Friday, April 25, 2014

Here are a bunch of non-controversial statements about the Penguins

By GTOG Staff (follow GTOG on Twitter)

Before we get going, this is good advice from Joe Starkey in the Trib: try to have some fun.  With that in mind:

- The Pens should still win this series.  We're not disrespecting Columbus -- they've played well -- but the Pens have two of the last three games at home and despite being outplayed for 30 minutes last night, still should have closed out the game.  This doesn't mean the Pens will win the series, but even after all the craziness of the first four games, the Pens find themselves in a pretty good spot.

- Fleury is to blame for the Game 4 loss.  We don't need reminded that the Pens looked like ass for most of Game 4 -- we've preached that as loudly as anyone.  And the failure of the Pens' star players to produce is concerning, if not outright alarming.  But the Pens scored three goals, and if this were any team but the Post-Concussion Pens, that would occasionally be enough to win a playoff game.

It's irrelevant that Fleury was the Pens' best player for 59:30 last night because when Jack Johnson dumped the puck in, that 59:30 was in the past.  Fleury had one job: don't get scored on in the last thirty seconds.  He failed spectacularly, then failed again in overtime.  If this seems unfair, go back to what we wrote after Game 4 against the Islanders last year:
"Goalies are not judged the same as other players. By definition, a goalie's job is to mask the mistakes of his team. Every shot the Pens allow is technically a mistake by someone on the Pens because in a perfect hockey game, you'd give up no shots against. So yes, blame Kris Letang and Craig Adams for their idiotic turnover at the Isles' blue-line while shorthanded (or Letang for this idiotic play), but a goalie's job in that situation is to not fall all over himself and let a muffin of a slap shot sail past him into the net. Blame the team defense for allowing sustained pressure by the Islanders on Okposo's goal from behind the net, but for as bad as that was, remember: THAT WASN'T EVEN A SHOT ON GOAL. Goalies don't get to offset their bad goals by pointing to the saves they do make. If Flower stops ten straight breakaways then kicks a pass into his own net, he screwed up."
Not all positions in sports are created equal.

Lonely place. Stop the puck.
- It is possible to blame Fleury for the Game 4 loss and still recognize that the Pens were badly outplayed for much of the game.  If anyone could muster the stomach to watch the tape of that game, he would see the Pens playing their softest, most timid hockey of the season.  Top-to-bottom, it was pitiful.  Maybe Columbus is just faster or maybe their physicality is wearing on the Pens; whatever the case, the Pens played scared.  Flipping pucks to no one, forwards standing 80 feet from their defensemen, bad penalties, afraid to take a hit, Joe Vitale trying to stickhandle, Crosby standing 50 feet from the net on the PP and passing it directly to the other team, Dan Bylsma's steadfast refusal to wear a suit that isn't a hideous shade of green.

- This team is in a bad place.  Bylsma is calling out the effort of his team and his star players.  When things start going sour on a hockey team, it doesn't take a press pass to the locker room to notice.  So far, there are no signs that this team is in the right place mentally to make a deep run.  The players can preach that they're confident in Fleury, but is anyone buying that?

- Crosby and Malkin must elevate their game. Immediately. The Pens can't put Tyler Kennedy in the lineup like last year to score a huge goal in Game 5.  All they can do is put Taylor Pyatt in the lineup to accelerate the rigor mortis on the 2013-14 season.  Sid and Geno's teammates have done a lot of the heavy lifting to get the Pens to 2-2 in this series. These two need to take their share of the burden. No excuses.

- If you're waiting for Brian Gibbons to ride in on a little white pony to save the day, it's pretty clear your best players aren't playing like your best players.

- Fleury isn't likely to get any more reliable any time soon.  He's been too consistently unreliable in the playoffs since the Pens took a 3-1 series lead over Tampa in 2011 to expect anything other than: this will happen again.  This will definitely happen again.  When a goalie gets in the zone, teams often start passing up shots because they're looking for the perfect opportunity.  Fleury is in the opposite of this zone.  Columbus probably thinks they will score on every dump-in in Game 5 (and they might).  They'll be firing pucks as indiscriminately as Alex Ovechkin on a power play against Florida in November.

- The Pens probably don't have a better alternative than Fleury.

