Listen to the podcast below or click here. And click here to subscribe on iTunes.
Last night the Pens were a nerdy 7th grader who got tied to a fence and de-pantsed by the cool kids at the beginning of recess, then had to stand there for the next 40 minutes while everyone laughed and pointed. There was no facet of the game in which the Pens played well, no redeeming performance by any individual players, and almost nothing to give you confidence the Pens can win a game in this series, let alone the series itself. All credit to the Bruins, whose stars dominated the Pens' stars, whose grinders dominated the Pens' grinders, and whose coaching staff is making Dan Bylsma look completely out of his league.
|You're doing it wrong.|
The good news is that it was only game 2. At least we hope that's the good news. The Pens have shown a tendency to lose ugly this year (10 of their 12 losses were by 2 goals or more), and though it is surprising to have been so thoroughly dominated through much of two games, it would be completely unsurprising if the Pens won game 3 in Boston, even by a large margin. What the Pens haven't done this series is get a lead on Boston and force the Bruins to adapt. The Bruins have been able to do everything that they're really good at with very little resistance from the Pens; unless the Pens can dictate the terms of the game, even a little bit, the Bruins will win this series and will probably do it easily.
This isn't to say that the Pens need to go all crazy before game 3 and try to change everything. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The Pens need to figure out what will make them successful again -- making simple plays defensively, possessing the puck for long enough to allow creativity to take over -- and then do it. And then keep doing it even if the Bruins are making it hard. And if the Bruins are still making it hard, then you know what the Pens should do? Keep doing it.
This is all much easier said that done, mainly because of how good Boston has been. But an almost equal reason for pessimism has to do with the Penguins' own mentality. Every quote after these losses is the same: "We got away from our game." Well, why? Why does a team that can be so good play so badly sometimes? Why does Kris Letang look like a first ballot hall-of-famer some nights and a total scrub on other nights? Why do Crosby and Malkin, now in their mid to late-twenties, still get so flustered when things aren't coming easily for them? Why do the Pens either look like the best offensive team since the 80s or outclassed brats playing soccer with the puck because they can't connect on a pass?
The most vexing part of this team is that you have no idea what the expect from one night to the next. Game 3 in Boston could be exactly like game 3 in Philly last year where the Pens started running people and acting like babies when things weren't going their way. Or the Pens could have a 4-goals-in-5-minutes spurt and win 6-2. Or they could play a tight-checking and disciplined 2-1 game. (That last one seems highly unlikely, but with this team, who knows).
As hard as it is to predict how the players will play, it can be equally hard to discern what the coaching staff is doing. There's a balance between being reactive and being proactive, and Bylsma (and Shero) have failed miserably at striking that balance. It's been 12 hours since the puck dropped and I still haven't come up with one good reason (other than possible injuries) why Derek Engelland dressed. It's not that Engelland was any worse last night than anyone else, or even worse than Eaton would have been, but what was this move trying to accomplish? Get grittier? Tougher? Why? It's not like the Bruins' won game 1 by physically dominating the Pens -- they won game 1 because they weathered the storm and then smartly and skillfully took advantage when the Pens started chasing the game. This move was reactionary, which on its face is disappointing from a team that went 36-12. Even worse, it was reactionary to a non-existent problem. Bylsma was reacting to a myth about this Bruins team -- that they're the "big, bad Bruins" -- when it's the Bruins skill and positioning that has been the major problem.
Scratching Kennedy was equally, if not more, confusing. Yeah, Boston had won a lot of face-offs in game 1, but that "problem" didn't really tilt game 1 that much in favor of Boston -- the Pens were only outshot by 1 and the so-called "advanced stats" (which involve counting, then adding) were fairly even given this allegedly crippling discrepancy. The problem in game 1 was that the Pens couldn't finish. So Byslma's solution was to sit the best scorer and puck possession guy the Pens have in their bottom 6 for a guy who may be able to win the face-off ... but to what end? Vitale wins the offensive zone draw to Niskanen, who shoots it into the corner ... who is getting it and then doing anything with it? Brenden Morrow? An overreaction to a real, but hardly fatal, problem.
Both of these moves were marginal in the sense that they didn't in any way cost the Pens this game. The Pens are a unique team. No one plays like the Pens, but the Pens don't -- and can't -- play like anyone else. So why try? Why let the Bruins dictate your lineup? At home, no less. Coupled with his inability to extract any consistency from his best players, Dan Bylsma has as much to answer for as anyone.
One thing that Bylsma can and should answer immediately is the goaltending question, although there really shouldn't be a question. Vokoun has to be the starter. Neither goalie was responsible for this loss, but to anyone who has watched Fleury over the course of his career, it's obvious that this guy is gone mentally. We saw the goal from Marchand almost immediately after the Sutter goal. We don't need to see more. He's so horrible right now that you could easily make the case that he shouldn't even dress as the backup. Fleury looked like he wanted to cry ... when the Pens put him IN the game.
The series is not lost, though when the Pens finally get it together it may be too late to salvage given how well the Bruins are playing. It certainly looks bleak heading back to Boston down 2-0. If the Pens were a normal team, you could look at the results from the first two games and figure that Boston is simply a better team and the Pens would be lucky to win a game. That very well might be the case. But the Pens aren't a normal team. So, really, who the fuck knows what's going to happen?