Sunday, May 26, 2013

Remember: Goliath kills David 99 times out of 100. A recap of Pens-Sens

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The widespread hope coming out of the first-round dogfight was that the pressure coming with being a heavy favorite and having three straight bad series losses in the playoffs would be relieved and the Pens would finally play up to their potential.  Check that box.  This victory over Ottawa was as lopsided as it should have been.  The Pens were way better than Ottawa and they played like it.

There are areas that still need tightened up, but no team is without flaws.  And while other teams may be better in certain areas than the Pens, no team comes as close to having everything as the Pens.  A lot of teams have a really good top 6; the Pens have a top 6 that has the runaway two best players in the league. A lot of teams have a good bottom 6; the Pens have a bottom six consisting of 6 guys who each fit a specific role, and do it well.  A lot of teams have a good defense; the Pens have 6 guys who are playing better each game, and look like they have their worst hockey behind them.  A lot of teams have defensemen who can generate offense; the Pens have Kris Letang.

It's true that the Pens have achieved only what they have been expected to achieve -- beating a #8 and #7 seed.  On paper it seems like no big deal, but consider: The #2 and #3 seeds in the East are out.  The #2 and #3 seeds in the West are out, and Chicago is one game away from being out.  The best compliment you can give the Pens right now is that they are as dangerous as we all thought they'd be.

Before we get to Boston in the next few days, let's recap this series.

Series MVP: Kris Letang

We give the guy as much shit as anyone, but he was consistently the best player in this series and it wasn't all that close.  The guy is a human 3-on-2.  In the first period of game 6, Sutter won a defensive zone draw to Letang, who simply took the puck and skated directly up the ice so quickly that the Pens had a 3-on-2 before the Senators even knew what happened them.  Who even does that?  It wasn't a special play and the Pens didn't get some weird bounce.  Letang simply got the puck, went straight, and the Pens had a scoring chance.

If it wasn't for some memorable errors -- and he's made several in the first two rounds -- Letang would be near the top of anyone's Conn Smythe list.  If he can just cut down on those mistakes in the next round -- and pairing him with the recently re-steadied Mark Eaton makes that more likely than ever -- it's entirely possible that Letang could win the Conn Smythe.  He's that good when he plays that good.  If that makes sense.

Pens MVP to date: Tomas Vokoun

The Pens score in bunches, and those bunches are usually (and understandably) followed by lulls ranging from brief to extended.  After Letang put the Pens up 3-0, the Pens didn't get another shot for almost 7 minutes.  The Senators had the puck the whole time, including twice on the power play. Milan Michalek scored, but that's all.  Vokoun never gave up the goal that would have given the Senators life, and holding the fort through that lull is the definition of timely goaltending. The Pens' next shot was Malkin's goal, which essentially ended the series.

Pivotal moment of Round 2: The first two minutes of the second period of Game 4

After the Pens blew Game 3, they came out and were as dominant as ever during the first period of game 4.  Yet somehow (ok, Letang was prominently involved) they were down 2-1.  Against a lesser team, this would have given the Senators life.  But the Pens snuffed that out when Kunitz and Iginla scored 40 seconds apart.  The Senators may have been hoping for some sort of reprieve.  Those 40 seconds pretty much confirmed that Ottawa had no choice in the matter.

Signature moment of playoffs so far: TK's breakaway goal in Game 5 against the Islanders

Winning this series with relative ease may obscure how perilous the situation was after Game 4 against the Islanders.  No one knew what to expect from Vokoun, the Isles were swelling with over-confidence, and the Pens were forced into several lineup changes just to keep up.  TK's brilliant finish proved that even if the Pens don't technically have a Plan B when "get to our game" isn't working, they have a lot of guys who can execute Plan A.

Again, Iginla's face in this picture.
Unsung hero: Brooks Orpik

Orpik came back before Game 4 against the Islanders, and while that game turned out to be a nightmare, it was not his fault. (See if you can remember who we blamed). Since that game, the Pens are 6-1, Orpik is a +7, and he hasn't been a minus in any game.  He's not a superstar by any means, but he always plays like a grownup and has helped the Prime Minister start playing like one of the best defensemen in the league.  Orpik's ideal usage is as the third best defenseman on a team -- that's his destiny, and he's living it near-perfectly.

Emergability Winner: No one

Ottawa had unlimited candidates to emerge during this series as a better player than anyone though. It's tempting to pick Colin Greening because he scored three goals, but at no point during this series did anyone go, "oh shit, Colin Greening is on the ice." Kyle Turris also had three goals, but they were of the someone-has-to-score variety.  The Pens prevented any Senators from emerging, and instead exposed them as entirely dependent on great goaltending.

That you probably don't know who this is proves the point.
Adjustments for Boston: None.

The Pens may have finally found the lineup that works.  As long as Eaton isn't getting exposed like he did for a few games in Round 1, the defense isn't getting any better than it is right now.  Tyler Kennedy is a must-dress for the remainder of the playoffs, Brenden Morrow seems destined to play a huge role against the Bruins, and having a healthy Jussi Jokinen on the 4th line is a luxury the Pens can afford.

Who needs to do a lot more: Brandon Sutter

We're not going to slam the guy too much while the Pens are essentially on a 7-game winning streak, but he had no points against Ottawa and has only one point in 11 playoff games.  The Pens didn't need him against the #7 and #8 seed, but he could make their job against Boston a lot easier if he shows up for Round 3.  Because everyone on Boston will show up.

Two random things to watch going forward

1) Is Kunitz fully healthy? He's been sitting for extended stretches at times during the last two games.

2) Guess who played the fewest minutes for the Pens in Game 5: Jarome Iginla.

Final Word on Ottawa

Penguins-Bruins was destined to happen. Ottawa was a small bump in the road and the Pens were riding on 28s.

1 comment:

  1. PM deserves some love in the unsung hero category too with his partner: he and Brooks have been excellent together.

    This match-up will be interesting. Boston has some speed, but they also seem to like to slow down the play, which the Pens generally seem to handle fine, provided they keep their patience.

    I think what makes me most optimistic is that the Pens are very fast when they strike - and Boston, for all the hoopla about how good they are defensively, couldn't handle Toronto's speed any better than we handled the Isles'. (No idea why every set-up article for the series I've read completely ignores this, especially given how good the Pens offense is.)

    I also wonder who they'll stick Chara against. Everyone sort of assumes Sid (reasonably enough) - but given what the 12-71-18 line did the last couple of games, is Julien really going to stick them up against his second pairing?

    In any case, I'm certain of a couple of things:
    1) This is going to be a nasty series, so this rest is a good thing.
    2) The Pens need to come out and just nail Chara, Lucic, and Marchant as often as possible immediately after the first puck drops.