Focus on the right hand column.  Those are Jeff Zatkoff's playoff save percentages.
- But we don't necessarily know that.  Here's what we all think is true: Fleury isn't good enough to lead a team to the Cup, let alone this team.  What we don't know is whether Zatkoff and/or Vokoun is.  Well, we probably know that Zatkoff isn't.  See above.

- If Vokoun is cleared to play, he should dress as the backup.  There's an easy argument to be made that Zatkoff or Vokoun should start over Fleury, and I'm spending most of today having that argument with myself.  But if Bylsma decides to go with Fleury -- and he almost certainly will -- a rusty Vokoun on the bench might be worth the risk.  Or not.  Who knows anything at this point other than a "rusty Vokoun" sounds like something unpleasant?  Is he even healthy?

- If Fleury is at all shaky early, Bylsma needs to give him a quick hook.  Life is short.

- The Pens are too scared about giving up another shorthanded goal.  Play 4 forwards on the power play.  PM is playing excellent hockey, but he doesn't need to play 4 minutes on the PP.  He's the Pens most valuable defensemen and DB should conserve his minutes for even strength, especially the shift after the power play when the Pens have to put out their bottom 6ers.

The Pens are playing like they're scared to go to the net, which is probably more about the Pens being scared to give up a shorthanded goal.  Crosby and Malkin are conspicuously avoiding taking the puck to the net, opting instead to loft soft passes to Paul Martin so he can loft his even softer slap shot to the net in hopes that it will be deflected by a lonely Chris Kunitz.  James Neal is an asshole who takes a lot of penalties, but so what.  He's dynamic on the power play.  Get him out there in the high slot and tell everyone to stand closer to the net.

- The Pens are the easiest scary team to play against, maybe ever.  The job of a GM is to construct a team out of parts that fit together, and Sutter-Megna-Bennett don't really fit as a playoff-caliber 3rd line. That's a line you put together on Xbox because they all have high offensive awareness ratings.  Bennett is a nightmare in the defensive zone, Megna looks like he weighs 140lbs, and Sutter plays like he weighs 140lbs.

- Beau Bennett and Lee Stempniak need to get back to rotating.  As we've mentioned, the Pens need some Emergeability, and Bennett isn't going to show consistent Emergeability with Sutter and Megna.  And Stempniak is decent, but he's also kinda whatever.  Despite Sid's failure to get on the scoresheet, the possession numbers at least show that he's spending a lot of time in the offensive zone.  Where Bennett might look comfortable next to him.

- Why is it OK for Columbus players to sit on the boards with both legs in play while waiting for a line change?  Noticed this several times.  Full disclosure: I'm biased.

- We don't know what's going to happen.

Mobs were forming after the Pens lost Game 4 to the Islanders last year, but the Pens steadied the ship and won enough playoff games to earn the right (in Shero's eyes) to come into this season without making many changes.  This year, the Pens are two OT bounces away from having swept the Jackets but they're also two two-goal comebacks from having been swept by the Jackets.  We really don't have any idea what's going to happen over the next three games.  As we wrote last year after Game 4 against the Islanders:
"The Internet makes the sting of the Game 4 loss so immediate and so pronounced, that this moment has a power over us that it doesn't deserve. Remember your history, and we're not talking about 2012. In 1991 the Pens played an inferior Devils team and split the first two games in Pittsburgh. Then they split two games in New Jersey. The Devils even went so far as to win Game 5 in Pittsburgh. The Pens were down 3-2 to the Devils going back to NJ facing elimination, WITHOUT AN INJURED TOM BARRASSO. Frank Pietrangelo - who was no Tomas Vokoun - makes The Save, and comes back to shutout the Devils in Game 7. Then back-to-back Cups happened. This is all based on memory, but our memories are good. The point is, no one has any idea what's about to happen. We're just along for the ride. "


