Tuesday, June 4, 2013

So, the Pens got destroyed by Boston last night. Now what?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

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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.
More after the jump...

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?


  1. What a disguisting game. So many bad performances. Crosby had his worst game as a Penguin... he looked like a drunk 5 year old learning how to skate for the first time. Letang is a lunatic and has a negative hockey IQ.

    Some other random thoughts:

    1. Fluery played his last game in Pittsburgh.

    2. Byslma is one of the worst coaches in the league. I think his system sucks and has been figured out for awhile now. I think the Pens win in spite of Byslma not because of him. Has Byslma ever made an in-game adjustment in his career? Complete clown.

    3. Byslma benching TK was an awful decision.

    4. Byslma continuing to play 12-71-18 together even though that line has 0 chemistry is baffling.

    5. Morrow and Craig Adams look like they are skating in quicksand. They are done. Send them to the glue factory.

    My proposed line combinations for game 3:



  2. Adding one other thought to the above:

    I know the bruins are good at taking away time and space, but the penguins shooting has been amazing inaccurate.

    Neal took a shot last night from the top of the circle that went LATERAL. It was like a shank in golf. It reminded me of that scene in tin cup where Roy is shanking balls on the range at the US Open. “who hit that shot".

  3. GTOG Staff: "We've settled on a more reasonable compromise that you can take to the bank: If Brandon Sutter scores tonight, the Penguins will win.*

    *If he doesn't, the Pens will still win."

    Your bank is now required to meet minimum capital-holding requirements and is scheduled for a liquidity risk stress-test later this week.

  4. Bylsma inherited a Therrien team that surprised a far superior Detroit team for the Cup because Fleury decided not to be terrible for a month before becoming terrible again. Since then, we've been good to great in the regular season and routinely melted down against completely inferior teams in the playoffs, and Bylsma has failed to successfully adjust to opponents either in-game or game-to-game pretty much the entire time. His line pairings and defensive decisions make NO SENSE AT ALL, and when you're sitting there with a non-Pens hockey fan and they quizzically ask why your lines look so shitty, you have no answer. We are wasting Crosby and Malkin's prime; those guys are both injury risks and we need to win while they're healthy. Fleury will be released after the season. Letang is signing with Detroit. Kunitz and Dupuis ain't getting any younger. Despair.

    1. You had me there for a minute, but hang on. Things are bad, but this isn't over. Win Game 3 and the picture changes. No sense burying the Penguins alive. Fleury will not be "released" as he is under contract, but he can and should be bought out. And of course Crosby and Malkin are day-to-day. Aren't we all?

  5. You said something on the podcast about marginal roster moves not being a solution to the problem. However, regarding Letang, I know it's been a small sample set, but every time he's played with Despres, he has reigned in the insanity to protect Despres.

    Engelland doesn't really bring anything to the line-up (although he, surprisingly, was one of the only Pens not on the ice for a goal against), but if you take away Despres' awful first impression this off-season (terrible game 2 against the Isles), he was actually pretty steady and has far more upside than Engelland/Eaton.

    1. Real problem with Engelland move was not that Engelland was that bad (or that Eaton was that good in game 1), but that it was an obvious misdiagnosis of the reasons the Pens lost game 1. Doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the coaching staff.

    2. Oh well, Bylsma may as well triple-down for game 3 and dress Glass, McIntyre, Eric Godard, Georges Laraque, Matthew Barnaby, Bob Boughner, Ulf and Kjell...

      I'm really hoping that drastic changes are made in game 3, not necessarily in who dresses (thought I'd love to see Despres and even Bennett in there), but maybe in the lines. The top 2 lines currently have zero chemistry and Letang pinching on every shift isn't doing the defense any good.

  6. Wow, this is tough. Making excuses for an all star team. Was it the layoff between series? Well Boston basically had the same layoff we did. Is it lack of faceoff wins. Don't think so. There is a hunger in the eyes of Boston players that the Pens just don't have (at least right now). Pens played an easy first 2 rounds (#8 and #7 seeded teams). Boston has stepped up in blocking our shots (something we did well in 2009). Our goaltending is a failure. I would not dress MAF. He is awful (and has been in the postseason since 2009). I'm speechless to see us deflate like this (although it is becoming an annual post season tradition). I will end on this: the last #1 seed to get to the finals from the eastern conference was in 2004 (TB Lightning).

    1. No excuses for games like that.

      I don't think goaltending is a "failure" if you go with Vokoun as the goalie. Nothing he did in the past two games was particularly bad. It wasn't Vezina-worthy, but certainly is not one of the main reasons the Pens are down 2-0.

      Fleury is a lost cause at this point.

  7. PLEASE SIGN JOHN TORTORELLA IN THE OFFSEASON. As much as i hate him (just go back 2 years ago to the playoffs), he's a great motivator. he took the rangers to the playoffs 5 straight seasons. he fights for his players. he's loyal to his players. he has emotion. you heard it hear first. BRING IN TORTORELLA


    1. Ewww. Yeah- because making the whole team miserable on a daily basis sounds like a sure path to success. Bring in someone less "player friendly" if you must - but not Torts. He man has proven to be not only an absolute a** and completely out of touch with his team - but also as stubborn in refusing to adjust his system as Bylsma.

      Besides, Torts single-handedly took a Rangers offense with Nash, Richards, Gaborik, and Callahan - never mind some skilled d-men - and made it incapable of scoring a goal. Sounds like the perfect fit for this core.

  8. I mean this as a sincere question: Everyone's all for dumping Fleury over the summer. I certainly can't argue with the lack of confidence.

    But - what happens after that? Does everyone actually think Vokoun - old as he is, and given his history - can be depended upon as a starter? What happens when he inevitably gets hurt? Trade for an (unproven) guy like Bernier? Trade what exactly? Embrace the Zatkoff/Hartzell era? Pay for an FA? Anyone dependable not already signed long term?

    I'm not even defending Fleury or even saying don't buy him out necessarily. I'm honestly curious as to how everybody sees this turning out any better than the situation the team is in now.

    1. Welcome to the Ray Emery era! http://www.capgeek.com/player/1157