anyway, the biggest reason to remain optimistic, other than leading the series, reclaiming home-ice advantage, and having the best player in the world back, is the if. If the Pens can just get by this self-imposed psychological hurdle of the first round of the playoffs, maybe they return to being the team that won fifteen straight and looked damn good doing it. It's just not going to be as easy as we hoped.