  1. 1. I recall last year GTOG posted 2 stats. 1 was about winning stanley cup teams and the coaches they had. It had to do with the longer a coach remains with a team, the less likely they win a Cup. the 2nd stat was basically the same but with goalies. Do you still have those?
    2. the first point made above about having home ice is a reason that we should win is moronic, especially in the playoffs. i can't recite the pens home vs road playoff record but i know that having home ice in the playoffs is not much of an advantage. and should i remind everyone that CBJ has already won at Consol.
    3. I guess we can now state that regular season means nada. Pens were 5-0 vs CBJ this season. Doh.
    4. I will say it was cool to see the CBJ fans standing the entire game. That's passion for a team. Pens fans are spoiled, but still great when their winning (usually, they were heard booing earlier in the series even when the pens were up 3-2).
    5. i don't have enough room to explain why byslma is a bad leader. if you have a short memory just look back to the olympics. but playing a mentally unfocused goalie in OT in game 4 was a bad decision (win or lose). Pens and their fans seem so scared to play either of their 2 backups. Believe it or not, unproven goalies usually stump opposing teams for the first game or 2. or 3 or 4. We know MAF will let in a few bad goals on Saturday. The last 5 post seasons we've all felt bad for MAF and hoped that the offseason he'd improve mentally. Fans, players and coaches have all said this. Yet we are 5 seasons down the road now. Mario needs bigger balls than just visiting the locker room.
    6. as much as its easy to blame sid and geno (and neal and kunitz) for lack of goals, pens had two big leads in this series (3-0 and 3-1). playoff winning teams know how to protect those leads.

    i know your readers will take these comments personal. you guys and gals are just way too biased and as stated above spoiled. pens need a lot of changes mentally and physically. it starts with the leaders: sid and geno. and maf. sid is old enough and experienced enough to start leading. he and geno are the 2 quietest best players the nhl has ever seen. well except when they get a bad call on the ice.

    1. I live in MD and only get to head up to Pittsburgh for a game or two every year. I was at Game 2 on Saturday, sitting 10 rows back in Section 106 (pretty much right behind the net the Pens shoot at twice). I was hyped to head to the game and for the first 5-10 minutes was glad to be there. Unfortunately, my experience turned sour shortly thereafter and I don't think I'll be going to any more games anytime soon.

      The fans were completely lethargic. And when they weren't sitting silently on their hands, they were booing the hometown team. I cannot understand what was going on... I've NEVER seen an arena so silent. My cousins and I were excited to be there and were at the edge of our seats, cheering and getting antsy, jumping up slightly when there was a nice shot or hit into the boards. We got yelled at by people sitting behind us. We were trying to cheer and start some chants during TV timeouts, etc. Again, we got weird looks from everyone around us. Like "why are you trying to make noise and get your team into it?" Anytime there was a "Let's Go Pens" chant started over the PA, it died out *immediately* after the music stopped. Not even the normal "one more cycle" before fading off. Silence. Pin drop. PLAYOFF HOCKEY... what is this?

      When I saw the fans in Columus STAND FOR THE ENTIRE 3rd PERIOD I wanted to call every lethargic Pittsburgh fan who went to Game 2 and scream at them "Do you see? Do you see what real fans do to fire their team up? Where were you when the Pens needed you?"

      *End Rant*

    2. Great (sad) story. There's nothing worse than the "down in front!" people.

      Everything you're saying translates through the TV. Consol has been horrible for in-game crowds. Great fanbase, terrible crowds.

      (And before I get crushed for saying great fanbase, I don't mean the general attitude of the fanbase is great -- I just mean that there are a lot of fans and the fans buy A TON of jerseys. So I guess I mean "great" as in "great for revenue streams").

  2. You've mastered the art of saying pretty non-controversial things in an obnoxious manner.

    1. DB may be past his expiration date here, but there's no point screaming that in the middle of the series. What's the rush?

    2. We're not saying home ice is the reason the Pens should win this series, but it is one of the factors that should benefit the Pens. Of course Columbus can win in Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh can also win in Columbus. Since 2012, the Pens are 7-6 at home and 4-7 on the road in the playoffs. All things being equal, you'd rather be at home.

    3. Not sure anyone here ever said otherwise.

    4. Wouldn't this favor wanting to have 2 of 3 in PGH?

    5. We said Fleury should have been gone after last season and Bylsma's awkward support for him was weird. ("Even putting aside the highly questionable merits of Bylsma guaranteeing Fleury the top goalie spot next season (something we will discuss at length in a podcast later this week), we don't want Fleury to come back next season for selfish reasons. We'll spend 82 games waiting for the implosion. When Flower gets some 18-save shutout against Tampa over Thanksgiving weekend next season, are we supposed to think that means everything will be OK come late April? He feels like a ticking time-bomb. A $5 million suicide vest."

    But they're both here now, so we have to make the best of it. If Zatkoff started Game 5, I'd be fine with that. But I don't think the Pens should have taken Fleury out before OT in Game 4. To that point, he had been having a good game and it wasn't until after the OT winner that we were 100% certain the game-tying goal wasn't just a bad bounce.

