Monday, November 25, 2013

Pens have huge game in Boston; reflecting on the Martin Erat Era

When the Pens beat the Bruins in Pittsburgh earlier this season, the takeaway wasn't that the Pens actually and finally beat Boston, it was that the Pens stayed composed long enough to beat Boston.  There will be times tonight when the announcers talk about how well Tukka Rask is playing and you will be sitting there wanting to punch yourself in the face because you will know that the supposed "high quality" chances Rask is stopping are because the Bruins clog lanes, get sticks on sticks, and otherwise make it extremely difficult to get an actual clean look.  But if the Pens can enter this game determined to shrug off the inevitable frustration, they can win.  If the Pens get sidetracked for large portions of the game like they did in Montreal (with Brandon Gallagher and P.K. Subban), it will be a nightmare.  You're not coming back from 3-0 against Boston.  Probably not even 2-0.  But if it's 1-0 Boston going into the third?  That's a game the Pens have to be OK with.

Not really what you want.
- Some interesting numbers on the matchup.  For all the feelings of discontent we've had at times this season, the Pens look pretty good:

- So does Boston:

More after the jump...

- It's redundant at this point, but truly, the number one personality trait the Pens have to take on to beat Boston is patience.  Boston is amazing at making sure that nothing happens during the game.  For example, at 5-on-5 this year, Patrice Bergeron has been on the ice for a total of 18 goals scored (11 for, 7 against). By contrast, Crosby has been on the ice for a total of 35 goals scored at 5-on-5 (20 for, 15 against).

- Two other interesting 5-on-5 stats.  The worst differential among regulars in 5-on-5 goals scored/against for Boston?  Zdeno Chara (8 for, 13 against).  For Pittsburgh?  Kris Letang (6 for, 12 against).

- Sorry, one more.  Another reason why Boston is so good is that they don't have passengers.  Zdeno Chara is actually their only regular with a negative goal differential at 5-on-5.  The Pens have 8 guys with negative goal differentials at 5-on-5 (1. Tanner Glass; 2. Craig Adams; 3. Joe Vitale; 4. Evgeni Malkin; 5. Jussi Jokinen; 6. James Neal; 7. Bortuzzo/Engelland; 8. Kris Letang), and three guys who are even (Maatta, Sutter, Bennett).

- Not going to sweat the loss in Montreal.  Tough building to win in on a back-to-back.  Malkin was insane in the third period.

- Can we get Bob back in the lineup, please?

Whether the Pens know it yet or not, 2014 is the Year of Bob.
- In the most emphatic of terms, Martin Erat has asked the Caps for a trade.  This is hilarious.  The Caps acquired Erat at last season's trade deadline for highly-regarded (by fans who drink the Kool-Aid of players they've never seen play) prospect Filip Forsberg.  In 32 games with the Caps, Erat has 1 goal and 8 assists.

George McPhee will get destroyed for this trade, and almost all of the criticism will be deserved.  The only thing he gets credit for is not being afraid to trade away a highly touted prospect.  In 17 games with Nashville, Forsberg has 1 goal and 5 assists and was sent back to the minors.  If Forsberg turns out to be a dud, then even if Erat was a huge bust, too, then maybe in some bizzaro world, McPhee deserves credit for identifying that the guy he picked in the first round the previous year stinks just as much as the guy he traded for?

(Sorry, George McPhee's family is holding me hostage and trying to make me persuade people that this trade is defensible).

Forsberg is 19 and makes less than 900K for the next 3 seasons.  Erat is 32 and the Caps are on the hook for $4.5M this season (and next season!!!).  It will be fascinating (and probably hilarious) to watch how the Caps handle this.  But perhaps their best strategy to salvage this mess is to actually start giving Erat playing time and try to make him happy in D.C.  His trade value is minimal (and he has a no trade clause!!!), so maybe you placate the guy to try to salvage the season and then buy him out in the offseason?  If that doesn't make sense, it's because it doesn't makes sense -- but it's fun to think about Sad George McPhee thinking about these things in an elevator somewhere.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would have made a different bad trade instead."

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