    6. I don't care about "leading," mostly because I'm not in the locker room and have no idea who is saying what or what needs to be said. And neither do you. It's easy to pretend like you know or speak vaguely about what intangible qualities good leaders are supposed to have. But you have no idea. It's not hard to look at the poor results and say that X needs to be a better leader, but that's meaningless without specifics. Maybe Crosby and Malkin are bad leaders, but what does that even mean? You could bring Nelson Mandela into the locker room and he wouldn't make Brandon Sutter a better 3rd line center or Fleury a better goalie.

    Stick to what you can see -- they're not scoring. That's the problem. They need to lead the puck into the net, not berate Beau Bennett in public.

  3. This team is such an enigma. Something is missing. It's easy to blame individuals, and you guys do offer some excellent speculation. But the truth is that we just don't know what goes on behind closed doors, let alone inside the minds of these players and coaches.

    I just know that when I watch literally every other series (and I think you or Artistry RT'ed something to this effect on Twitter last night), it's like I am watching a different game. Take Detroit-Boston last night. These guys were skating hard, fighting for territory and loose pucks, hitting each other as hard as they could on every single shift, antagonizing each other, etc. etc. Could you imagine this Penguins team -- as currently constructed and in their current collective mental state -- scoring a goal like Iginla's winner last night? The combination of sheer will and determination, finesse, vision, and teamwork, and good old going to the net and screening the goalie on that goal was something you just don't see from the Penguins right now, at least not with any regularity.

    I know it was time to ditch the $6 million third-line center model. I know we didn't have a place for Kennedy or money for Cooke. But do you remember that the Penguins -- led by shift after inspiring shift from this third line -- used to go all Cowher/Bettis on opposing teams and just wear them down bit by bit? Who's gonna do that now? You Lieutenant Weinberg? (Oops, an A Few Good Men reference slipped in.) Who's gonna do that now? Wet blanket/soft handshake Brandon Sutter? JaYson Megna? Tanner Glass? Whatever happened to Bylsma's investment hockey? This team is impatient, undisciplined, and constructed to be easy to play against. There is no investment (i.e., in wearing down the opponent), so no wonder there's no return (i.e., Crosby, Malkin, and the other scorers making it look easy). This is a matter of team architecture, if you will, which is the GM's job. But it still seems to me that there is a major problem with this team's mentality -- and this includes (and perhaps begins with) Crosby and Malkin. (Also, speaking strategically for a second, I've watched a lot of playoff hockey and there is not a single team where the players skate anywhere near as far apart from each other as the Penguins.)

    I have no conclusions. I have no idea what is going on in reality. I cannot speculate. But these problems are visible, real, and deeply concerning, and they exist on multiple levels. (To me the biggest problem of all -- and the one that, I think, should be most fixable -- is the lack of puck support/skating too far apart. You just can't rely on 30 foot passes as the bread and butter of your puck movement in the playoffs.)

  4. I know you guys are down on Fleury but I'm staying optimistic, at least until I see how he responds in Game 5. Also, because I don't think Vokoun is really an option at this point. He's played in 2 AHL games total since last May, the second of which he allowed 3 3rd period goals in a come-from-behind defeat.

    I think at this point I would trust Zatkoff more than Vokoun as the back-up, but if Fleury is getting the hook after letting in a few more softies, then it's not like this team is going far anyway. Although, this interview made me feel a lot better about Fleury:

    There are a few possible scenarios that could take hold the rest of the playoffs:
    1) Fleury flames out in glorious fashion, and the Pens are eliminated because of it. This results in him being traded among other significant moves.
    2) Those two goals at the end of Game 4 were isolated aberrations and he's "First 59:30 of Game 4 Solid" the rest of the way and is not in the Top 3 reasons why the Pens don't go far. This probably results in a contract extension, or at least creates a debate to re-sign, and the interview I posted rings true. He has really fixed his previous issues of letting in goals that question everyone's sanity.
    3) See 2), but the Pens SOMEHOW make the ECF if not the SCF, in which case, he absolutely should be extended.

    If, from that interview, Fleury has always been a raw, physical talent who's never really received the correct guidance to correct his horrible habits and he's getting that now, he may only get better. Now, if his Mental-Gaffability continues and he continually reverts to panic mode, then he's someone else's problem. Win-win.